Don't be averse to verse

6th April 2007 at 01:00
Younger teachers, in particular, are frightened of teaching verse, according to the English Association. Help is at hand.

Ian Brinton, the chairman of the association's secondary committee, is the driving force behind a campaign to re-invigorate the teaching of poetry.

Too often, he says, teachers fear poetry, meaning that it is became marginalised in many classrooms before the GCSE years. Yet, once exposed to the power of lessons centring on the work of William Blake or Thomas Hardy, for example, teachers often never looked back.

Now Mr Brinton is organising a series of one-day training events, provided at nominal cost, that offer teachers the chance to engage with the work of often neglected poets.

Prime among them is William Blake. Mr Brinton said some of his work was perfect for Years 8 and 9. He cited the example of The Garden of Love (below). "It's ideal because you can ask pupils very simple questions, which take them through the whole thing.

"There are other poems by Blake that pupils really love, such as The Poison Tree, because it's about deceit and murder."

Mr Brinton led a one-day workshop for teachers last autumn, backed by Leicestershire council, which will be repeated next term. He said a local authority adviser had reported that those who had attended loved it and were "still jumping with enthusiasm".

The plan is to hold another workshop in Kent in the near future, with more to follow in other areas.

Meanwhile, 11- to 14-year-olds across Britain and Ireland are being invited to submit entries for the 2007 John Betjeman Young Person's Poetry Competition. The contest boasts a pound;1,000 prize, with pound;500 going to the winning school's English department and pound;500 to the child. The winner will also receive a complete set of John Betjeman's work.

* Anyone interested in the poetry workshops, visit www.le.ac.ukengassoc, which has a new section on poetry teaching, or contact Helen Lucas, the English Association's chief executive, tel 0116 252 3982

* www.johnbetjeman.com

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love,

And saw what I never had seen:

A chapel was built in the midst,

Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this chapel were shut,

And 'Thou shalt not' writ over the door;

So I turned to the Garden of Love,

That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,

And tomb-stones where flowers should be,

And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,

And binding with briars my joys and desires.

William Blake

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