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Poetry By Heart Has a New Champion, And She’s 16

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Poetry By Heart is the UK national poetry recitation competition for pupils aged 14 to 18 funded by the Department for Education. Since its launch in December 2012 an estimated 10,000 students have had some experience of Poetry By Heart. Competitors have been involved from all categories of secondary education including local authority maintained schools, Academies, Grammar Schools, Sixth Form Colleges, F.E. colleges and Independent schools.

poetry by heart finalists

Reciting three poems in front of a highly appreciative audience at Homerton College, Cambridge University, Emily Dunstan (16) triumphed at the end of a search for a champion that began six months ago with hundreds of students taking part in school competitions up and down the country.

In presenting her with a specially designed trophy the Chair of the judging panel Sir Andrew Motion commented, ‘Emily has truly taken these poems to her heart and shared them with us today in a way that is both beautiful and moving.’ Praising the performances of all 43 Regional Finalists he added, ‘Poetry is in safe hands’.

In her concluding remarks at the end of a highly successful event Co-founder and Co-director of Poetry By Heart, Julie Blake said: ‘The 43 finalists came from every part of England and every kind of school. They were drawn together by a love of poetry discovered by committing their own choices to memory.  Those poems will stay with them for life, changing as they grow.’

Emily, who is completing her GCSEs prior to studying A levels at Graveney School in Tooting, London said, “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in this wonderful competition. I tried my best to do justice to poems which mean a lot to me’.

Emily recited: ‘The Fish’ by Elizabeth Bishop; ‘The Death Bed’ by Siegfried Sassoon and ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats

43 county competition winners and their teachers gathered at Homerton College for a dinner and poetry reading by poets Jean Sprackland, Sir Andrew Motion and Geoff Ward, the Principal of Homerton College. The semi-final stage of the competition began in the main auditorium at Homerton on Friday March 20th. In addition to watching fellow competitors recite, students enjoyed a range of activities including tours of Cambridge, creative writing workshops, guided relaxation sessions and talks on applying to University.

A special feature of the competition this year was the reciting of poems chosen from the First World War showcase on the Poetry By Heart website by all 43 competitors on Saturday morning which was a unique and moving occasion.

Emily and seven other finalists recited in front of a distinguished panel of judges from the world of poetry and academia including Sir Andrew Motion, Jean Sprackland, Daljit Nagra, Patience Agbabi, Tim Dee, David Whitley, Debbie Pullinger, Catherine Robson and Paul McLoughlin.

Second place in the final went to Josephine Obeng of Havering Sixth Form College whilst third place was awarded to Oliver Sullivan of King Edward VIth School Lichfield.

Nicky Morgan, the UK Secretary of State for Education commented: ‘I am delighted so many more young people are learning to love poetry as a result of this excellent competition. It is a brilliant way to develop a deep understanding of someone’s work which is why we have placed poetry at the heart of our reformed English literature GCSE.’

I think we need this in Ireland!

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