It all started with a line by line analysis of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Havisham’. Overly highlighted, barely readable annotations and lots of wiggly lines scribbled on an A4 sheet that was entirely blank a few moments prior.
“Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks” – It was at that exact moment, in an eclectic Year 11 English class that poetry clicked, questions bounced around my mind and the answers laid in playful language and an unexpected classroom discussion that followed.
However, next year some students might be deprived of that magical moment because schools will be able to drop poetry completely from their classrooms. Poems from Simon Armitage to Kae Tempest will lay unread in their themed anthologies, deprived of the fresh minds unpicking what the intention of enjambment is and students left unaware of the solace they might find in the array of themes that poetry covers.
The novel, the play and the poetry – three key essential components for GCSE English Literature made seemingly redundant. Instead, exam authority Ofqual has announced that whilst students must study Shakespeare, teachers will be faced with a decision of choosing two out of three from: the 19th-century novel, a modern drama or novel, and poetry. The move aligns with making exams easier for students in the midst of the pandemic.
Even if teachers stuck at a crossroads do decide to stick to the poems, the status of poetry has become questionable in itself. For the first time, poetry has become an option rather than a compulsory pillar of English literature education.
This new-found status does not fare well for poetry today, even when more than ever young people are consuming and writing poems. In an education system that seems to narrow in on the objective, factual and certain – there is going to be little room for ambiguity, debate and subjectivity.
Whilst many students may be cheering at the potential disappearance of poetry from their exams, it seems as if this is more of a reflection of how poetry is delivered in an exam setting rather than poetry itself. The government’s reform of GCSE English Literature in 2015 left students without copies of their poems in exams. English literature was once again confined to stock responses instead of prompting meaningful and thoughtful discussions that many know the subject to be. Poetry should not be a pressure pot like the government intends it to be.
Poetry is not going anywhere, it’s ink is still pulsing and living. It will still exist in a 16 year-old’s screenshot of Rupi Kaur’s Instagram feed, or in a simple click to share one of Rudy Francisco’s spoken word videos – anything that sings to the issues that affect them today. Perhaps, what is the most disappointing of Ofqual’s decision is the fact that somewhere there is a budding wordsmith, who has something important to say and might never take pen to paper if they are not given a formal introduction to poetry.
Image Credits: George Tuli