One nice thing about this project is that, as research goes, its point and purpose are easy to convey to colleagues or friends or casual enquirers. The reactions are also interesting in themselves.
Many people initially assume that we’re doing some kind of testing on children. It’s a reasonable assumption: we are, after all, based in the Faculty of Education. And ultimately, if memorisation and recitation foster the kind of engagement with a poem that we want young people to have, then this research will surely have implications for policy and practice. But although we’re planning to do some work with some schools later on, this is by no means the main focus.
Whilst there is a place for educational research in schools, there is also case for research that doesn’t begin with the child in school but begins with human being. As Professor Teresa Cremin said recently, “rather than beginning with teachers and children, we begin with people – people reading, people writing and so on, and then build up the pedagogy from there.” *
This seems to us especially important in the case of poetry. For poetry’s time is not necessarily the time of the English period or the GCSE syllabus. A poem’s work in us may be slow and unpredictable. So whatever research in school were to tell us, it’s possible that it would not be the whole story. As the poet Charles Causley said: “As the poet Charles Causley observed: ‘if, say, 80 per cent of a poem comes across, let us be satisfied. The remainder, with luck, will unfold during the rest of our lives.’ (Causley 1966, p. 91).
As it turns out, poetry has its own time in terms of our survey, too. We’ve had many wonderful responses already – and still they’re coming in. So, although the original plan was to keep the survey open until the end of October, we’re going keep it open a little while longer, allowing time for things to unfold a little further.
* Keynote speech at UKLA 50th International Conference, University of Sussex, 2014