‘Edutainment’ with Poetry and Storytelling

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Farrier at left with teachers and students of the Hackney Primary School on the Pomeroon, Region Two, after a free poetry and storytelling session on November 9, 2018.

By Francis Quamina Farrier

ON Wednesday, poetry lovers around the world will be observing World Poetry Day with various programmes of poetry readings and performances. Here in Guyana, there are many such programmes already planned for the occasion. During Guyana’s Jubilee Year, 2016, I was invited by the National Library to be a member of a team to go to schools and do sessions of poetry and storytelling. Our work was over a very short period at schools on the West Bank and West Coast Demerara, as well as the East Bank Essequibo in Region Three.

It all went so well, that I decided to continue doing free poetry and storytelling sessions at schools all around Guyana, commencing at the St. Ann’s Primary School at Agricola, which is my premier Alma Mater. That project of mine was even extended east across the Atlantic to Ghana, which was done while I was on a visit to that West African country during September and October 2018.

Farrier with a student who made the Vote-of-Thanks after the Poetry Session at the St. Ann’s Primary School at Agricola, post-Jubilee 2016.

The sessions are for half an hour; 20 minutes of actual poetry and storytelling, and ten minutes for questions, comments and criticisms by the students. At most sessions, I commence with the Martin Carter poem, “You are Involved” and explain to the students that no matter how young they are, or simple they think they may be, they are involved in their home, school and community, one way or another. Poems are usually of a wide range; serious, funny, inspirational; even about the elderly. With the latter, I get the students to think about the elders in their lives – their parents and grandparents, teachers and other elders who they have to interact with regularly. The short stories are the types which have some ‘edutainment’ to them, and in most cases, are performed with audience participation.

On October 1, 2018, while with a Touring Group at Ada on the eastern coast of Ghana in Africa, I took the opportunity to perform a poem for some of the students who were on recreation in their school compound. The headmaster was with them, and so I went and introduced myself to him, and told him what I do, requesting to say one short poem for the students. His immediate response was to call out to the students in a loud voice, “ASSEMBLY!”. His command was immediately carried out. He then introduced me to the students; “This gentleman is from Guyana. He will say a poem for you,” he said. It was a magical moment for me as those young Ghanaian students gave me their full attention as I performed the following poem for them;
‘Your tasks may be often and many,
more than you think you can do.
The road may also be rugged,
and hills unsurmountable too.
But faith is a mover of mountains,
and there’s nothing that God cannot do.
So start out today, with faith in your heart
and climb till your dreams come true.’

A photo just before a Poetry and Storytelling Session at the Holy Spirit Primary School in Sunyani, Ghana, on October 4, 2018. At left in white is Headmistress Sr. Perpetual. Farrier is at right in T-shirt.

The students clapped with glee. A few minutes previously, I had no idea that I would have been giving “Edutainment” by poetry, to those Ghanaian students at that school at Dangme in Ghana. It is something I will always remember.

A few days later, on October 4, 2018, hundreds of miles to the north, at the hinterland city of Sunyani, Ghana, I did another free poetry and storytelling session for the students of the Holy Spirit Catholic Primary School. That session was prearranged. In the end, every one of the students came up and either shook my hand and/or gave me a hug. Back in Guyana, I had a similar experience after a Session at the St. John’s Primary School at Bartica, in Region seven, on January 30, 2019.

Here in Guyana, Poetry sessions are held fairly regularly, including at the National Library and the Moray House Trust in Georgetown. One of the memorable ones at The Moray House Trust which is located at the corner of Camp and Quamina Streets, was “Two Gentlemen Doing Poetry”, in which I teamed up with Capt. Lloyd Marshall, who is one of Guyana’s best poetry performers. The Moray House Trust has already presented poetry sessions honouring renowned Guyanese poets Martin Carter, A.J. Seymour and Ivan Forrester. What is of note is that there are quite a number of young Guyanese who are writing and performing poetry. They sometimes perform their poems at family functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals.

As I continue to do my free poetry and storytelling sessions at schools around the country, I recognise that they bring much joy to the students and the teachers, as well as myself. I also recognise that they help to bring to students, not only a greater love for literature and the performing arts, but a bridge between the young and the elderly. As such, I plan to continue with this form of ‘edutainment’ for the foreseeable future.