The classics can wait. Make poetry fun.

Government funding of £500,000 to promote poetry in schools sounds fantastic. Spending it on a new national poetry recitation competition for 14 to 18-year-olds has potential. But asking students to memorise and perform a poem such as Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley or anything by Shakespeare will not help young people to engage with contemporary poets or poetry. Most of all, it isn’t encouraging them to explore writing poetry and learning the art of maximum expression in the minimum number of words.

I haven’t seen the list. Benjamin Zephaniah may be there, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy or anyone of the recognised poets from the past 50 years would be good. But associating poetry with lines like ‘Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain’; is removing it from every day language and disguising its potential for relevance. The classics can wait. We need to make poetry fun and culturally defunct English is not the way to do it.  Teenagers to recite Ozymandias off by heart in schools

Maintaining ‘Thresholds’

Thresholds is part of the University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Ten poets will each spend two weeks in residence at ten Cambridge museums early next year.  Here they will meet researchers and explore the collections before writing poems inspired by the experience.  The poets are and their residencies are:

  • Sean Borodale – Museum of Classical Archaeology;
  • Gillian Clarke – Museum of Zoology;
  • Imtiaz Dharker – Cambridge University Library;
  • Ann Gray – Cambridge University Botanic Garden;
  • Matthew Hollis – The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences;
  • Jackie Kay – Kettle’s Yard;
  • Daljit Nagra – Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology;
  • Don Paterson – Whipple Museum of the History of Science;
  • Joe Shapcott – The Polar Museum;
  • Owen Sheers – The Fitzwilliam Museum.

It sounds like a useful way of raising awareness of poetry but ten poets at ten museums across the country – with some publicly available workshops – would be far more effective.

Poetry is like philosophy in that it involves bringing together fundamental ideas and viewpoints on life. It needs to shake off its cloak of academia colours so it’s a shame Thresholds restricts all that poetic excellence in one place – which happens to be archetypically  academic anyway.