Poetry in schools (again!)

I know I have posted on this issue before, but it arose again for me last week.

I was in a lovely Primary School last week, Scoil Mhuire Tullow, a girl’s school with about two hundred pupils in it. I was there to talk to the Fifth and Sixth classes about The Butterfly Heart and to sit in on sessions that Lucinda Jacob was doing as part of their poetry week. This had been organised by the Writers in Schools programme which is run by Poetry Ireland.

What Lucinda did in her classes was interesting to me. She read out a few of her own poems, she encouraged children to read out poems they had written and she distributed a whole pile of poetry books for them to look through. The object of this was for them to choose a poem they liked and then take part in a mini Poetry Reading and come up and share this poem with the class. It was amazing to see the pupils diving into these books, sharing poems with one another, chatting and laughing about the poems and then proudly reading out the ones they had chosen. It was brilliant – and the poems they chose were wonderful; funny, happy, a little bit rude, sad and rhyming. One duo from one of the classes got up and performed a Rap poem they had written!

Surely surely that is what it should be about? I look at the agonies my own children go through in Secondary School as they are forced to read particular poets and then study them to death. I watch as what could be a natural love of poetry gets quickly stifled and smothered by what often appears to be poetry irrelevant to their own lives. I read their essays which examine, to a formula, what the poet was trying to say. I look on all this with despair.

One of the aims of an English syllabus has to be to generate a love of reading in all its form: poetry, prose, fiction, non fiction. Why, instead, does this torture have to be repeated year after year after year?

When my own children were at Primary School they had this wonderful thing called DEAR time – Drop Everything And Read. Reading as a treat, not reading as a chore. As a start why couldn’t this simple thing be introduced at Secondary School level?

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2 responses to “Poetry in schools (again!)

  1. Totally agree with you Paula. I developed a dislike for poetry and Margaret Atwood because we were forced to study meter and rhythm and certain poems at school. I did not develop an enjoyment and love for them just from reading them without analyzing them. I hope that is changing for the kids in school today.

    • I think it may be changing at Primary Schools but in Secondary the syllabus is pretty rigid. So for example with an essay question that asks ‘Do you feel that Adrienne Rich’s poems speak to you?’ you are not encouraged to say no – you pretty much have to say yes it does and these are the reasons why. Which is futile and does not encourage critical thinking or the ability to develop a good argument.

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