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why is poetry difficult at school?

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

Poetry, in this poet's opinion, is a beautiful way to express yourself. A way to take all the things that are causing heartache and put them on paper, or on your phone; a place where you can observe them and deal with them in a healthy, safe way.

I am aware that I am very biased, and that many people's experiences of poetry at school were not so favorable. For many poetry was the worst part of their lessons. This experience of poetry is retained into adulthood, leading adults to have a negative perception of poetry. This an unfortunate because poetry is very beneficial for mental health and well-being.

The purpose of this article is to help teenagers at school to see poetry from a different perspective so that their poetry lessons do not have to be negative or boring. Secondly, for parents, it is a small insight into your children's experience in lessons.

A key reason why poetry is difficult in the school environment is that teenagers have no choice when it comes to learning poetry; it is mandatory for them if they want to get good grades. This lack of choice makes poetry a chore. Similar to all subjects if there is no enjoyment for a subject, the emotional engagement will be reduced.

Poetry provides a lot of beautiful benefits. As stated above, it is excellent for good mental health and well-being. a good way of finding enjoyment in poetry is finding media that have elements in poetry; in writing this I have spoken to teenagers to get their opinion on this matter, a quote that came out that I found interesting was that “poetry is the music of the past, we like music now”. The reason why I say this is because rap music; uses a lot of poetry techniques; this can be a stepping stone to enjoying poetry. I will do a separate article on the relationship between poetry and rap music, but for now, I will highlight one artist that influences the poetry I write, Rapsody, an American rapper that uses words to create amazing mental images.

Psychology behind it

The brain does not have unlimited energy, meaning when considering that teenagers have to retain information from more than 7 subjects, plus do homework on those subjects and in the case of exam time revise for mocks, end of year exams or GCSE’s, that is a lot of information.

The brain does not have the cognitive capability to retain everything in its entirety, like a computer if you run too many programs the computer will slow down, the brain is similar when presented with a lot of information the brain will prioritize the information and in the case of poetry lessons, that is most of the time a low priority.

This cognitive and emotional disconnect means poetry lessons are naturally hard lessons for teenagers.


One solution to make poetry a more enjoyable lesson is making the poems personal to you. A poem is just a story at the end of the day, the more you can put that story in context to your life and experiences, the more enjoyable that poem will become.

Key questions to ask yourself are; how would I feel if that was me? and what would I do in that situation?. When you do this you add emotional value to the poem, making it easier to understand.

In asking these questions, we may find out that we do know what we will do; in this scenario, it is important to make the teacher aware that you are confused. It's the teacher's job to deliver the information effectively and for them to do so your feedback is important.

You say you do not know, lets the teacher know that the information needs to be simplified, the teacher is not a mind reader, so it is important for you the student to make the teacher aware that you are finding it difficult.

Lastly, you can make poetry easier to understand by listening to spoken word poetry or rap music. This can be an easier introduction to the poetry presented in schools, which is book poetry. Both rap music and spoken word poetry use techniques that can be analyzed when looking through a poem, such as alliteration, metaphors, similes, personification, and more.

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