Poetry By Heart Blog

On It Like A Sonnet – Well Done!

21st April 2017

You may well have heard the great news that we’ve announced our finalists for the Poetry By Heart 2017 national competition – see here for full details – but this year that’s not the only exciting competition we’ve held!

The Shakespeare Sonnet competition (aka ‘On It Like A Sonnet’) – videos were uploaded by 31st March 2017, and our judges have been going through those and picking the best recitations.

It’s the first time we’ve been able to welcome students from Year’s 7, 8 and 9, as well as all school/college staff.

Lots of people used this as a way to ‘dip their toe’ in the poetry recitation competition and we’ve been really enjoying the results!

So, without further ado, here are the results!

2017 Shakespeare Sonnets Competition Winners

  1. Sam Mount – Springwood High School
  2. Sharika Munshi – Eastbury Comprehensive
  3. Ishmael Levy – Merchant Taylors
  4. Annabel Kirk – King’s School
  5. Katie Harvey – St Swithun’s
  6. Kathryn Gornall – Christleton High School
  7. Mariam Mighdiseli – James Allens Girls School
  8. Anna Probert – Loreto Grammar School
  9. Freya Morgan – The Woodroffe School
  10. Barnaby Johns – QEH Bristol

With Special Commendation to Teacher Submissions:

We had many wonderful recitations submitted by teachers – and the winners in order of merit are:

  1. Louisa Tait – Seaford College
  2. Kate Shockley – Merchant Taylors
  3. Mr McGinty – Dartford Grammar School

Well done!


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Where the magic happens.

12th April 2017

Alison Powell talks to actor, director and magician, Peter Clifford, about Shakespeare, magic and memory

Peter Clifford

‘You like stuff to do with Shakespeare and memory,’ a friend of mine said, recently. ‘You should see this magician, Peter Clifford. He’s memorized the entire works of Shakespeare.’

‘The entire works?’


‘37 plays? 154 sonnets? 5 long narrative poems? Word for word?’

‘Yes, seriously. He gets audience members to pick random pages from The Complete Works and he can recite lines from any of them. He’s amazing.’

We all know that a magician never reveals his secrets, but as Poetry By Heart launched its special Shakespeare Sonnet Competition this year, inviting students and staff to memorise individual sonnets, it seemed only right to ask advice from a man who appears to have memorized them all. So in the interests of research, I went along to one of Peter Clifford’s magic shows.

Early in the evening, Peter performed a memory feat in which he listed the titles of Shakespeare’s plays and narrative poems in chronological order, starting with Henry VI (Parts 2, 3 and 1) and ending with Two Noble Kinsmen. Impressive, I thought, but not quite The Complete Works. Using the method of loci (a memory strategy devised in Ancient Greece where images are mentally stored in an imagined building – see the NAWE article ‘The Old Man in the Attic’), plus a bit of focus and practise, I reckoned I could manage that myself.

But then things got a little more complicated. Peter invited an audience member to the stage and handed her a battered copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works.

‘Pick a page between 15 and 700,’ he said, explaining that this eliminated the introductory notes and index pages. ‘Tell me the page number and I’ll tell you the first word on that page.’

This was the spectacle my friend had raved about. Page numbers were turned to at random. Without fail, Peter recalled the first word on each and every one. Now this was impressive. And definitely not something I was about to try at home.

Then he took things even further. Peter asked the page-picker to choose the first or second column on any given page and decide if they wanted the first or last word.

‘Page 240, first column, first word.’


‘Page 471, second column, last word.’


‘Page 654, first column, last word.’


After several increasingly rapid-fire demonstrations of this memory stunt, the entire audience was at the jaw-dropped-open-in-amazement point.

But still, there was more.

It turned out that, not only could Peter recall individual words from any page and column, but, as he went on to demonstrate in a final flourish of memorizing brilliance, he could also recite complete lines from every page. It appeared that my friend was right. Here was a man who had actually memorized The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Later I met Peter at a café and was immediately struck by his genuine enthusiasm and passion for all things connected with memory, performance and, in particular, Shakespeare. As well as being a magician, he is also a highly respected actor, director and writer, and has performed in numerous productions with the BBC, the Sheffield Crucible Theatre and the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory Company, amongst others.

When I asked whether he had in fact memorized The Complete Works of Shakespeare he smiled and explained that ‘this effect involves five different memory systems’, including a pegging system – using numbers to mentally hook images; a linking system – making connections between a series of images; and the method of loci, or memory palace. He also uses a mnemonic system in which he changes numbers into images and links these to things he wants to remember. ‘This is a very old system for memorizing that has been used in different ways. We are visual creatures. We remember images better than words.’

So the answer is, yes and no.

But, interestingly, these mnemonic tools that Peter has so thoroughly mastered are not strategies he uses when actually performing Shakespeare.

‘When I learn pieces as an actor, and poems in fact, I’ll always go for what’s beneath the words. What are the images? What are the emotions? What am I trying to communicate? If you can work that out, that gives you a core feeling and you’re much more likely to remember that than just random shapes – words. Don’t try to remember just the words.’

He says that when it comes to learning a poem by heart, understanding the meaning of the work is vital. ‘It’s an intellectual process of spending time with the poem and understanding it. I’ll look at the verse structure, the rhythm, assonance, alliteration – all those things that the poet will have used.’ He also says it’s important to ‘discover what your own personal, individual emotional connection to the poem is. That’s the story you tell.’

Almost simultaneous to this understanding comes a process of making a physical connection with the words. He suggests whispering the lines ’so you get the sounds of the consonants. Then take the vowels out for a while.’ Next he might ‘take the consonants out and just speak the vowels, to get the emotional sound – the emotion seems to come through the vowels more than the consonants.’

