David Blackburn

Please sir! No more poetry!

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Free from the cares of office, Andrew Motion has been busy. In fact, he has been a frenzy of activity. His output on Bob Dylan, Philip Larkin and the like has been well publicised; however, the Motion Report into poetry in schools is less well-known.  

I still have dreams about my short-trousered self standing on a flip-lid desk straining to recite some featureless excerpt of Walter de la Mare. Motion agrees that poetry and school often do not mix; he writes in the report’s foreword:

‘Poetry is commonly described as a valuable part of our national life. But by common consent the existing general audience for it is much smaller than it could be, and the enthusiasm for it in schools is less than it should be. Indeed, poetry in schools is often seen as ‘a problem’ by many teachers, and as a bore by many pupils; outside schools it is often regarded as being on a par with clog-dancing.

Why so? This report offers several reasons – including problems with teacher training, the wasteful duplication of resources, and a lack of collaboration between interested parties. In the process, it affirms all manner of means by which poetry can be better connected with what it reflects – which is life itself.’

Poetry sits uneasily with formal education, which always reduces to the literal and quantifiable. Verse is a deliberate indulgence, glorying in the ambiguity of language. Who knows what Sir Thomas Wyatt precisely meant by ‘Who so list to hunt, I know where is an hind’. But, more to the point, who cares? All that matters is the rhythm and the empathy conveyed by it. That, I think, is what poets mean by their work reflecting life itself.

The Motion report’s critical finding is that New Media should be used to teach poetry in schools - in tandem with the traditional method, revisited in childish nightmares. New Media has become an all-purpose panacea for society’s ills, a sort of modern Dreadnought revered without question. The report never really defines what it means by the phrase. But it is certain that poetry should be read aloud by someone who can do justice to the words’ subtlety, intimate their drama. Youtube’s vast and free collection of timeless interpretations seems the perfect resource for Motion's revolution.