Potty about Poetry

22nd February 2008 at 00:00

Introduce foreign literature to lessons. It needn't be daunting, explains Marian Jones

How much literature have your sixth form students read in the foreign language you teach them? Do you wonder how those who go on to study a university course with a heavy literature element get on in the early months?

However keen you are to introduce them to foreign works, it can be hard to find enough classroom time, but if you focus on poetry, you can cover a range of authors and give pupils a flavour of what is available.

Some poems deserve to be studied for pure pleasure. Introduce your pupils to the enchanting lines of Heine's Die Lorelei or Goethe's ber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh' - or to a Jean de la Fontaine fable such as Le Corbeau et le Renard that will amuse and instruct - and they will realise that foreign poetry is accessible to them.

In Spanish, try Lorca, perhaps Romance Sonambulo, or Ciudad sin sueno, a later poem about New York that touches on the still modern theme of urban life. In both, the vocabulary is quite accessible, but the imagery will challenge students to think.

Try to collect poems that deal with the themes you will be teaching through other media. Jean Tardieu's Oradour, a bitter recounting of the massacre of the village of Oradour sur Glane in 1944 is pertinent if you are teaching the occupation, and the horrors of war are poignantly illustrated in Rimbaud's Le Dormeur du Val, written when the poet was only 17 years old.

Other poems that deal with timeless human emotions can be used at any time. A good example is Tucholsky's Ehekrach, which ends with the lines: Das ist schwer: ein Leben zu zweienNur eins ist noch schwerer: einsam sein.

Some poems can be useful for illustrating grammar points in an unusual way: Mario Benedetti's No te salves has a number of repetitions of the present subjunctive and also of negative imperatives.

Try translation: poetry can be an excellent way to encourage pupils to think about what makes a good translation and how literal translations don't always work.

They can also enjoy writing poetry in the foreign language themselves. Try giving them a few lines from a suitable real poem, such as Eluard's Liberte, as a stimulus. Suggestions from Alison Taylor, who runs the Free Spirit Poetry Competit-ion, include a simple structure for a poem entitled Sans toi, je serais. modelled on example phrases such as comme un arbre sans branches or comme un bateau sans voiles

Two poetry competitions for pupils to enter

- The Times Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation.

Three categories: Open, 18-and-under, 14-and-under. Cash prizes and all winning entries published in a booklet. Last posting date for entries Friday May 23.

For details and entry forms go to www.stephen-spender.org.

- The Free Spirit Poetry and Song Competition.

Various age groups from Years 6 to 13. There are four language categories: French, German, Spanish, Other. Eight prizes of pound;50 and eight of pound;25, plus the winners perform their poem or song at an awards ceremony in London. Closing Date Wednesday April 2. More information can be found at freespiritpoetry@ blueyonder.co.uk.

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