I was listening to some work by Billy Collins today and it reminded me of a time, a few years ago when I was studying a course on training and development.  We had to present a simple training session.  The assessment was based on the structure of the session rather than the content or topic so I chose a topic that was simple and could fit into the time frame.  I chose “How to write a sonnet.”

Big mistake.

Sonnets are simple to write.  They have a logical structure to them that is easy to follow.  I thought I was on a winner.


I struggled through the presentation baffled by the glazed eyes that followed me and confused by the lack of writing that was going on.    I couldn’t figure it out.  The task was laid out step-by-step so no one could fail.

You know what the problem was?  It was the words “sonnet” and “poem”.  Instant shutdown.  Many members of the group had real issues with poetry because of the way it was presented at school.  Their minds went into meltdown at the thought of writing poetry.  Yet these were progressive and enthusiastic people who wanted to make a difference in the world.  It’s not like they were just filling in time.

There must be a way to teach students about language, writing and poetry without terrorising them!

I think that all English teachers should listen to Billy Collins and his poems.  Now he knows how to write poetry that people enjoy.  He would make a difference in the way we teach kids about language.  He would make a difference in our attitudes to writing.

Sadly, the system that is supposed to teach us about the beauty of language is responsible for killing it instead.

Billy Collins might put me out of a job, but if he was teaching writing skills at your school, how much more confident would you be in at least attempting your own writing now?  Listen to this poem and see if it changes the way you think and feel about poetry.

Perhaps poetry isn’t totally dead after all.