Book Review – A Poetry Pedagogy for Teachers: Reorienting Classroom Literacy Practice  

by Maya Pindyck and Ruth Vinz, with Diana Liu and Ashlynn Wittchow

The thrust of this detailed, well-researched, quite academic book about the poetry in classrooms is that we shouldn’t teach students to search for meaning so that “the poem becomes a specimen for examination under the microscope of interpretative practices”. Instead we should experience and inhabit a poem, thus allowing it to communicate to students.

What this means in practice is that students should be asked “what resonates and stays with you?” and do that in the various ways the book suggests, chapter by chapter. There’s a heavy emphasis on responding by writing – and not necessarily about what you know. Explore the unknown. Poetry, the writers tell us, is “made of smallness” often “as a means of noticing and caring”.

Effectively a training manual for teachers, the book suggests that the adult reader work through the methodology it proposes, him or herself perhaps in a group. Then, once you really understand how poetry works you can use the same ideas with students.

There are two possible problems with this. First, this is an American book focusing largely on American poems and the work of American academics – all relevant, of course, but some British readers might find it a bit off-putting. Second the British examination system is, I’m afraid, geared towards reading poetry for meaning, so few UK teachers will be able detach themselves totally from that approach however much they would like to.

I do however love the idea that we should “let poetry run deep and wild in all our lives, like a river.” 

Review by Susan Elkin