Cliff Yates will be a familiar name to teachers who follow the TES Young Poet column. His pupils' limpid, witty, unaffected poems appear in it with such regularity as to cause dark mutterings and calls for quotas. In Jumpstart: Poetry in the Secondary School , co-produced with the The Poetry Society,Yates shares the secrets of his success.
This book is not, though, a series of photocopiable, bolt on, fail-safe lesson plans. It is not even a handbook or reference-volume; more a lengthy, complete read. Yates's style is personal, fulsome and anecdotal, because, as he makes clear, his success in teaching poetry-writing has come directly from his involvement in writing and reading it. Therefore he offers us his poems and his own writing procedures for examination, along with those of his students and the work of established literary figures; frequently cites the sources for his workshop ideas, and presents each teaching idea both from the angle of what he gained from it as a writer, and what students might learn from it.
This not to say the book is muddled or impractical - on the contrary, the volume moves smoothly from advice on riddles and space travel for Year 7 to crafting sonnets and dramatic monologues with Year 12, and is chock-a-block with attractive poems and transferable ideas.
Writing in the classroom, for Yates, is a holistic experience which demands that everyone, especially the teacher, carries a notebook for observation, redrafts on the board, and talks frankly and confidently about their work.
Anyone who already teaches writing will know this to be true, and will find Jumpstart an affirmation as well as a source of ideas. Those who would like to teach more poetry will find this a stimulating , and inspiring - if challenging - read.