Poetry: Beyond the Leaving Cert

Sárán argues for greater appreciation of poetry in everyday life

Written by Sárán Fogarty


Poetry, for some people an artistic outlet, for others an academic burden to bear. Every student studying Leaving Cert English, Higher or Ordinary, must study the works of several poets. For a lot of people having art dissected and regurgitated can be hell. Tearing apart a poem looking for elusive meaning and points for an essay, often destroys the real reason a poem was written. I somehow doubt when Philip Larkin mused over married life in “The Whitsun Weddings”, he envisaged teenagers poring over his symbolism in an effort to secure ever elusive marks.

Regardless of your level, everyone can find poets, whose art speaks to them in a more oblique manner, than merely in terms of tone, themes and technique. Take for instance Sylvia Plath, whose confessional style and enigmatic imagery, defy dissection. If you find a poet whose work you enjoy, read them, extra reading can only help your English marks and will open up new levels of understanding of the written verse.

Take music for example, music is poetry that surrounds us every day. Some musicians, like Leonard Cohen, even originally started as poets. For me, there's no difference in the music of an artist like Stormzy, than the works of Medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Both are popular, both produced works of art which appeal to fans, and both reflect the social norms and attitudes of the time they lived in. Whether you’re enjoying “The Canterbury Tales” or “Gang Signs and Prayer”, you are enjoying the art of poetry.

While writing this a quote from the film “The Big Short” comes to mind. “Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry”. To me this has truth, but I don't think attitudes to poetry are borne from the works themselves, rather than from an education system, that forces us to analyse a poem to death, and subsequently expects us to learn an essay off, to reproduce for a state exam. While this isn't a critique of poetry on the L.C course, (I'm a Larkin lover myself), I do think that the way it's taught for a lot of students is a failure to the art which has originally been produced. That's not to say all students hate it, me I love poetry and the way I'm taught it. However, I do wish that more people, were able to separate poetry from study.

Look at John Montague, while I'm sure he appreciated recognition of the merit of his works, writing poems like “The Cage” and “The Locket”, serve not to examine an eighteen year olds analysis skills, but are a way for him to cope with a complicated family history, and the emotion that it awakens in him.

In conclusion, my encouragement is for people young and old, to discover and enjoy poetry that speaks to them, be it the Romanticist exuberance found in Shelley, or the Contemporary Grunge of Stormzy’s poetic vision, read and listen to what interests you, be it Dua Lipa or Durcan, and most importantly poetry is first and foremost an art, not an exam.

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