Friday, 6 May 2011

Wm's swan: response to response

This by email from Mark, for the very good reason that he...

...can’t be coerced into signing up to Google to respond on the blog, so here goes:

What does it tell us about teaching poetry?  Don't?  or 'can't'?  From my perspective, teaching poetry - the writing of - is about first, technique, or form (but really just drawing on a limited palette of features, so that much classroom poetry ends up sounding the same); and second, about the expression of feeling - which ends up with propositional statements, rhymed or alliterated, or metaphoricalised.  And feelings expressed being of a safe, conventional sort - no feeling murderous, horny, rapturous.

Is it possible, or desirable, to have teenagers meddling with the inchoate in a classroom?  Not a little too volatile, this letting rip?  But most of all, is a classroom a place where the un-sensical can be contained, handled, explored?

I think I taught two good poetry lessons when I was a teacher.  The first, on teaching practice at York, played with They Dream Only of America, by John Ashbery.  My mentor said she'd be in the staff room; I'd need her in about 20 minutes...

The second was on 'difficult' contemporary poetry with an A level group.  They weren't very academic, and quite perplexed by Pauline Stainer, John Ash (not bery), Robert Crawford I think.  A cruel and unusual set text.   Best way in was to let them have a go themselves - to write something arcane, obtuse, condensed, free-form.  Best work they ever did, and still in my attic somewhere.  To my shame and regret I'd said I'd get it published, but never did.  What liberated them was the permission to behave like wanky poets; to let rip.  It was playful - they weren't handling things that were out of their control, as I think William was; it was consciously a performance, which gave them a get-out, and an alibi.

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