Exploring poetry with fonts

10th February 2006 at 00:00
I have spent 30 years teaching poetry and some things have improved - many students now understand that it doesn't have to rhyme, but most still think a poem is a puzzle to solve and the way to do this is to spot "devices".

They know they are hidden in there somewhere and they will be rewarded if they spot them.

As a teacher with an eye on "results", I collude with this, hoping they will at least tick enough boxes with their GCSE answers, and pointing out "devices" might just help. However, I also know that "poem" and "poetry"

are intertwined, and I wince at the results of a mechanical approach, which produces statements like: "The poet uses personification in the third verse, which helps us understand it better."

My latest attempt at overcoming this uses ICT. I want the students to think about the intention of the writer before dissecting the poem, so I saved some examples from the GCSE anthology on floppy disk and then ran them on our computer network.

At each station, in pairs, they have to read the poem, click on "font", scroll down the menu and choose one that matches the "feeling" of the poem.

Walking around, listening to the class guides the next step. Some typical comments are: "The poem ('War Music' by Christopher Logue) is full of sharp, lively verbs for the way the men act, so I chose Matisse ITC, which has a jazzy feel."

"The poem ('Death in Leamington' by John Betjeman) is about an old lady dying and it sounds about 100 years out of date, so why not try Old English text?"

I follow-up by asking to them to say which words, phrases, expressions, lines or verses support their choice or, if I have overheard promising, unprompted comments, I tap into them at the feedback stage, which can consist of sharing print-outs or walking round looking at each other's results on screen.

With luck, you will hear students linking the intention of the poem to the technique. By the way, it is kinaesthetic, so boys like it.

Colin Padgett Head of English, The Ramsey School, Essex

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