Let me take you by the hand…


This story, like some of the best in this blog, starts in the seventies. So let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London…..As a child my Dad would sing this song while playing the guitar until, before I could read words or music, I could sing it off by heart alongside him. Music is in my heart, it was planted there by Dad. And for me music is a story, because Dad is a folk loving, twelve bar blues playing man. The songs he sung told tales. Ok, so it put me right off London for a while, but the poetry of a folk song has always stayed with me.  The haunting lyrics (teaching metaphor, anyone?) of Annie’s Song:

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain
Like a storm in the desert
Like a sleepy blue ocean

Lyrics I know like the back of my hand, ingrained through years of singing with Dad.

Fast forward to my NQT year and I had to teach performance poetry. Hmmmm, not sure what that is, I thought. So I used the only poetry I knew how to perform – folk songs. Back out came Ralph Mctell and then The Jam – Down at the Tube Station at Midnight, not folk but a narrative performance poem all the same.

British culture is full of folk tales and folk lore, but we don’t use it much in school.  Folk songs are a great way of teaching narrative quickly and locking structure and a tale into children’s heads. How much can you remember of what you learnt at school? Bet you can remember all the words to Club Tropicana though.

Looking for a warning tale? Try Kate Rusby‘s The Wishing Wife:

Once upon a time (oooo now that’s familiar) there was a man who scorned his wife
He was never happy with his lot or with his life
His manners they were miserable
And he couldn’t be polite
and his wife found a wishing well one morning

(Uh oh, what do you think might happen here, children?)

She said I wish to all you’ll hear me
I wish with all I see
Take this man and make him small
As small as he can be…

This man he was as spoilt as the cat that got the cream
He would shout and swear and carry on like you have never seen
Childlike and stubborn
like a mule by the sea
then his wife found a wishing well one morning

She said I wish to all you’d hear me
I wish with all I see
Take this man and make him kind
As kind as he can be…

This man he took no pleasure in the beauty of the land
Money was the only thing that he could understand
Selfish as a clam he was
Let all the rest be damned
then his wife found a wishing well one morning

She said I wish to all you’ll hear me
I wish with all I see
Take this man and make him smile
As happy as can be…

That night they fell asleep within the comfort of that bed
A strange wind was whispering just what the wife had said
In the morning where the man had laid
there was a dog instead
and his wife cried for joy in the morning!

She said I wish to all you’ll hear me
I wish with all I see
Take this man and make him mine
For all eternity..

Well that taught him…

Narratives with issues and dilemmas?  Folk is full of them!  Unrequited love, disaster, romance, you name it there’s a folk song with a story all wrapped up inside it.  The best bit is that they are short and manageable so children will find them easy to learn, and there is often a moral.  Kate Rusby has a huge back catalogue of work, she searches out and curates collections of songs on her albums, but there are plenty of other folk and other songs that can be used to teach performance poetry and narrative generally as well as narrative poetry.  Want something local? How about Ghost Town by The Specials or This Town by The Enemy.

If you need anymore evidence, watch Tom Fletcher from McFly sing his wedding speech because he can write songs but not speeches (caution, it will make you cry).

So before you reach for The Works: Every poem you need for the literacy hour, The Highway Man, or the Lady of Shallot , have a peruse of your record collection instead. Just steer clear of Gangnam Style.

Charlotte Reed – Director Primary English Education  Consultancy Limited

Originally published on LetMeReadToMyClass.Wordpress.Com



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