Monday, 12 July 2010

Do they learn poetry

in school any more? I am not sure. The Whirlwind seems to be taught some - of a sort. It is almost all what I would call "verse without poetry" or " mere doggerel". It is written specifically "for children". On top of that there are a few Australian ballads thrown in. That seems to be all. Keats, Browning, Yeats, Masefield and others do not get a mention. Wright, Neilsen, Murray, Hope and other Australians do not get a mention.
I know you cannot teach everything and that there is more and more to teach but there do seem to be things that are missing from the literary diet of the modern child. My father can still recite entire poems he had to learn at school. I can remember lines that thrilled me at the time.
My father and I had a simple meal last night - soup and toast. He was spreading honey on his second slice of toast when he looked up at me and asked, "Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?" The Old Vicarage, Grantchester may not be the greatest poetry in the English language or Rupert Brooke the greatest poet but my father associates the taste of honey with the last two lines of a poem. How many modern children can do that?
I occasionally give the Whirlwind a poem to read. She does not always understand them but that does not matter. I want her to feel the language of poetry. I want her to be able to enjoy and remember at least fragments, phrases that will come back to her when she needs them. Her need for poetry is greater than that of most children. It helps to mother her when she lacks a mother.
The Whirlwind is not going to enjoy my good fortune and personally meet many of last century's great Australian writers as well as some great names from abroad. I was fortunate in being nurtured by Judith Wright who saw to it that I met these people and was challenged by them. Many of them are no longer alive. The nature of the Writers' Weeks at which I met them has changed too. Writers are now isolated from the audience. Writers' Weeks are now the venue for publishers to launch books. It has become a marketing exercise.
So it is my responsibility to introduce the Whirlwind to poetry. She wants to know. I am not forcing it on her. She tells me she likes poetry and has even tried to write some. Her talent lies more in the field of visual art rather than verbal art. She observes and often sees things from a new angle. It is good. Her school encourages her and that is even better.
But some days ago I gave her Margaret Storey's "Pauline" to read. I thought she was now old enough to appreciate it and that she would empathise with Pauline. They have a good deal in common. Yesterday she bounced in with it and told me it was "fantastic" but "there is some poetry in it. Here. Is there any more like that?"
It is from Housman, "A Shropshire Lad"
"From far, from eve and morning,
And yon twelve winded sky
The stuff of life to knit me
Blew hither; here am I..."
Oh yes, there is more like that.

4 comments:

Sheep Rustler said...

My daughter has certainly studied some poetry at school, though a lot less than I did. And we gave her a poetry anthology at a relatively young age and she enjoys reading it. I am sometimes at a loss to work out what they do learn in English these days - grammar and spelling don't necessarily seem to be taught very well and there seems to be a lot of time spent on 'issues in the media', which isn't necessarily a bad thing - they have both learnt how to write letters to the newspaper that are cogent and present a coherent argument. They learn to read books critically and to be able to express their opinions. I have got good at working out what makes a good book for English study, which makes it easy for me to help them when they need it. By coincidence this year I had read two of the three main texts my daughter was studying for Year 11 English, and the experience of talking through her assignments with her has been so rewarding for both of us that I am going to make sure that for next year, if I have not already read the books, that I will do so in order that we can continue to do that. We occasionally read bits of poetry at the dinner table though younger son thinks this just confirms that his parents are barmy!!

catdownunder said...

Oh, I love "barmy" parents who do that sort of thing! I think "issues in the media" should probably come under "social studies" though. The Whirlwind informs me that "spelling does not matter as long as you get the ideas down". I tell her spelling does matter if she wants to get the message across.

Donna Hosie said...

Sheep Rustler makes a great point. They do teach children poetry, but what about grammar, spelling and punctuation? The foundation stones of English are missing.

catdownunder said...

The Whirlwind's school is supposed to do more of this than most (private girls' only - boards because her father is a widower)
but they still do not really teach spelling or grammar. She has a vague idea about nouns, adjectives and verbs and that is about it. How can they expect the child to communicate!