The Burning Question: should poetry have a place in the secondary curriculum?

Asked by: Allie Esiri, co-creator of the iF Poems ap (

A poem can be more powerful than a history book and more consoling than a friend. My take is let poetry be enjoyable; as Jonathan Patrick, head of English at St Paul’s Girls School, points out, “It was never written and should not just be encountered as a set text to analyse.” Explore the canon and find the poems that speak to you. It could be Hamlet finding life with a stepfather somewhat challenging; Siegfried Sassoon’s anger at war; or perhaps Wendy Cope’s comic quatrain on unrequited love. She makes me laugh out loud out when she has been “in a worse-than-usual fix” since falling head-over-heels in love with A E Housman: “No woman ever stood a chance with Housman/And he’s been dead since 1936.”

A poet’s way with words can inspire pupils to take new directions in their own writing. Lessons on poetry can be memorable, as a challenging piece can offer the class an exhilarating workout, and students can be encouraged to know that their personal responses are valid. After all, Coleridge himself said, “Poetry gives the most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood.”

What about the old debate of learning poems by heart? The success of our iF Poems app with its entertaining audio readings is heartening. I think learning poems by heart can be confidence-inducing for the pupil and a gift for life. Having a repertoire of brilliant words inside your head that you can draw on at different occasions can be useful for academic progress and in life.

There are many subjects fighting for their place in the curriculum, and we should argue for poetry’s place in the classroom. As the following words discovered on a tombstone in America pronounce: “Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.”