This is something I want to run out next term. Obviously there are so many poems to chose from, once I started it was very hard to know where to stop, and this might continue to grow. We use a home-grown anthology in year 9 and generally try to have a clear focus. War, relationships, the future, growth… (now I want to compile a new one starting with Heaney’s Drowning Kittens…)
Still, I went for texts and writers I love. Hardy and Heaney, Shakespeare and Rosetti, Kay and Duffy…
So why these poems?
The two Sonnets are crucial to opening up a discussion. Shakespeare powerfully arguing for the everlasting nature of true love and a poem full of the richest figurative writing imaginable and Rosetti, seeming to speak from the same position until the volta introduces the shift and the move to selfless, rather than selfish love. Both are featured in the Edexcel IGCSE anthology which students may encounter in Year 11, though by then the shifts and changes in policy regarding these exams may well mean that the whole syllabus has been radically altered. Not to worry. Great poems deserve to be read.
Also in the anthology is Alice Walker’s Once Upon a Time. The poem looks at the effect of the loss of a loved one – a parent in this case and I have paired it with Heaney’s Digging, in my mind. Walker seems aware of the harshness of her childhood but ultimately sees the positive far outweigh the negatives – beatings happened, but he taught me “how”. Similarly, Heaney vows to “follow” his father. The close relationship (is there a better assonance and balance in all poetry than “snug as a gun”?) is clear, despite the obvious differences between father and son. Again, I hope to find much to discuss and develop in this idea.
Duffy and Kay are paired with two poems about or inspired by childhood. In Duffy’s poem the daughter tries to imagine her way into her mother’s mind and tries to imagine the life her mother led. She seems entranced by her mother’s youthful good looks, although the sense of possession found in the title hardly suggests a willingness to let go. Kay’s poem is all about imagination and childhood. The fragility of a childhood dream – an imaginary friend – which is both tragic and uplifting – I enjoy the grandiose lies of the cat burglar and sense of dissatisfaction with her father’s role as a Union Convenor. I think Kay is a wonderful poet to teach and share with young people and would eagerly teach the Adoption Papers as a single text if time and syllabus allowed. Maybe another time.
Finally, Hardy. I simply adore Hardy and in the Emma poems, the treatment of loss and grief is unsurpassed. Here there is much scope for exploration of Hardy’s rather selfish conclusion as he views himself and his philosophies, but also for the treatment of the “woman”. How affectionate is this poem? Is he angry and confused? Expressing grief or wallowing in self pity?
I can’t wait to see how opinions differ. After all what is the point of teaching poetry if everyone meekly accepts a single interpretation?