I have started a new blog with a different purpose, to run alongside this one. The new blog is called Poems under the Microscope. It will feature close readings of favourite poems from across the ages or more contemporary, of any style and persuasion. I am looking for contributions for it, though I cannot offer fees.
I am hoping this new blog will prove a useful, free rescource for students, teachers, poets and readers. You will find a link to this blog in the side bar. Please pop over and have a look.I fear that in the current educational climate poetry is being taught in a clinical and box-ticking way, which is not the fault of teachers nor exam boards. The blame lies squarely with the government, who set unrealistic targets and instruct Ofsted to compare schools using league tables and computer programmes to determine targets, without reference to students as human beings with messy human lives.
When I was first teaching in secondary, my GCSE class told me with utter conviction that they could not understand poetry, that it has to be translated for them line by line. Nonsense, I told them, you can understand it perfectly well. I put together a booklet which included poems by Sylvia Plath, Craig Raine, Philip Larkin and others, and we studied the poems, my way, which involved them being encouraged to think for themselves, explore a range of interpretations, visualise imagery, create short plays about the poems’ content, and so on.
The essays about poetry which they wrote for their coursework were stunning. Pleased, I mentioned it to my then head of department, who was somewhat incredulous that these middle set year 11s could get A grades for poetry. He asked me which poets I had done with them, and his chin dropped when I mentioned the poets I had included. He said they were ‘A level poets’ and these kids would ‘never be able to understand them’. I showed him the essays and he agreed my marks. The students had begun to enjoy poetry.
At my second school, I continued to ponder why students come to secondary school loving poetry and leave feeling it is not for them. I began to read poetry to them just for pleasure, no essays involved, and to give them poems as gifts, five minutes stolen from lesson time just to read something wonderful. I think the problem with poetry is that the implication of tick-box teaching makes students think poetry is too hard for them, when all that has to be done with poetry is to listen to it.
The new blog is about listening to poetry, and feeling the wow of it.