David Edwards is head of English at Hellenic College, London. He is editor of the revised edition of the classic anthology, 'A Choice of Poets', published last month by Nelson, for GCSE and A-level students.
I gave up my first job teaching English because I wanted to finish my PhD on Keats. When I'd done that I started teaching at Hellenic College, a small independent school for Greek ex-patriots.
I was looking around for more GCSE coursework ideas, and for something to bridge the gap between GCSE and A-level, to introduce students to different eras of poetry. The anthologies that were available failed to give enough of a flavour of each poet, or were lacking in historical context - which was a big part of my thesis, and is something that exam boards now want. There has been too much emphasis on plain biography, and not enough on relating poets to other writers and to what was going on around them.
I started to compile my own collection of poets. Then, about 18 months ago, I got in touch with Nelson, the publishers of A Choice of Poets, to see if it was going to be updated. This anthology had been in print since the 1960s, starting with the Romantics and ending with R S Thomas. I reviewed it for them, and they asked me to produce a new edition.
In my edition, I have gone back to the Renaissance, and come forward to Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. The choices I've made are necessarily personal: I've focused on certain poets and then included one or two poems by their contemporaries, which shed light on them. John Donne, for instance, is a particular favourite of mine, and I've put poems by Herbert, Marvell, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Wyatt around him. I've put notes facing the poems, with ideas for activities, my own observations and questions, and background material. There is also a glossary of literary terms at the back, so that I can use terms freely in the text. The book, like the original edition, is aimed at higher ability students, but the glossary should help make it accessible to others.
Writing makes you remember the value of constructing an argument well, and I find that helps the teaching.
David Edwards was talking to Diana Hinds.