More tools in the poetry workshop
Dennis Hamley welcomes a new edition.
Over the years, English departments have had much to thank the Bentons for. Their sane, balanced curriculum materials have always pierced to the very heart of the subject and have offered pupils of all abilities real literary experiences as well as respecting the professionalism of teachers. It is hard to believe that Poetry Workshop has been a staple in schools for 20 years.
Now comes a new edition with much fresh material and a slightly rationalised structure but with the same virtues of variety and unerring taste.
The new edition is in every sense a bigger book, divided now into two main sections. Part A is a thematically-arranged anthology: Men and Beasts, You and The World About You remain, though with revised contents: of the other topics, all but Shapes and Songs have been incorporated into other sections - except for Poems and Pictures, which has metamorphosed into a superb volume on its own (Double Vision, Hodder Stoughton 1991). Part B is of individual poets: it is here that the biggest change occurs. Eight poets now, not five: out go Robert Frost and Brian Patten (well represented still in the anthology). To join Plath, Hughes and Heaney, in come U A Fanthorpe. Gillian Clarke, Grace Nichols, James Berry and Roger McGough - changes which bespeak altered perceptions since 1975.
In its new guise the book remains essential, with a pre-eminence still despite many competitors. The workshop activities are short, composed with a light hand, but contain a wealth of suggestions for teachers to expand on and interpret: their expertise is assumed.
Perhaps this is what makes the new edition of Poetry Workshop so welcome: in these over-prescriptive days the authors know that there is still shared understanding in schools about what is really important and they let it speak for itself.