A risk worth taking

2nd October 1998 at 01:00
POETRY BOOK SOCIETY PACK BASED ON RUTH PADEL'S 'REMBRANDT WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU'. Pounds 12 (Pounds 10 PBS Members). Available only from the PBS.Tel: 0181 870 7403.

This slim but inviting A4 spring-bound pack is The Poetry Book Society's response to a survey of the "poetry needs" of more than 4,000 secondary schools.

Based on a selection of Ruth Padel's recent love poems, including her prize-winning "Icicles Round a Tree in Dumfriesshire", it contains a copy of the volume itself, an introduction by, and interview with, the poet, and expository guidance by Mike Torbe. He has many helpful things to say while not side-stepping the difficulties likely to be encountered by all but the most sophisticated of young readers.

Responding to Torbe's initial reservations (which might indeed be any teacher's) the poet replied: "But pop music deals with feelings like these all the time. Why should this be any more difficult?" This question lies at the heart of an enterprise which might have kicked off with a safer, familiarly school-approved poet but deserves praise and encouragement for the risk it has taken.

I'm not so sure about the wisdom of including a selection of Ruth Padel's gossipy columns from The Independent, though they certainly give a sense of the poet as personality on the scene and circuit: "I do enjoy doing it, making jokes and annoying people like Anthony Thwaite". In a pack which has plenty of illuminating things to say about poetry, this kind of in-house chatter seems rather pointless.

On the other hand, if it encourages students and teachers to find out something about Anthony Thwaite, even to discover that he can be as good a poet as Ruth Padel, then fair enough.

Certainly, one of the material's strengths is that it makes generous reference to other poets, prompting further discoveries, including Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, Michael Donaghy and Ian Duhig.

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