The way to learn a poem by heart Peter suggests, is not through memory palaces or any of the strategies that he might use in his magic shows, but through ‘practice, practice, practice. Do it over and over again. Once you know what you’re trying to communicate, the words will be there and you won’t have to think about them.’

He argues that the memorizing process happens naturally when you spend focused time with a poem. ‘If you put in the time to work on the poem first, to find out what’s happening, then you find that you’re already learning it.’ He reaches a moment ‘when you’re not thinking about the words on the page. You’re embodying the words as though you’re talking to someone. You have this emotion you want to share and you use the poem to communicate that.’

Ultimately, though, he says there is no short cut to learning a poem by heart. ‘The real key is ‘workman-like graft! Learn your lines, learn your lines, learn your lines.’

It seems the real trick to poetry and recitation is less to do with mnemonics and more to do with getting to know the words intimately, discovering the emotional truth beneath the lines and finding a way to deliver them that is truly your own.

And, as we know from the best Poetry By Heart performances, that’s where the real magic happens.


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You’re Going To Our Finals!

5th April 2017

Winners of the County Competitions, Poetry By Heart 2017:

We’re going to contact you on THURSDAY 6th APRIL 2017 

We will email your school’s main contact all the information and the forms you need to fill in and sign to attend the Finals Weekend. It is imperative that you respond as quickly as possible.


We can’t wait to meet you at the prestigious British Library in London on 22nd and 23rd April 2017!

North East:

  1. Kathryn Jackson – Wyke Sixth Form College – East Riding of Yorkshire
  2. Grace Emily Eyles – Ripon Grammar School – North Yorkshire
  3. Isabella Redmayne – King Edward VI School – Northumberland
  4. Frankie Docker – Sheffield High School – South Yorkshire
  5. Georgia Marker – Woodhouse Grove School – West Yorkshire
  6. Jake Knight – Teesdale School – County Durham
  7. Jamie Stradling – Whitley Bay High School – Tyne & Wear

North West:

  1. Anna Smyllie – Queen Elizabeth Grammar School – Cumbria
  2. Ciara Allen – The King’s School in Macclesfield – Cheshire
  3. Hannah McCoy – King George V College – Merseyside
  4. Anne Probert – Loreto Grammar School – Greater Manchester
  5. Beth Molyneux – Urmston Grammar School – Manchester
  6. Martha Barrett – Cardinal Newman College – Lancashire

Central East:

  1. Sam Roy – Carre’s Grammar School – Lincolnshire
  2. Koshesai Fundira – Trinity School – Berkshire
  3. Gwennan Williams – Beaconsfield High School – Buckinghamshire
  4. Luke Gyesi-Appiah – Ratcliffe College – Leicestershire
  5. Jack Verschoyle – Saint Edward’s School – Oxfordshire

Central West:

  1. Emily Coleman – Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School – West Midlands
  2. Charley Dallow – Hereford Cathedral School – Herefordshire
  3. Daisy Cooper – Thomas Telford School – Shropshire
  4. Heidi Januszewski – Denstone College – Staffordshire
  5. Lydia Reed – Rugby High School – Warwickshire


  1. Victoria Dunbobbin – Southend High School for Girls – Essex
  2. Tamsin Dobb – Melbourn Village College – Hertfordshire
  3. Lucy Peake – Northgate High School – Suffolk
  4. Ioana Diac – Kimbolton School – Cambridgeshire
  5. Abigail Peters – Springwood High School – Norfolk


  1. Khadija Choudury – Northumberland Park Community School – North London
  2. Rufiat Awolope – Graveney School – Central London
  3. Diya Hoque – William Perkin C of E High School – West London
  4. Wardah Thanvi – Bancroft’s School – East London
  5. Louis Preston – Farringtons School – South London


  1. Jacob Hulland – Shaftesbury School – Dorset
  2. Cordelia Sigurdsson – Simon Langton Girls Grammar – Kent
  3. Jasmine Helm-Stovell – Rosebery School – Surrey
  4. Indigo Douglas – Christs Hospital – Sussex
  5. Isabella Monkcom – St Swithuns School – Hampshire

South West:

  1. Rebecca Warner – Hardenhuish School – Wiltshire
  2. Issy Paul – Launceston College – Cornwall
  3. Tom Pymer – Monkton Senior School – Somerset
  4. Thomas Hill – Ivybridge Community College – Devon
  5. Corrine Bowen – Chew Valley School – Avon

Dividing Line

Wow! What an unforgettable 3 of days non-stop video judging!

Submissions poured in from all corners of the county; our judges had the absolute joy of watching and judging your videos over an intensive 3 day period.

The Poetry By Heart judging panel gathered at Homerton College, Cambridge to watch, listen and experience your wonderful, passionate, raw and authentic performances. We were absolutely floored by how emotionally engaging your performances were, in school uniforms, on stages, in libraries – that personal touch in all of your videos has really impressed us, and we’re so glad to see some schools entering for the first time, bolstered by the online-submission system. Woohoo!

We were particularly impressed with the range of poems selected this year too! Poems from our anthology popped up for the first time with fresh, passionate interpretations to bring them to life.

We laughed, we cried, we hung on to every last word. We deliberated over your brilliantly nuanced recitations. We’re absolutely delighted to announce the finalists! A hearty WELL DONE to you ALL – whether you’ve made it or not, we loved each and every one of your videos.

A great big thank you to everyone who participated this year – you are the reason Poetry By Heart is so absolutely fantastic!

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