Poetry By Heart, the school poetry speaking competition co-established by Sir Andrew Motion, held its grand finale in June at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Grand Finale of Poetry By Heart, the national poetry speaking competition for schools founded by former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion and Dr Julie Blake, was an event where, as Blake put it: “poetry wasn’t just lifted off the page, it was blasted off”.

Held towards the end of June, this year’s competition saw the biggest ever response from children around the country. There were 2,000 video entries of poetry readings involving 90,000 young people – and a total of 39,000 poems were learnt by heart. Sir Andrew Motion there at The Globe and congratulated all the young people taking part, saying: “Learning poetry by heart is both serious and fun: an excitement and a dare…It is about understanding and remembering the deep recurring truths about our experience as humans”.

Mohammed Ali Khanafer, 10, of Pimlico Primary school performed Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est. This prompted the judges to say: “Hearing this well-known poem in the voice of such a young speaker refreshed it and made it new”. Taygen Van Der Klashorst of Durham Johnston Comprehensive School performed Edwin Morgan’s ‘Hyena’, capturing, in the judges’ words: “the menace as well as the humour”.

Edgar Reader of Framlingham College, 16, won for a performance of WH Davies’ ‘The Inquest’, with the judges’ commenting that: “Edgar’s reading made excellent choices on character, pace and meaning, and left us with an enthralling sense of madness and mystery”. Ethan Speed, 17, of Shaftesbury School gave a performance of ‘The Beast in the Space’ by W.S. Graham – described by the judges as: “a complete delight”.

Poetry blast at Shakespeare's Globe
Lichfield Cathedral School pupils performed a moving poem in Ukrainian that they learned to help a new student feel at home. Photos: Sam Strickland

Lichfield Cathedral School, Staffordshire received commendation for its initiative by pupils to make a Ukrainian student there feel at home by learning Lesia Ukrayink’s poem ‘Mamo, yde vzhe zyma’ (‘Mother it’s Already Winter’). The students, who had also learned how to sign the poem in BSL, gave a live performance in Ukrainian at the finale. There was a final treat for poetry lovers as more young people took to the stage for the ‘Freestyle’ category. Standout performances included a Shakespeare Medley that brought the audience to its feet and a musical setting of John Agard’s ‘Checking Out Me History’.

This year’s judges were Poet Advisor Daljit Nagra and poets Patience Agbabi, Liz Berry, Valerie Bloom, Jean Sprackland and Glyn Maxwell. The event is supported by the Poetry By Heart Consortium, which includes Homerton College University of Cambridge, the Poetry Society, the English Association, Oxford English Dictionary and Shakespeare’s Globe.

* The 2024 Poetry By Heart was launched on 5 October (National Poetry Day). Find out more at poetrybyheart.org.uk

Further reading: Why the arts develop skills for life