Making Poetry Matter


In 2007 Sue Dymoke, Andrew Lambirth and I got together and decided we were going to apply to the ESRC for some money to run a Seminar Series on Poetry Teaching. We wanted to draw together academics, teachers and poets to explore what it meant to teach poetry in a context which often privileges other forms of writing because they are more easily ‘testable’.

Our first bid was not successful.

We regrouped, did some more homework, and came up with a new bid in 2010. We called it Poetry Matters because we felt and feel that it did, and does, and will continue to do so.

We ran our first seminar in Exeter in January 2011, with subsequent seminars in Greenwich and Leicester, culminating with a one-day conference in Leicester. Every seminar we ran included poetry workshops and readings, as well as academic presentations of research.

You can read more about the series and download materials from it here, brilliantly curated by Sue Dymoke.

Now we are moving into an exciting phase of disseminating the findings from the series. The first strand of this is the publication of Making Poetry Matter, a collection of all of the academic research from the series. Next year will see the publication of Making Poetry Happen, a practical handbook designed for teachers in the 3-19 age range.

If you are running a PGCE/SCITT/Teach First course and want your trainees to have an overview of the state and status of poetry in schools, this is where you should start.

To whet your appetite, here is an extract from the conclusion of my contribution to the book, about the metaphors teachers use to describe teaching poetry writing in school.

from ‘Teachers’ Metaphors of Teaching Poetry Writing’

We should ask, therefore, what rewards teachers find in teaching a part of the writing curriculum which they portray as simultaneously cherished and derided? On one level, perhaps, it is possible to argue that poetry retains and represents for them some kind of subversive appeal. Metaphors of experiment, play, risk, voice and exploration are common in these teachers’ responses, and form a picture of an intellectual life which delights in the possibilities of teaching heightened use of language. Underpinning these metaphors, and also present in those of constraint, there is a tacit understanding that this writing is not subject to inspection.

On another level, poetry writing can also be seen to represent a humanising event in that it promotes both self-determination and security (‘a pool of freedom around a rock’), and an opportunity to test the limits of self-knowledge in a social context (‘a dialogue with oneself which also expresses and speaks to something shared’). The metaphors describing this practice pay tribute to a space in the curriculum which cultivates growth of the self and of language use, therefore. This may account for the depth of feeling revealed by this survey, uncovering and uniting emotions which integrate these elements. In their definitions of ‘risk’ in particular it is possible to see teachers relishing pupils’ playfulness with and control over language. In this sense risk in itself becomes an overarching metaphor with which to describe these teachers’ claims about their practice. They enjoy the prospect of entering creative spaces where they are by definition free of outside control while remaining aware that not to do so would be to risk losing ownership of the ‘bedrock’ of their subject.


  1. Hi Anthony, here’s the prose poem I mentioned. It’s called Woodcut. Curious to see what you make of it :


    Walking home through the soft-rumbling city Peckham shading to Camberwell the tone shifts, furry growls rising and falling, showing their teeth. In a street-lit car park a large fox is finishing the remains of a discarded takeaway (chips and what looks like part of a burger). Silent. Its the cats that are growling: maybe ten, a feral gang all hackles and hisses, edging then backing away, lawful. Fox is oblivious, alone with its kill in the middle of a night-filled acre, the village asleep, the bypass breathing slow.




    1. Hi Mark
      Thank you so much for putting this up. I’m not the world expert on prose poems, but I do like this, the way it moves from observation to meditation in the final lines. As ever, Anthony


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