Gabrielle Cliff Hodges
Feelings about teaching poetry can vary a great deal. For some it is the most enjoyable aspect of teaching English; for others it is the area about which they are least confident. There are several possible reasons why poetry teaching should give rise to such diverse attitudes. Chief among them is teachers' own experiences of being taught poetry at school or university. Those who enjoy it are often people who were themselves taught by poetry enthusiasts; by teachers who were able to excite a similar enthusiasm in their pupils and to develop it through respecting their pupils' responses to poetry and by teaching critical awareness. Those who approach the teaching of poetry with some trepidation may have had less rewarding experiences, finding it difficult, when asked to read or write poetry at school, to see the pleasure or the point.
Of course, a teacher's own enthusiasm for poetry is not enough on its own to ensure that pupils will similarly appreciate it. On the contrary, if that enthusiasm is not reflected upon and tempered for the classroom it may have adverse effects. In his poem 'Them and [uz]' Tony Harrison recalls a former English teacher who would no doubt have characterised himself as a poetry enthusiast:
4 words only of mi 'art aches and…'Mine's broken, you barbarian, T.W.!' He was nicely spoken. 'Can't have our glorious heritage done to death!'
I played the Drunken Porter in Macbeth.
'Poetry's the speech of kings. You're one of those
Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose!'
(Harrison, 1984, p. 122)
Poetry revered as 'our glorious heritage' and 'the speech of kings' is likely to end up making many, if not all, feel excluded.