Video version of verse

4th April 1997 at 01:00

English and Media Centre Pounds 25

Teachers already using the English and Media Centre's excellent Poetry Pack will be pleased to see this new video. The best parts of it supplement some of the pack's most popular exercises - effective performances by actors of some of the key poems; Dannie Abse giving a cuddly and approachable rendering of his "Cricket Ball", which appears in draft in the pack, and the full versions of those Heineken and Daily Mail advertisements from the Daffodils Reading Trail. Any of these would add a happy five or ten minutes to a lesson.

They won't, though, provide much more. Very little of The Poetry Pack's visual panache is reflected in the video. There are brief pictorial introductions to poems - a picture of an onion in front of Carol Ann Duffy's "Valentine", for instance - but the readings themselves are basically talking heads. This is particularly annoying when students don't necessarily have the cultural background to help them visualise a poem - more than brief glimpses of classical paintings are needed for Duffy's "Standing Female Nude", for example, while pictures of sundials and shadows would help students a great deal more than Greg Wise's pout in figuring out Donne's "Lecture on a Shadow". We could even have done with some shots of actual daffodils, rather than wallpaper, for the Wordsworth poem. Nature, after all, isn't nearly as widespread as it used to be.

There is also a disappointing lack of variety of interpretations of poems, visually or orally, although teachers are encouraged to create their own. What is billed as a workshop performance of Browning's "My Last Duchess" turns out to be Michael Pennington in a lengthy luvvie conversation with John Barton, which does not affect his final (excellent) reading - the sort of thing that would have any self-respecting GCSE class reaching for the squashed tomatoes.

Even hard nuts, though, should be silenced by Jean Binta Breeze's warm, authoritative readings of her poems, or by 25 minutes of Tony Harrison's wintry brooding on his work. Harrison's challenging contribution would certainly be best kept for A-level, either literature or language - but such bold inclusiveness is the real merit of this video. Like The Poetry Pack, it is, at its best, a bulky, non-didactic, grab-bag of resources, created with the needs of the individual teacher in mind.

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