Best Practice

Using poetry – some principles, ideas and approaches

Using poetry to explore how young people feel about world events is a powerful and increasingly popular approach, says Gareth Ellis

“Poetry makes nothing happen.”

People mention this oft-quoted line from WH Auden’s elegy on Yeats to reference poetry’s uselessness and ineffectuality. However, this dispiriting statement stands in stark opposition to two other assertions of the power of poetry.

Shelley, in The Defence of Poetry in 1821, famously stated that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, and William Hazlitt saw that the poet ought to “speak truth to power”.

Perhaps we shouldn’t take Auden literally, or certainly not out of context, but his words at least give us a means by which we might consider the impact of poetry on the world.

I am one of The Poetry Society’s teacher trailblazers and during the pandemic we have noted a significant interest in reading and writing poetry, as if the form gave us a means of exploring our physical and emotional isolation, as well as the myriad emotions that blew in on the Covid gales and gusts.

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