I often think, with poetry anthologies, the packaging is so vital. By which I mean, not just the cover, but the concept behind the anthology, and what it is trying to offer you. Often, these can be depressingly glib "The Nation's Favourite Love Poems!" would do nothing for me, since "the nation" have plenty of favourite things that I think are not really very good at all, such as the Conservative Party and the X-Factor. However, the clever ones can really teach you things - a current favourite is A Poet's Guide to Britain by Owen Sheers, which offers a selection of poems which easily help me to understand what poets have felt about surroundings that are familiar to me, and allow me to perceive them in a new and interesting way.
A lot of people will tell you that they hate poetry. But if you look at any post on social media that's about loss, grief, the death of someone important, people almost always post a poem. Poetry haters will often have poems at their wedding, and it's very rare to go to a funeral without hearing verse.
Dissecting poetry is very much a part of GCSE English courses, and has been so since the inception of the qualification, and will probably be so forever. English is about communication, and poetry is a distilled form of communication, laced with all sorts of devices designed to help you write an ancient truth in a new way, or a modern truth in an ancient way. Some students I've taught have thought of poems as a puzzle to be dissected and reassembled, which is usually a helpful way of viewing them.
What is really, really not helpful is to tell your kids you hate poetry. It's the age old complaint from maths teachers that parents put off students before they've even really got going with "I hated maths at school" or "nobody in our family is good at maths". I've never said this to my kids (well, it's not true in our case, there are loads of very talented mathematicians in our family.) And whilst I wouldn't call myself a talented mathematician, (and neither would anybody else who has ever met me), I try really hard to be positive about maths to my children. Because, actually, they've got to do it! So me moaning about how unfair and rubbish it all is is only going to entrench them in a position of animosity towards maths, and the poor buggers who have got to teach it to them. It simply is not helpful. We all have our preferences for different subjects for study, but surely it's best for our children to discover what theirs are for themselves, rather than based on our hatred of our maths teacher circa 1994, who was probably just annoyed that we spent the entire maths lesson stabbing I LOVE LEE SHARPE'S LEGS with a compass on an eraser, rather than listening to what she was saying.
Anyway, I digress. With poetry, familiarity kicks out contempt. Babies and toddlers adore poems. I can't think of a toddler who doesn't love a rousing chorus of Row Row or a good reading of Bear Hunt. Keeping this going as the child grows can be challenging, but is really worthwhile. I've blogged before about good poetry books for younger children - there is lots of good stuff about.
I am about to return to teaching GCSE English after a rather extended time out. What strikes me about the new syllabus is that not only is there a lot of poetry (although, like I said, there always has been), but students are no longer allowed to take the anthology of poems into the exam room with them. This means they have to remember an awful lot about an awful lot of different poems. I think this is a real shame, since it turns the exam into more of a How Good is your Memory? test, rather than a How Good are You at Communicating and Understanding Communication? test, which is what it should be. I am hopeful that by the time my children take the GCSE, there may have been some adaptations. However, for A, this is only three years away (EEEEEEK!), so there probably won't. I realised that A and C don't really read much poetry any more.
Given that they both love reading, I felt I should try to increase the amount of poetry they're reading, because the more exposure they have now to different poetic forms, the easier it is going to be for them to navigate the choppy sea of GCSE. I bought A Poem for Every Night of the Year by Allie Esiri, partly because it looks great, but also because it keeps the dose of poetry short and regular, like my Nan would have administered cod liver oil. It's also designed to be read in the evening, as a kind of reflection, and sometimes in anticipation of the day to come. For example, on Sunday it was a poem by Langston Hughes, and the explanation of the poem mentioned that Martin Luther King Jr Day is around this date. It was, and C took more of an interest in it, because he had read a poem about it. A is not overly impressed, but is humouring me. C comes down to ask for his poem if I forget to read it to him. He then tells me what he thinks the poem is about. Sometimes his insights are lovely. Sometimes they make literally no sense whatsoever. However, at 10, I'm not really worried what he is saying about the poems, because any engagement is positive. And I'm sure that as time goes on, the perceptive comments will start to appear more frequently. And, most importantly, who knows how long he will let me sit a read a poem to him when he's all fresh out of the bath and in his jammies.