Poetry and the English Subject Benchmark


A few key points from the English Subject Benchmark statement immediately convey the importance of teaching poetry as well as the wide variety of approaches lecturers might choose to employ when teaching poetry as part of a diverse curriculum.  It recommends that all graduates with a degree in English should be able to demonstrate:

  • knowledge and understanding of the distinctive character of texts written in the principal literary genres, fiction, poetry and drama, and of other kinds of writing and communication
  • experience of the range of literatures in English and of regional and global varieties of the English language
  • knowledge of the structure, levels and discourse functions of the English language
  • appreciation of the power of imagination in literary creation
  • awareness of the role of critical traditions in shaping literary history
  • knowledge of linguistic, literary, cultural and socio-historical contexts in which literature is written and read
  • knowledge of the relationship between literature and other media including, where appropriate, film, or other forms of cultural production
  • knowledge of useful and precise critical terminology and, where appropriate, linguistic and stylistic terminology
  • awareness of the range and variety of approaches to literary study, which may include creative practice, performance, and extensive specialisation in critical and/or linguistic theory
  • awareness of how literature and language produce and reflect cultural change and difference
  • Recognition of the multi-faceted nature of the discipline, and of its complex relationship to other disciplines and forms of knowledge.

In ideal circumstances the points above (and the entire Benchmark statement) have or will become drivers for discussion about how poetry is taught in English departments and how departments can draw on the distinctive characteristics of staff and students to counter the hostility displayed by many students to poetry and a sense that it is difficult or alien, and therefore uninteresting.