The student experience of poetry

Poetry, Student experience

It is helpful to remember that on arrival at university, students will have a distinct experience of poetry at school and at A Level which, like much of English studies, will bear little resemblance to what they will encounter on their BA degree.  Thus issues of transition are as important within the context of teaching poetry as they are elsewhere in the first-year experience: be clear about what you expect your students to do and how they can/should go about it.  Students won’t automatically know what you mean when you tell them to analyse and interpret a poem.

  • Find out more about how students are taught poetry before they reach university with the 2006/2007 Ofsted Report about teaching and learning poetry at primary and secondary level
  • Offer students the chance to refresh or add to their basic knowledge of poetic form and analysis at their own pace with the Open University’s freely accessible OpenLearn module, ‘What Is Poetry?’ The 12-hour introductory unit introduces common techniques underlying free verse and traditional forms of poetry and shows how these are important to understanding how a poem works.  It also provides a glossary of key terms in poetry.
  • This article in the English Subject Centre Newsletter by Leo D’Agostino considers the place and teaching of poetry.  He makes the point that whilst it can be assumed that students and teachers read novels for pleasure, the same can’t be said for poetry and familiarity can’t be taken for granted (Issue 5 of the English Subject Centre Newsletter).  He notes the disjuncture between the desire that poetry be taught and the decrease in how many lecturers actually make time to read it: `the less poetry English teachers seem to read, the more insistent and incessant are the demands that poetry be taught.’
  •  The Orb student magazine and virtual world project at the University of Hertfordshire created an Island In the virtual community of Second Life, which is part performance space, part Poetry magazine, run and managed by students.
  • The WikiOmeros project at the University of Warwick engaged students in the creation of a wiki to help interpret and annotate Derek Walcott’s epic poem, Omeros.

Poetry and Public Life

In 2009 poetry was never far from the headlines and thus provides a convenient way to introduce the place of poetry in the contemporary world as a topic of discussion in seminars or lectures.  In January 2009 Elizabeth Alexander, the fourth inaugural poet in U.S. history, performed the specially commissioned poem, ‘Praisesong for the Day’ at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.  In May 2009 the U.K. announced its new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who in accepting the job became the first woman laureate in the post’s 400 year history.  In spring and summer the poetry world was also touched by scandal when Ruth Padel had to resign her post as the prestigious Oxford Poetry Professor just nine days week after being elected. She did so after admitting that she alerted journalists to defamatory information about Derek Walcott, her main rival for the professorship.