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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 13:43 GMT
Reciting poetry: Stanza and deliver
Pam Ayres, Walt Whitman, Wilfred Owen, Dylan Thomas, Spike Milligan
Words of wisdom: Should we all recite poetry?
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

For most school children, being able to recite a poem from memory is a short cut to wandering lonely as a cloud during lunch times and having your gym kit chucked on top of the bus shelter.

In later life many of us regret our youthful Philistinism. Adults regard the ability to quote verse, other than On The Ning Nang Nong, as the height of cultivation. HAVE YOUR SAY Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is intent on saving future generations from wracking their brains about what that boy was doing on the burning deck or what Philip Larkin said about their parents.

Motion is calling for children to be taught poetry not by rote, but by heart. He says emphasis should be placed on the "emotional power" of verse.

Passion is not a word many would associate with their experience of poetry at school.

The subtleties of metaphor, the economy of vocabulary, the intelligence of rhyme mean little when your only interest is second-guessing the English examiner.

Who can let themselves enter the magical world of Lewis Carroll, when all they can think about is the exam question: "Brillig is vital to our understanding of Carroll's Jabberwocky, Discuss"?

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath: Poetry emotion
Reading poems aloud figures somewhere below double religious education lessons in the popularity stakes.

Adolescent boys, their hormones and voices thrown into turmoil, would rather be poked in the eye than stand to recite a Shakespearean sonnet.

Few would believe that poetry could ever be cool, let alone sexy.

"Had we but World enough, and Time, This coyness lady were no crime," may well have been Andrew Marvell's greatest opening, but rolling it out is unlikely to kick off a game of tonsil-hockey outside the chip shop.

Reading Jack Kerouac on the number 27 bus will probably get you beaten up before it gets you a reputation as a deep and sensitive Beatnik.

Jack Kerouac
Hit the road, Jack
Of course, our memories of poetry at school may be marred by the vagaries of the curriculum.

It seems one minute it's all happy nonsense poems, then next you are plunged into four years of harrowing war poetry.

Pam Ayres' "Oh, I wish I'd looked after me teeth" is no preparation for Wilfred Owen's "Move him into the sun - Gently its touch awoke him once".

And as for memorising Chaucer. Tis enough to gette yeah runninge fur coveer, squire.


Tiresome slog or an inspiring lesson? Tell us your memories of learning poetry or send us a favourite verse from your youth.

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Here's what you've said:

I recently learned Neruda's "Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes..." (Tonight I can write the saddest verses) for a Spanish course. After my wife's reaction to my recitation of romantic poetry in Spanish I am quite voluntarily memorising "Me gusto cuando callas..." (I like for you to be still). The attraction of memorising poetry depends a lot on the poems assigned!
Sean Richens, Canada

We we're a tough little bunch of Black Country lads in Walsall in the 1950s. But when our secondary modern school teacher recited to us 'The Eagle', with the opening lines "He clasps the crags with crooked hands..." we were all ears.

In our dirty jumble sale clothes, in our green grey classrooms, it was free milk and poetry that unlocked our hearts from our council house misery. Thank you, Lord Tennyson.
Michael Edwards, Canada

As a schoolboy poetry was a mystery, but now I understand it to represent the elixir of life distilled through many greater minds than mine. Eternal thanks to my teachers.
Colin Edwards, USA

I remember agonising over Philip Larkin's 'Mr. Bleany' in high school. The meaning of the poem was laboriously cranked out by the teacher until it was understood by all. I remember every cruel minute of it as if it was yesterday.
Jim Hodges, USA

Making people do things always puts the best off.
R.H.Helm, UK

I rather enjoyed doing poetry at school (part of Higher English), and while I remember few of the words of the poems, I still remember their essence. My personal favourites were Sylvia Plath's "Wuthering Heights" and "Not waving but drowning" but Stevie Smith.
Fiona Steyert, UK

Some are for the Glories of this World
And some sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come
Ah, take the Cash and let the Credit go
Nor heed the rumbling of a distant drum
Omar Khayyam, Persia

Sometimes beautiful poetry was the only thing that made growing up and all its associated pains bearable. Somehow, words penned down by someone who lived in another age, another time, struck such a chord that one would feel one was not alone, going nuts or whatever in feeling the way one did. Poetry in schools shall enrich the lives of our children.
Anjali, USA

Half of education is about learning things one only comes to value later on in life - sometimes even sooner (Owen rocks). Anyway, surely being beaten up for reading Kerouac on the bus is entirely in keeping with Beatnik self-image?
Fer Staberinde, England

As with all art, poetry is an expression of those things we feel but can never define. It just is. Unfortunately there are a lot of crimes committed in the name of poetry and majority of victims are schoolchildren.

Spike Milligan said that "there is one good poem inside everyone". It only takes one poem to hit the mark for the whole world of poetry to be opened up. However it's unlikely that this will happen at school.
Don MacAskill, Scotland

Oh, poetry was always boring at school. The most aggravating thing about it was the teacher trying to explain what it meant. Explaining metaphors so we could vomit it out verbatim during the exams. A slight deviation from her interpretation and there go the marks. A more open approach to poetry would be nice - students being allowed to interpret poetry in their individual manner would make poetry classes into something creative. And please... no recitations in class!
Alekh Bhurke, USA (ex India)

Learning poetry is a wonderful thing to do. I recommend using Ted Hughes' technique, described in 'By Heart: 101 Poems to remember', which involves learning through sounds and pictures created in the mind. This aids the connection of words and forms and is a much more enjoyable way of learning than by rote.
Malcolm Birks, UK

While in 7th grade at a Catholic school, our choir/English teacher, Sr. Leonard, had us memorise "The Bells" by Poe. Then she divided us into groups and we presented the poem as a choir piece. Even though their was no music we learned that poetry can be musical because of the beauty and strength of the poet's words.
Robin Wintjen, USA

Learning by heart never has been, nor ever will be, an effective way of learning. The motivation must come from within. Only by encouraging freedom of expression will you unleash the imagination of children.
Adrian Thompson, France

Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality;
We slowly drove, he knew no haste and I had put away my labour and leisure too, for his civility.
Emilie Dickinson
Krishna Menon, Canada

While poetry reading can sometimes be frustrating, especially when one has to wrestle with the meanings of archaic diction, it can also be tremendously fruitful for the development of our emotional world.
Haider Kikabhoy, Hong Kong/England

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