Poetry Shouldn’t be Taught

Ofsted reported on poetry teaching in schools, criticising the content. But should poetry be taught at all?

I firmly remember being presented with a poem as a cypher that needed to be decoded, a tedious exercise in “getting it” with seemingly only one right answer: the one the teacher though would score highest marks in exams. The musicality and rhythm of these arbitary puzzles was killed by the fact they were always read stumblingly in a resentful monotone by whomever the teacher had decided to pick on that week.

To make it worse, the poets were always male and generally dead. Did that mean that women didn’t write poetry and I was unique? Absolutely not. So why wasn’t women’s poetry worth studying? If female teachers at a girls’ school weren’t going to introduce me to women poets, who was?

Luckily a friend gave me a copy of “You Hated Spain“. It wasn’t written by a woman, but it was about a woman who had written. Ted Hughes was writing about his first wife, Sylvia Plath and her “Ariel” opened a door: here was a woman writing about things I could actually identify with. It confirmed you didn’t have to be male to be a good writer It also confirmed that you didn’t have to undertake the pressure of being an “unacknowledged legislator of the world” or go through the trauma of war. Significant events happen in every life, “Ariel” effectively gave me permission to write about things I could relate to.

It was the flicker of light that convinced me I was in a tunnel rather than the dead end school had put me it. And it had the added bonus of proving teachers wrong: women poets were worth studying. Teachers can’t be trusted with poetry. It isn’t an overly-complex crossword puzzle where you have the answers but not the clues. Neither is it is a particular pattern of rhyme and metre. Poetry should not be taught, but discovered.

12 Responses to “Poetry Shouldn’t be Taught”

  1. Alma Says:

    Much respect girl
    You are totally right.

  2. Education for Leisure « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] Poetry shouldn’t be taught […]

  3. DOMINO Says:

    I believe that poetry can and should be taught. The problem is with the manner in which is taught.

    Teachers are notorious for butchering all manner of subjects into meaninglessly component parts. They organize information into tasks to be approached with steps and procedures.

    Compartmentalization is great technique for grooming young bureaucrats.

    Its a form of intellectual torture when applied to young poets.

  4. emmalee1 Says:

    That’s the point I’m making: teachers can’t be trusted to teach it so they shouldn’t.

  5. DOMINO Says:

    I know a poet who tried her hand at teaching. She would further implicate the bureaucratic machinery of the school system in stultifying creativity.

  6. Hannah Says:

    To say that all teachers cannot be trusted with poetry is somewhat insulting to those teachers who are passionate about poetry. Although some teachers do not appreciate it and will indeed suck the life out of it with analyzations, this does not necessarily mean that whenever poetry is taught it isn’t taught well – in fact, the way I discovered poetry was through the passion one of my teachers had for it. Who, then, do you think we should employ to help all of the ignorant people out there who have not yet discovered poetry to discover it?

  7. emmalee1 Says:

    Hi Hannah

    You clearly had a fortunate experience. My teachers did their best to put me off. Who should we employ to help people (not necessarily ignorant, poetry isn’t readily accessible) out there who have not yet discovered poetry to discover it? How about poets??

  8. http://tinyurl.com/stumdolby31937 Says:

    The following posting, “Poetry Shouldnt be Taught Emma Lees Blog” indicates the fact that u actually know everything that you r communicating about!
    I completely agree with your post. Many thanks

  9. Szymon Says:

    I feel for you, but one should always make the initiative to learn poetry themselves. Your teachers probably had to teach the same lesson over however many years they were in the business. Poetry shouldn’t be taught, poetry should be learnt.

  10. emmalee1 Says:

    Teachers are not obliged to teach the same lesson or poem over and over again. How helpful is it to teach girls that only dead white males are worth reading and studying? Students aren’t going to seek out and learn about poetry if their only experience of poetry (at school) is that it’s too complicated and boring. I love poetry despite school, not because of, and that’s not good enough.

  11. Eric Armstrong Says:

    many poems are befuddling and useless arrays of words that are useful for the author to express deep and troubling emotions, but do little to enlighten the readers. Studying poetry is an uninspiring waste of time. It’s trademark use of archaic and pretentious language deters readers and obscures often shallow messages that are impossible to discern until supplied by an instructor or the ever-insightful Sparknotes. Without being supplied a “deeper meaning,” it becomes a chore to discern a meaning from these tedious, arbitrary puzzles. It actually takes an effort to say “I love poetry,” and I feel as if there is a layer of superficiality in those who claim to love it; they are somehow convinced that every poem must move the reader to some life-altering epiphany. That being said, I don’t agree with any of the quotes, and the only one that carries a hint of truth is, “Poetry is the language of feeling,” which holds true for the author who has unfortunately decided to vomit his or her feelings onto a page, but not without first concealing what they actually mean under an ocean of pompous vocabulary and an attitude of superiority.

  12. emmalee1 Says:

    Thanks for at least reading my article. However, I’m baffled as to why you’d leave such a comment on a blog that belongs to a published poet. Did you think I’d refuse to publish it and so demonstrate I must be one of those fey, sensitive souls who see deeper meaning in a “befuddling and useless array of words”? Am I supposed to give up writing poetry because you’d condemn me as someone who vomits my feelings on the page through pompous vocabulary with an air of superiority? Poets don’t actually write tedious word games, but poetry is taught as if it is a puzzle that somehow has to be deciphered. I’d prefer that not to be the case as much as you do. But I find your words an act of projection rather than an attempt to start a debate.

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