Friday, 8 November 2013

How to teach poetry? : An Enigma!

(One of th M.Phil students Alpesh Parmar posted message on FB asking to share something on 'how to teach poetry?'... this note is written extempore for him... which may be helpful to others as well... I request all the readers of this note to contribute something by sharing your experince of teaching poetry by commenting on this note)

Dear Friends,
Teaching poetry is not everyone's cup of tea. There is no fun in the world as great as teaching it to those who love it... there is nothing as boring as teaching poetry to those who hate it. It is so because (to quote Yuri Lotman) - ‘A poem is both a system of rules, and a system of their violation’.

Reading/Teaching poetry is not as easy as one thinks. It necessisates undertanding of culture (in/for which it is written), history (historiography of metaphors, semantics etc) and above all linguistic competency.
Here is the list of books and websites which may help teachers and students in reading/teaching poetry:
  • Books:
  1. Terry Eagleton: How to read a poem? Blackwell Publisher (2006). TERRY EAGLETON’S book seeks to teach its readers how to read poems through a combination of literary history, theoretical discussion, and leading by example. The book develops a simple and unshowy working definition of poetry (‘a certain memorable or inventive use of language, and a moral insight into human existence’), but at the same time suggests a correspondence between the best poetry and a kind of productive contradiction … (read Jonathan Baines's  full article on
  2. I.A. Richards: Pratical Criticism (1920) From his practical experiments into 'reading poems' at Cambidge University, I A Richards drew 'a list of principle difficulties that may be encountered by any reader in the presence of any poem. This analysis was in part intended to develop educational method to teach poetry in the classroom. (read Robert Shaffer's full article on
  3. Elaine Showalter: Teaching Literature Blackwell Publisher (2003). Drawing on 40 years of international teaching experience, as well as the real life experiences of friends and colleagues in the field,Showalter offers original and provocative reflections on teaching literature in higher education, and addresses practical, theoretical, and methodological issues.
  • Websites:
Whenever students come with such questions which can't be answered, the easy way is to give him 'list' of books - whcih are unattainable... there are at least two benefits of doing this - (i) As teachers, we can create a favourable impression - of knowing names of so many books and we speak on those books with such an air of authority - as if we have written it or 'read' it - (ii) it helps in establishing superiority over student's lack of knowledge. But the best of all is - students will never dare to come agian to ask for anything.
I believe, if teacher 'really' want to 'share' with students, he should give books instead of lists - or atleast photocopies of important pages. I find easy way in sharing weblinks. Click and go...

Well, these weblinks are not as goos as the books listed above but it will serve the purpose of two-minute-maggie to hungry child - just as maggie does not give nutritions but helps in satisfying hunger - similarly, these weblinks are not 'nutritious' but it surely will cater the needs of hungry mind - i would be glad if it makes you more hungry to read the books.
  4. (read chapter 4 on Teaching Poetry from Elaine Shawalter's book 'Teaching Literature')