The art of poetry

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Drafting and Assessing Poetry: a guide to teachers. By Sue Dymoke. Paul Chapman Publishing pound;17.99.

Sue Dymoke's book is a much needed antidote to the ubiquitous guides to poetry analysis. Once FR Leavis and his gang had teachers and pupils trawling through the minutiae of poems until the whole became lost in the sum of the parts. Now poetry teaching, in these days of literacy rather than literature teaching, has become an opportunity to spot the technical term or linguistic feature.

The effect of both these aims is to enable children to appreciate the craft of writing a poem: the way poets have of compressing whole worlds into a single word, of allowing a phrase to resonate far beyond the limited parameters of poetic form. Arguably both approaches miss that crucial element of poetry - cadence. They do not hear the elusive way that meaning is carried in sound.

As Sue Dymoke's careful study of previous research into the teaching of poetry demonstrates, the effect of over-analysing poetry is to kill its appreciation and to miss the point of reading it in the first place. Her book draws heavily on authors who advocate a practical approach to teaching poetry. She outlines their positions clearly and fills her book with practical ways of putting their ideas into action.

Chapters two and three abound with research-inspired advice on how to get pupils, from key stage 2 onwards, writing. She advocates that they write first and draft later. To this end she includes a chapter on how to intervene in the drafting as well as use poets' drafts to learn more about poetic creation.

She looks too at assessing poetry and illustrates the way in which, in our criteria-driven culture, the absence of clear demands and guidelines on the writing of poetry, has led to its neglect.

This book is well worth reading for its clarity and wealth of ideas.

Bethan Marshall is a lecturer in English at Kings College, London.

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