The young & the old & poetrytogether.com - tea, cake & a poem!

Can the so-called Generation Z that is typically immersed in computer games and gadgets find a way to communicate with their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation? And can they enjoy the experience?

I believe they can - by allowing learning poetry by heart to take centre stage. That’s why I’ve launched Poetry Together this year to tie in with National Poetry Day. The idea is simple, free and fun. It involves school groups – primary or secondary – linking up with their local care home or older persons’ home to learn a poem and recite it together, then have tea. (And cake!)

The project has the support of HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, who is an advocate of learning poetry by heart (and has poems in her head to prove it) and patron of both the Royal Society of Literature and Silverline. She will be meeting some of the schoolchildren and older people taking part to hear their poems in performance and join them for tea. (And cake!)

The project, backed by Dukes Education, was inspired by a radio programme I made last year about the value of learning poetry by heart, featuring research carried out by the Memory Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. It showed how learning and speaking poetry benefits both younger and older people.

In young children, engaging with poetry can improve the speed at which they learn to speak, read and write. It can improve academic performance, concentration and even support better sleep.

For adults, the evidence shows that learning poetry by heart improves the ability to communicate, improves memory, increases brain capacity and keeps dementia at bay.

To join in with Poetry Together, all schools or care homes have to do is register on the www.PoetryTogether.com website.

Once a school has linked up with their local care home, they can choose the poem both groups are going to learn, practise, then get together to make it happen.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Shakespeare or Simon Armitage, serious or funny, ancient or modern – but it should be a poem that young and old will enjoy. My particular favourite is The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, and some of Lear’s limericks are great fun too. There are more than 250 poems to choose from in my new book, Dancing By The Light Of The Moon.

When we piloted the project at the National Army Museum, several local London schools came along to recite war poems with a group of Chelsea Pensioners. It was wonderful to see the two age groups chatting together and performing their poems.

I hope this joy in sharing poems can be replicated around the country as the informal tea-and-poetry parties happen between 3 and 17 October, the fortnight following National Poetry Day.

We already have more than 160 schools and care homes taking part and there is still time for more to sign up to join the fun.

There are plenty of resources on our website, including poetry ideas, and every school taking part will receive a free signed copy of Dancing By The Light Of The Moon.

If you know a school or an older persons’ home that might find this fun, do point them in the direction of the website: www.poetrytogerher.com

Gyles Brandreth