I was surprised to read correspondence in the national press that poetry is no longer popular with young people? Really? Have the writers of these reports, or the pronouncers of these statements taken the trouble to properly investigate? Certainly there are a lot of teachers who don’t like poetry but have to teach it, or who don’t ‘get’ poetry and have to try and stuff it down kids’ necks in order to get them through exams, or who choose poems (or are limited by the curriculum) which are just ghastly and are guaranteed to turn anyone off poetry…
I’m not claiming to be a great teacher, I wasn’t one of those naturals who could step into a classroom and have instant rapport and instant order and quiet, but I worked hard, I became experienced, I had great colleagues to support me and was lucky to teach in the most fantastic schools and teach the most amazing young people … Fantastic schools – inner city Manchester when there were race riots? Economically deprived Oldham also with race riots? Pupil referral units with the worst and most dangerous (supposedly – it wasn’t true) students? Yes, fantastic schools, and really amazing and inspiring young people who overcame hardship and difficulties in their lives.
I can honestly say, that my best lessons were when I taught poetry. The students loved it. They responded to the poems I chose, they wrote their own poems – some of them prolifically, and the lyrics of the music they played were as important to them as the music. When I listened to the lyrics, and some of them were full of ‘bad’ language, I was amazed at the imagery and the use of vocabulary.
I chose poems carefully, but one poet I used frequently – and I could use any of his poems, they all received a tremendous response from the class, was Martín Espada. One of the favourite poems which always elicited a reaction was ‘My Cockroach Lover’… yes, that’s the title!