Poems that Promote a Love of Literature

By Heather Teague 
Professional English Tutor and former Secondary Teacher based in York


I adore poetry. When I know I am going to be doing a poetry lesson I will happily research for hours. I love reading them, exploring the language, studying the context and finding other poems written by the same author, or within the same poetic movement. Unfortunately, students often do not share my passion for poetry revision. I remember, in the classroom, being met with a chorus of groans when I excitedly announced we were going to start a poetry module.

Students often feel that they can’t understand or relate to poetry. I often find that it is because they have been exposed to dense poetry with complex language to analyse. When I start a poetry module, I begin with the stories or emotions being told through the poetry. Hook them with the story that is being told, then analyse the language.
Below are the poems that I have found have had the best responses with my students. It all depends on taste, and it helps that I love these poems too, but I’ve found that these poems, for different reasons, have engaged the vast majority of my students both in tutoring and in the classroom.

The Listeners – Walter de la Mare

I always start a module on poetry with this poem, especially with students who ‘hate poetry’. Without fail, every single one has enjoyed studying this poem. The language is easy to follow, but very effective in creating an eerie atmosphere. They love discussing who, or what, The Listeners might be. They love the supernatural, psychological elements to this poem, and it allows them to explore their ideas without the fear of being wrong. This poem is really a fantastic starting point when it comes to showing students that different answers can be correct, and it’s the variation in interpretations that keeps literature intriguing.

Sonnet 130 - Shakespeare

I love teaching this poem. I get the student to read it to me, and explain it line by line (with a bit of support with the language). I love the moment they realise just how insulting it is, especially when I’ve introduced the poem as extremely romantic and something I would love to be written about myself. I love how students actively engage in trying to figure out why it is so romantic. I give varying levels of support, but by the end of the lesson we have discussed in depth the presentation of love in poetry – something most students avoid. It’s an extremely effective poem in showing students that poetry can be real, and poets can be genuine, and that Shakespeare is more down to earth than they expect.

Porphyria’s Lover – Robert Browning

Teenagers love a bit of weird. Robert Browning can definitely deliver on weird. Again, like The Listeners, the language is just right for being able to follow but also giving students that little bit of challenge. When reading this poem, there’s always a moment of ‘hang on, what did he just do?!’ that always engages interest. This poem sparks good discussion about human psychology, looking into the reasons for the strange actions of an unusual mind.

The Nation’s Ode to the Coast – John Cooper Clarke

This is a good example of a modern poet using language to express universal thoughts and feelings of nostalgia. I love teaching this poem, as it can reach students on different levels. Students can think back to their childhood days at the beach, and understand the nostalgia that Clarke expresses, which can loop into a discussion about the purpose of the poem. It also helps that there is a video on the National Trust website of Clarke reading the poem.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve found that teenagers love the Gothic. They also love the supernatural and psychology, which makes The Raven perfect for promoting a good discussion. Now, The Raven is a more difficult read for students when compared to The Listeners and Porphyria’s Lover, but luckily there is a Simpson’s Halloween Special episode that has the whole poem read and acted out brilliantly. I’ve found this resource invaluable for helping the students access and understand a poem that otherwise might have been a bit much for them. This is a great poem that gives students a chance to explore ideas of grief and psychology and opens them up to lots of interesting language that they can try to implement into their own work.

Ultimately, if you have an interest and enthusiasm for what you are teaching, your students will be more likely to feel an interest too. If you love a poem, you will be able to show your student why it is interesting and exciting, so definitely find the poems that you enjoy and help your student to access the stories and emotions being explored in those poems before exploring the language that presents it.

If you are looking for an English tutor, both online and in the York area, please contact Heather via:
Heather Teague Tutoring