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How Poems Work: Meanings, techniques and effects in 100 poems from Beowulf to the Iraq War

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How Poems Work: Meanings, techniques and effects in 100 poems from Beowulf to the Iraq War

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Readers of poetry are often told to leave poems alone - to learn them by heart or to enjoy how they sound and leave it at that. This is all very well, except for those readers who have to study poetry at school or university. Or other readers who don't yet enjoy poems because they are daunted by their seemingly impenetrable meanings or inaccessible techniques.


In this annotated anthology, Robert Gullifer and Matthew Jenkinson demystify poetry while showing that there are many good reasons to pick poems apart. From Beowulf to the Iraq War, a millennium of poetry is presented to give readers a sense of how poems have evolved since we first started writing them down. 

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The publication of How Poems Work has been made possible by the generous support of the Warden and Fellows of New College, Oxford through the New College Ludwig Humanities Research Fund.

Readers of poetry are often told to leave poems alone - to learn them by heart or to enjoy how they sound and leave it at that. This is all very well, except for those readers who have to study poetry at school or university. Or other readers who don't yet enjoy poems because they are daunted by their seemingly impenetrable meanings or inaccessible techniques.

In this annotated anthology, Robert Gullifer and Matthew Jenkinson demystify poetry while showing that there are many good reasons to pick poems apart. From Beowulf to the Iraq War, a millennium of poetry is presented to give readers a sense of how poems have evolved since we first started writing them down. 

Historical backgrounds, meanings, techniques and effects are explained and analysed clearly and logically to help readers understand what poets have been trying to say to us across the centuries. At the same time, major themes that have recurred in poetry are highlighted, so general readers, teachers and students can navigate the poems as they wish: by time period, by technique, or by theme.

This book has been designed so it is useful to anyone interested in learning about or teaching poetry, as well as those revisiting poems and poets they may have already encountered. Those poems and poets have been carefully selected to ensure that How Poems Work covers much of the existing poetic canon while broadening it to include diverse historically important poets who have been previously overlooked, or to include less well-known poems by already canonical poets.

Reviews

From Dryden to Larkin, this wonderful anthology features not just some of the finest poems ever written, but also insightful ways of thinking critically about them. This book would be an excellent accompaniment to any serious student of literature or indeed anyone who simply loves poetry.” -- Carl Hendrick, Wellington College

Anthologies of poetry often expect so much of their reader and a lot of the poems' meanings can be missed. This book is different. The annotations give all readers a way in; unlocking the secrets of the poems by offering insightful commentary of context, language use, and effects. This is a must-have for anyone teaching or studying poetry; but what's even more exciting about this book, is it's for anyone who wants to enjoy great works of poetry, whilst being helped to understand it a little better. -- Claire Hill, Head of English and Media Studies, Dover Grammar School for Girls

'How Poems Work' is an excellent tool for English teachers looking to enrich and improve curriculum content, explore the richness and beauty of English literature and develop the understanding of complex concepts and forms relating to poetry in the classroom. The book's key strength, for me, is its structure. Each poem includes a meticulously researched section on the background to the poet followed by an exploration of the poem's form and literary devices. A great starting point for teaching. Furthermore, the authors have done something incredibly useful for teachers: they have made connections between poems on several levels. They have linked poems together by poetic device, theme or form. Explore how various poets use metaphor differently. Explore how the sonnet of form varies over time. Explore how the different types of people view the same issue. An intelligent and insightful journey over time through the medium of poetry and a very useful tool for the classroom. -- Chris Curtis, Head of English

‘Poetry has the potential to move us, challenge us and enrich our lives - it is the most fascinating of art forms. Yet for many, it remains a mystery, dense and challenging to get to the heart of. This fascinating book is an essential read for those who want to begin a journey in poetry, or poetry lovers who want to have their understanding of their favourite poems further developed. By walking us through the canon of wonderfully selected poetry, the authors provide a road map for how poetry has evolved over time. Each poem is explored in detail; the authors passion for the poems they unpick is clear to any reader. I finished 'How Poems Work' informed, challenged and inspired - highly recommended!’ — Jamie Thom, English teacher, author of Slow Teaching and host of the Tes English podcast

As an English teacher, I've been teaching poetry for almost twenty years now. If I'd had this book I would have been a much more confident practitioner. First of all, the breadth of poetry included is astonishing for a text like this: from Chaucer to MacNeice, Spenser to Larkin, you could throw it in the air, let it fall and it d be open at one of the greatest poems in the English language. However, it's the follow up textual analysis which I think is most useful to the prospective reader, be it a teacher or one who merely enjoys poetry. Succinct yet focused, the writers lead us through the main language techniques used in each poem, walking the reader through each explanation with clarity and precision. I think it may be finding a permanent on my desk. -- Kenny Pieper, English teacher, author

About the Author

Matthew Jenkinson holds a doctorate in cultural history from Merton College, Oxford. He is Deputy Head Academic of New College School, Oxford, and is the author of several articles and books, including Charles I's Killers in America and Culture and Politics at the Court of Charles II. He is also editor of the Hour-Long Shakespeare series and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Robert Gullifer read English at St Catharine's College Cambridge, where he was also a Choral Scholar, and did his PGCE at the Oxford University education department. He has taught English at both senior and prep schools, was Chair of the OCR General Qualifications Panel for English, and was appointed Headmaster of New College in 2008. Asides from education and his particluar interest in 18th century English literature, he is still a keen musician and also enjoys to travel.

Additional Information

Author Robert Gullifer & Matthew Jenkinson
ISBN 978-1911382942
No of pages 303
Format Paperback
Publication Date 19 Oct 2018

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