Delicious ways with poetry

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
THE POETRY PACK Age group: 14-18 Exploring Poems at GCSE and A-Level by Barbara Bleiman, published by the English and Media Centre. A4 photocopiable ring binder. Pounds 39.50. Available from NATE, 50 Broadfield Road, Sheffield S8 0XJ2

Don't be polite Bite in Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that may run down your chin." That's Eve Merriam on "How to Eat a Poem", one of 50 or so dishes in this banquet laid on by the National Association for Teaching English.

But how to do you persuade children especially older ones to risk more than a tentative nibble? The teacher can always stand in front of pupils and chew over a poem for them and then enthusiastically explain why it was so enjoyable. The approach doesn't work with sirloin steaks, and it doesn't work for poetry either. Pupils have to sink their teeth in and find out for themselves. And this pack offers plenty of opportunities.

The poetry is generously garnished with perceptive notes for the teacher, and student worksheets which will enable groups to work more or less independently. So all the teacher needs to do is fillet pages from the ring binder; simmer them gently in a photocopier; serve and, like a good waiter, keep well clear until summoned.

The lessons, which never seem gimmicky, cover a range of useful activities. Among other things, pupils can examine Jan van Eyck's the Arnolfini Marriage, and then Paul Durcan's poem on it. They can trace how a Danny Abse poem evolved through several drafts. In one imaginative sequence, they are given not only Wordsworth's "Daffodils", but the script of the commercial that claimed it was Heineken that gave him his inspiration. Then, they can read Dorothy's journal entry for the day they saw the daffodils, followed by Lynn Peters' funny feminist poem on "Why Dorothy Wordsworth Is Not as Famous as Her Brother".

Shakespeare, Marvell, Blake, Tennyson are all on the menu, of course, but so too are several young contemporary writers. So while it's not surprising to find Donne's "Lecture upon a Shadow" being used in an exercise, "the extended image", it's refreshing also to find Carol Ann Duffy's equally fanciful explanation of why an onion makes a perfect Valentine gift.

But regardless of author, subject matter or approach, the emphasis throughout is on getting pupils to examine language closely, and by so doing to learn how to enjoy poetry for themselves. Bon appetit!

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