History and poetry

21st January 2000 at 00:00
A CHILDREN'S ENGLISH HISTORY IN VERSE. Edited by Kenneth Baker. Faber pound;8.99.

Poetry is underused in the history classroom, both as source and product. Kenneth Baker, who is passionate about poetry and history, has collected 200 poems on key issues in English history from the Roman occupation to New Labour. He presents them chronologically in eight periods, and opens each era with a summary and some fascinating anecdotal notes.

But the book is not without its flaws. The poems concentrate heavily on political events (an exception, Alfred Austin's "Why England is Conservative", contains the wonderful lines, "Let whistling yokel guide his teaming share, hard by the homes where gentl lordship dwells"). Many of Baker's comments suffer from an overuse of adjectives. Defeats are "humiliating", except the Charge of the Light Brigade, which was "glorious".

There is neither critical appraisal of the poems nor information about their provenance. Sometimes poems are contemporary, at other times they are anachronistic, but Baker rarely tells us which is which. Most children up to mid-secondary would find the language too difficult to approach this book alone.

But this is a celebration of some wonderful poems about historical events, in their historical context.

John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield comprehensive, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham

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