Friday, 22 June 2012

Poetry by Heart

Simon Armitage finds the idea of learning poems by heart "brings back bad memories".  I'm sure he'll get over them.  I'm fairly sure Michael Gove is not thinking of grown men having to do compulsory conning .  As for Michael Rosen, he feels that learning poetry by heart will turn it into "a duty, an obligation and a bore".  Clearly, then, poetry isn't as important for Rosen as maths or physics or geography or any other subject that children are forced to study against their wills, but which I would hope he would approve the teaching of.  

Even in the 19660s and 70s we weren't forced to learn poems off by heart.  I wish we had been. 

There is a passage in 'Touching the Void' in which Joe Simpson, crawling down an Andean mountain with two broken legs, finds that he knows several Shakespeare sonnets by heart, though can not remember having learned them.  This must have been the work of some officious Gore clone who insisted he do so.  Of course they were probably a duty, an obligation, and a bore to learn but at least they saved him from the interminable chords of 'Brown Girl in the Ring' which had been making his crawl back to life even more hellish.

Read Howard Jacobson in the Independent, here. He has it right.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder about your "by heart" blog.
    I can see that Rosen doesn't want children to be put off poetry by being forced it.
    I've not yet read Jacobson, as I wanted to keep this unsullied by others !
    (I own to the view I hold of HJ as being "a bit up himself". Just so you know.)

    Can you do all your tables?
    nine twelves is
    six sevens is
    and so on.

    What does the coefficient of expansion mean?

    A moment about a point is ?

    Queen Elizabeth 1st had Calais on her sleeve - what did she mean?

    blue and yellow mixed make?

    I think the point I'm trying to make is that all of us have learned stuff by heart in some way. And some of it comes from non poetry even if it gets recalled poetically.

    I don't have much time for Gove. Thus predisposed to reject most of his ideas because they are his ideas.

    I remember a Granta issue (years ago, issue 43 give or take 10 !!) in which there was the story of people sailing / rowing from island to island in Micronesia, in which the rhythm of their action told the story of how to cross the sea, read its surface, and how others had been successful doing so in the past. Thus practical navigation, cultural identity and tricks to understand the medium through which they travel were all part of the song.

    Maybe had our grandfather lived earlier, and us too therefore, we may well have had to heart plygain, and all the Bible (Bishop Morgan's of course), and Taliesin and Aneurin, and so on to aid our rowing.

    Lots of stuff gets learned by heart. Only some is poetry. But usually, only poetry is offered as the stuff to learn by heart. Living a good life is learned by heart. Just look at yours or mine as examples.