Studying Poetry

Far fewer schools use poetry for Part 3 than use prose and drama but each year the IB examiner's report suggests that those students that do write about poetry often do well and there are also usually comments encouraging more teachers to consider it as an option.  In many ways students can find it easier to analyse poetry, partly because it is a form that draws attention to itself and partly because many students find it easier to focus on the more condensed blocks of language poetry offers.  

Furthermore, while fewer people choose to read poetry in their daily lives than read novels or watch plays, students of a diverse range fo backgrounds and abilities often really enjoy exploring and discussing poetry.   It appeals to different students for different reasons - those with logical, analytical minds like to see poems as 'puzzles' to be solved; more imaginative or reflective thinkers relish the ambiguity, contradictions and paradoxes often found in poems; those who are more creative or sensitive to language will relish the way poets choose and combine words.   As such poetry lends itself to genuinely exciting discussion and collaborative learning where students can pool their strengths and learn from each other.  

If you are passionate about poetry and you think your students would enjoy studying three or four different poets then do not be put off by the fact that few schools around the world do choose this option - in fact, choosing poetry is one way to help your students 'stand out from the crowd.'

What is Poetry?  

A natural starting point is to pose this question to your class and see what answers they come up with; this will yield an interesting discussion and can then be followed up by giving your class some or all of the following definitions by poets:

"Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted."

"Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry."

"Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." 

"Poetry is a pheasant disappearing in the brush."

"There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either."

"Imaginary gardens with real toads in them."

"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen."

"Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history."

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from these."

"Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful."

"Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words."

"Poetry is language pared down to its essentials." 

"Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."

"You can’t write a poem out of emotion only, there must be insight."

"Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement."  

"Poetry: the best words in the best order." 

"Each man carries within him the soul of a poet who died young."

"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."

"Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive and wisely efficient way of saying things." 

"Poetry is nobody's business except the poet's, and everybody else can fuck off."

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