My son loves poetry. He’s 7.
He doesn’t care much for Shakespeare, Ted Hughes or Wordsworth though.
He loves poetry as the art form he has come to know it. I love his love of words. It’s something he and I have in common. I encouraged him to start writing poems as a very, very young child. And recently at school he has started to encounter the UK education system’s idea of ‘poetry.’
This would be great…. Except for the fact that the way poetry Is taught to children in the UK is, as far as I am concerned, substandard.
“What’s a syllable again?” he asked.
He then went on to explain that a poem he had written over a year ago (a poem, randomly about the CN tower), wasn’t ‘quite right.’
I love the poem he wrote. But suddenly he is obsessed with rhyme, rhythm and meter. His poems naturally had good meter, to be honest. Particularly for a child of his age. But as soon as the education system is involved, my son’s free expression is suppressed by the need to tap out syllables on a table and ensure they fit with rules written on a chalkboard in a classroom.
Let me clarify something. I do believe children should be educated in the classics and that they should learn certain styles of poetry. But I think the education system misses the point:-
Poetry is about expression. It’s about taking something you feel, something you see or something you imagine and about putting it into words and organising those words in a way that people want to read them.
I think that children should be encouraged to express first… many, many years before they have to start tapping out syllables on tables and looking up synonyms in dictionaries because they ‘already used that word once a few lines ago.’
I love poetry. But, much like my son, I would not call myself a fan of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Ted Hughes or Carol Ann Duffy. The existing UK education syllabus does not throw up anything that would have inspired me as a child nor inspires me now (albeit that in my twenties I have come to like one or two Duffy pieces).
I love Neruda’s work with a passion. Not because of his rhyme, rhythm, meter or structure. But because of his ability to take a feeling and enable someone to recreate it for themselves using only letters organised into words, organised into sentences of sheer emotional brilliance.
Poetry should be about expression…. About making an emotion or an imagined image transferrable using only words.
My son will retain his passion for poetic expression, I am certain of it . Unfortunately, I just don’t feel that the education system does much to further that. I think much of his passion for words will, at least for the next few years, be born of our poetry nights at home and outside of school.