Rhyme and reasoning

17th January 2003 at 00:00
Will There Really Be A Morning? Life: A Guide - Poems for Key Stage 2 with teaching notes. By Fred Sedgwick. David Fulton, pound;15

In both the introduction and the teaching notes which together sandwich just under 40 poems, Sedgwick makes a powerful case for poetry's ability to teach us about the things that matter in life, like love, death and friendship.

"We should not be interested in the quiet life, but in the good life," Sedgwick tells us. By which he means teachers tend to avoid difficult subjects. But only themes that carry some element of risk stand a chance of making a real contribution to personal, social and moral education. How refreshing it is to read someone who writes passionately about poetry and clearly enjoys communicating his passion to young listeners.

There are many examples in the course of Sedgwick's commentaries of comments and writing by children he has worked with.

Sedgwick's views would have fitted well into the mainstream of 19th century American Transcendentalism, and his willingness to court controversial themes reminded me of Bronson Alcott, the high-minded schoolmaster father of Louisa May, whose "Conversations with Children on the Gospels" caused such a stir. This is a fine, serenely subversive document.

* Writing Poetry - A Unique Structured Approach to Writing Poetry (books 1-4). By David Orme. Badger Publishing. Price: pound;19.50 each

David Orme's introduction suggests he's not convinced by his own endeavours: "There is a danger that working with poems in the ways suggested in these books could become rather a mechanical exercise."

The four books, one for each year of key stage 2, cover the literacy strategy genres in the order they appear in the termly framework. Orme uses several examples of his own work and his commentaries on the poems are stronger than his suggestions for follow-up writing, so the series might have been more accurately called "A Structured Approach to Reading and Writing Poetry".

If the Sea was in the Sky... Compiled by Fiona Waters Evans. Price: pound;10.99

This sturdy hardback, with colourful illustrations by Tracy Fennell (pictured), certainly has the feel of a "school" anthology. However, its contents are wonderfully uninfluenced by the literacy strategy's tightly structured approach to poetry.

What marks out an accomplished anthologist such as Fiona Waters is the ability to reach far and wide to arrive at a final mix that will appeal to young readers. No attempt is made to put the just-over 100 poems by some 60 mainly contemporary poets into themed sections. In the spirit of the anthology's opening poem, "Instructions for Growing Poetry" by Tony Mitton, the contents tumble after one another by virtue of loose and easy association. Berlie Doherty's brief description of "Grandpa" - "hands as rough as garden sacks" - is followed by Jeanne Willis's "Potting Shed", which in turn leads on to "I Planted Some Seeds" by Colin McNaughton. An excellent addition to the Evans Poetry Collection series.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm Primary School, Hailsham, East Sussex

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