Poetry with Purpose

          by Celia Berrell

Has poetry passed its use-by date?  If it doesn’t rap, rant or rave, can poetry connect with contemporary culture?  I believe it can.  Providing it is poetry with purpose.

The last of the great Poetry Parties happened somewhere in the 1980’s.  Back then all forms of poetry were treated as virtual celebrities.  Pam Ayres was a representative icon and Penguin published poetry a-plenty.  Fast forward to the teens of the twenty-first century and we find the poetry party-goers have disbanded.  Nowadays they huddle in small fractured groups; elite free-versers delicately distributing their wares via small boutique publishers, while bush poets hang around the blues and folk festivals like fringe-dwellers.  Free-versers frown on rhyming-versers while Haikuists get short shrift simply for being so short.  It’s a bit disappointing!

However this feeling is forgotten when participating with primary school students.  For the past three years I have presented my creations of rhyming verse about science at the annual Science On The Oval event hosted by Whitfield State School.  Students volunteer to attend a series of poetry recital practices before the event and choose which Science Rhyme they want to showcase.  Some students even write their own poems for the occasion.  Since they will only recite poems they enjoy, the students inadvertently provide me with a valued “top ten” chart of my Science Rhymes.  I am also rewarded by their enthusiasm and appreciation.

The following poem has been regularly selected by students.  This year it was presented by Risa and Lilly.

Don’t Eat Concrete  by Celia Berrell

I think we’ll make a concrete cake.
It doesn’t need to oven-bake.
It cooks itself and gets quite warm
when curing to its hard dry form.

We’ll need to scoop and stir and fold
ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Cement and sand and gravel make
the contents of a concrete cake.

Cement’s a powder, coloured grey
that’s made from gypsum, lime and clay.
Just like a cake’s self raising flour
it gives our concrete sticking-power.

The sand’s a bit like sugar-grit
and gravel’s like the dried-fruit bits.
By adding water to the mix
we’ll make a sludge that slops and sticks.

When poured into a frame of wood
the concrete keeps the shape it should.
We’ll pat it flat and water it
until it’s cooked and dried and set.

When cured, that slab is hard and tough
so don’t go falling on the stuff.
Our teeth and concrete shouldn’t meet …
it’s not a cake for us to eat!

Through presenting poetry workshops at various schools in the region, I’ve discovered that poetry (and rhyming verse in particular) is embraced by many children.  But as a school subject, poetry’s impression is significantly dependent on the poetic passions of their teachers.  And with the tsunami impact of the internet, with its resulting flotsam of applications, we’ve somehow managed to deprive a whole generation of teachers about the values of poetry.  So some of our teachers may be unfamiliar with or have been alienated from poetry.

By offering students an external perspective on poetry appreciation, their creativity and language skills can be richly enhanced.  A recent article in Mindscape (Vol 32 No 2 – May 2012) by Barbara Baker (MA, Cert Teaching, Cert TESOL, ASDA, FTCL) espouses how poetry can be of particular value to talented children.  I go one step further by adding the science and technology of our existence to provide an all-round purposeful form of poetry that can give enlightening enjoyment to people of all ages.

A regular contributor to CSIRO’s children’s magazine Scientriffic, internationally published Cairns-based poet and presenter Celia Berrell artfully combines science and rhyming verse.  Her educational resources have received support from organisations such as James Cook University and Flinders University.  Visit www.sciencerhymes.com.au for a free volume of informative and entertaining Science Rhymes.


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