I Wondered Only at Poetry's Dying Light

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), December 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

I Wondered Only at Poetry's Dying Light


Byline: VALERIE HILL

POSSIBLY having been exposed to the work of Lewis Carroll at too young an age, it took me an even longer time than most people to understand what it was all about.

I simply did not get the joke - in fact, I didn't realise that it was a joke, never mind that it was a prime example of a British master of satire.

But it could always have been worse.

It's clearly lucky that I've passed my time to be taught poetry at school, as a whole mode of teaching is named after Lewis Carroll verses.

What's known as the "Jabberwocky approach" to teaching poetry in school is under fire.

This is because it relies too heavily on "lightweight" nonsense verse and not enough on the classics, allegedly risking the current generation being alienated from poetry.

Surely they cannot mean examples such as a Wendy Cope seasonal ode I came across: "The phone rings and I curse. Literary editor. Seasonal verse."

The schools inspection service Ofsted, in its report Poetry in Schools, says this is the worst taught part of the English curriculum. It surmises that much poetry teaching in England is repetitive and dull with the same poems chosen repeatedly for study, with too few classic poets and works from other cultures.

Overall, Ofsted found that the quality of teaching was at least satisfactory in all of the 86 schools surveyed, with two thirds good.

Generally it was weaker than other aspects of English teaching.

However, primary and secondary schools are choosing the same poems, such as Carroll's Jabberwocky and Walter de la Mare's The Listeners, denying any sort of progression in learning or understanding.

Primary school teachers frequently choose nonsense or whimsical poems besides the above.

These include Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat and Spike Milligan's On the Ning, Nang, Nong, or poems that are easy to imitate, like Roger McGough's The Sounds Collectors.

It could be worse.

Many will sympathise with Russell Baker's confession: "I gave up on modern poetry myself 30 years ago, when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens on a hostile world."

That is not a genre you can stick in a seven-year-old's curriculumand expect them to deconstruct.

While WilliamBlake's Tyger was the most popular classic poem taught in the primary schools, few youngsters were exposed to Wordsworth's Daffodils or Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. …

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