How to study poetry: enjoyment or analysis?

As I come towards the end of my first set of online English sessions, I was asked a question by one of the parents about poetry and how to encourage an appreciation of poetry in children.  The parent acknowledged that this was a difficult question and that there is probably a different answer for every child.  It did get me thinking however, and here are my musings!

Poetry – is it interesting?

Due to the age of the students I usually work with, when I study poetry with them, they have usually already formed an opinion of what poetry is and what it is like.  I have encountered many students who, when asked what they think of poetry, tell me it is “boring”. But what does that mean?

I often ask them to elaborate… is it boring because you find poetry inaccessible – you have to work hard to decode it; why can’t the poet just say things clearly? Is poetry boring because the content of the poems you have read is not in your interest areas?  Is poetry boring because it’s often short and lacks development?

The parent I mentioned said that she wants her children to read poetry for enjoyment, not always to pull it apart like she had to in school, and I can definitely see that perspective. Analysis can often seem like it is ripping the joy out of a poem, especially if the analysis you are doing is simply annotating, noting down the ‘poetic tools’ used and making seemingly abstract judgements about whether the rhythm and rhyme of a poem reflect a hidden message. Reading poetry as something beautiful, considering it as an escape and as a piece of art to get lost in is definitely one of the ways I’d love to inspire students to feel about poetry, but how do you get there?

How do we inspire enjoyment of poetry?

Firstly, seeing a great range of poetry. Children are actually introduced to poetry very early on – think about all those rhyming picture books. This could be an excellent start. Children’s poetry is usually up-beat, simple and has a sing-song rhyme. This is not how all poetry works – this may be a pleasant surprise for those who have grown out of ‘child-ish’ rhyme, or it may be a disappointment for those who find poetry has become obtuse; see my advice for analysis later on in this post.

A range of themes should also be offered. There are so many poetry anthologies, finding one with poems on a topic of interest should be easy. Why not get one out of the library, or browse to hear poets reading their own poems?

Analysis as a tool for enjoyment

I think that the answer to getting children to enjoy poetry lies in analysis. I love analysis; it is one of my favourite things to do. I love analysing everything, from TV and films to novels and art, so I may be biased, and do let me know your thoughts at the end of this piece, but I think an amount of analysis can be the way into poetry for many children.

I do not mean the total annihilation of a poem by noting every literary device, poetic term and rhyme scheme, but I mean using analysis to break down poems so that they do not seem so inaccessible. Looking at how a poet has hidden meanings in their poem via implication. Considering how meanings are made clear by poetic devices highlighting key words, phrases and ideas. Thinking about how the flow of the poem might reflect the mood or emotion being portrayed. All these things, done judiciously, can mean that a poem becomes much clearer.

So, in my opinion analysis and enjoyment can actually be one in the same thing. What do you think?


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