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This report is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Poetry By Heart Paul McLoughlin
Poetry By Heart is a three-year-old annual government-funded competition that is largely the brainchild of Andrew Motion and Julie Blake, the latter of whom I taught A-level English Literature, as she has it, ‘a million years ago’. Invited to be a judge at local level, I was initially sceptical because, in an age of rap and excessive rhyming, I was wary of the theatrical. I should have known Julie better, for it was a more rewarding experience than I could have foreseen. As an Accuracy Judge for the Regional and National Finals event held at Homerton College, Cambridge on 20th and 21st March, I grew quickly captivated. It must always have been difficult devising judging criteria for the essentially non-­competitive (even private) activity of saying poems aloud, and while those criteria are creatively the subject of continual reflection and revision, it is refreshing to witness (and experience the reason for) the reined-in gaining preference over the mannered and the emotively expressive, indeed over the ‘acted’. It is no small feat to persuade the self to take a step back in order to allow the poem to take centre-stage. But this is what the audience saw and heard repeatedly during what were an intense and intensely enjoyable couple of days, which ended with both the winner and the winner’s teacher receiving similar awards.

The poems recited were selected from the Penguin Viking anthology Poetry By Heart: Poems for Learning and Reciting, which includes 208 poems (from the Gawain poet to the Jacobs, Polley and Sam-La Rose) by as many poets, ...

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