Teaching people who hate poetry

I am taking a break from writing brand new blog posts over the summer.

Instead of posting new work I am giving readers the chance to read material from the archives of my blog.

In no particular order, here are twenty of my favourite posts from the last four years.

 

 

 

Without doubt the most common remark made to me by teachers and trainee teachers when I conduct poetry workshops and seminars with them is that the over-reliance on analysing poems at school is the single most important factor in putting them off poems. I nod and listen and shake my head. Then I ask: ‘All poems?’ ‘All poems,’ they say.

Then I read them this, by the late Shel Silverstein.

 

Not Me

 

The Slithergadee has crawled out of the sea.

He may catch all the others, but he

won’t catch me.

No you won’t catch me, old slithergadee,

you may catch all the others, but you wo-

 

Shel Silverstein, from The Poetry Book for Primary Schools  (Poetry Society, 1998)

 

A murmur begins to go round the room. It grows louder, burgeoning into laughter. Then something odd, beneath it, somewhere between a groan and a sigh of relief. Eventually someone says: ‘He got eaten!’ (they always say ‘he’).

‘How do you know?’

‘Because the poem says.’

‘But it doesn’t say.’

‘Yes, well, it makes you think that’s what’s coming because it just stops.’

‘But how do you know if it doesn’t say?’

‘Because it’s there.’

‘But it’s not there. It just stops, halfway through the word ‘won’t’.’

‘But you still know.’

‘How?’

‘Because it’s made you think about it with the rhyme and everything.’

‘And what’s a Slithergadee by the way?’

‘It’s a monster.’

‘How do you know? The poem doesn’t say.’

‘Because it’s slimy. And it crawls. And it lives in the sea.’

Others are joining in. ‘And it’s got big teeth.’

‘How do you know it’s slimy? It doesn’t say.’

‘You just do. You can work it out.’

‘How?’

‘From the pictures it makes in your mind.’

‘So a little five-line rhyming poem about an imaginary monster with a corny punchline at the end can give you all this information, without even telling you the whole story, am I right?’

Silence. Their heads are nodding.

‘Don’t you think that is amazing, that a small little poem can do so much in such a short space? There isn’t even a footnote! Five-year-olds get it!’

Silence. More nodding.

‘Do you still hate poems?’

‘All except this one,’ they say.

 

First published 24 August, 2013

3 comments

  1. John Hodgson

    Reblogged this on Living in the future present and commented:
    I follow Anthony Wilson’s poetry blog, which arrives in the inbox of my consciousness early in the morning. I’ve reblogged his post about Teaching People who Hate Poetry because it made me laugh before I had got out of bed and reminded me of the pleasure of teaching ‘difficult’ students and the warmth and humour that can arise from their authentic responses.

    Like

  2. Connie Ruzich

    I missed this the first time it was posted — what a treat of love for language, mixed and seasoned with humor and gracious understanding.

    Like

  3. Jazz Cookie

    My first year teaching an Intro to Lit class (a required course) at a university in Maine, I was working my way through the poetry section with a roomful of students who would have preferred to be anyplace else. We had moved through a number of poets and finally from Robert Frost to a handful of poems by Li-Young Li, one of my favorites, especially his poems about his father. As I walked through the aisles of students, one handsome, popular athlete who had often expressed his disdain for poetry, reached out and slipped me a tiny piece of paper. I put it in my pocket and kept going. When I got to my desk, I opened the tiny folded note and read: “I think I’m starting to like poetry.” He clearly didn’t want to say this out loud in the roomful of his scoffing peers, but it was one of the best moments of my teaching days.

    Thank you, as always, Anthony for noting the rewarding aspects of teaching poetry.

    All best, Molly

    Like

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