The Point of Poetry

By Joe Nutt

How poetry can teach us about the things in life that really matter

Poetry
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Publication date: Spring 2019

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Joe is a single dad with two daughters who have somehow managed to balance successful academic lives with sporting success. That has given Joe a lot of experience as a parent working with sports clubs and coaches, something as an ex teacher he’s very interested in. He would be very happy to share his experience over coffee, working with swimming, triathlon, volleyball and gymnastic clubs and coaches, over fifteen years, with any parent trying to juggle their child’s academic and sporting aspirations. London and South West within reason. Includes a signed 1st edition hardback and your name printed in the back of the book.
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Joe is an ex-racing cyclist and still gets out on his bike three or four times a week. He knows the Surrey Hills area inside out and will happily introduce anyone living within reach looking for some fun cycling routes including the best roads, lanes (and climbs) he knows. He’ll even offer to ride in front of you for long stretches! Includes a signed 1st edition hardback and your name printed in the back of the book.
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60 min lesson/ lecture or presentation, designed to excite students about reading and enjoying poetry. Groups can be KS2, GCSE or A level students, any size appropriate to the host’s venue. Joe’s travel and expenses are not included so please contact Unbound to discuss specific requirements and location before pledging. Includes a class set of 30 copies of the hardback.
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Participation in any CPD event for school teaching staff, up to half a day. As a leading UK educationalist and TES columnist Joe is frequently asked to speak at national and international educational conferences on current educational issues. Recent examples have included: using educational research effectively; stakeholder management and branding for Multi-Academy Trusts; investing in and using educational technology effectively; Joe’s travel and expenses are not included so please contact Unbound to discuss specific requirements and location before pledging. Plus 10 signed hardback copies.
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What’s the point of poetry? is a question asked in classrooms all over the world, but which rarely receives a satisfactory answer. Which is why so many perfectly literate, successful adults who read all kinds of books, never read poetry after leaving school.

A metrophobe isn’t someone who’s terrified of underground railways, it’s someone who’s afraid of poetry. But The Point of Poetry isn’t just for metrophobes, it’s a much more important book because it argues that you will learn far more from poets than from most other people claiming to help you understand the world you live in.

In it you will find more than twenty famous and not so famous poems by poets as varied as William Blake, John Milton, Seamus Heaney, Rita Dove and Hollie McNish.

Although most of their poems are reproduced this is definitively not a book of literary criticism for the kind of student expecting someone else to dissect specific poems word-by-word for them. That’s why where they are reproduced, they appear at the end of a chapter, not the beginning. By that time my hope is you will be just itching to read them.

Poetry is all about economy. Poets pack meaning into few words. No other kind of writer does this. Poems are like fireworks stuffed full, not with exotic chemicals, but with ideas. When you read them: you light the touch paper. This book will show you how to light the touch paper for yourself.

Some of the poems you may have heard of, others, almost certainly not, but for each of them I have used the same simple process of taking it as the starting point for an essay about the world we all know and live in today. That’s what happens when you light the touch paper. The poem ignites something in you about in the world you personally inhabit, the space you occupy in history and the people you have shared irreplaceable hours with.

If any of the essays amuse, entertain, enlighten or delight you then The Point of Poetry will have done its job. But if they send you rushing to the end in search of the poem, to light its touch paper for yourself, then I will quietly and secretly rejoice.

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Pledge your support to this project and receive Joe's eternal gratitude
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  • Joe Nutt avatar

    Joe Nutt

    Joe Nutt's nineteen years teaching experience in the UK unusually ranged from the highly selective, private sector to challenging, inner city state schools. In 2000, he was seconded to work on a Department for Education project from his English teaching post at the City of London School and quickly established a new, commercial career but continued to write for English Literature students. He has written books on Shakespeare, John Donne and most recently a Guidebook to Paradise Lost arguably the most difficult poem in the English canon, for one of the world’s leading academic publishers. He publishes educational research internationally and is a national, and international conference speaker. He is now one of the leading educationalists in the UK and writes a fortnightly column for the Times Educational Supplement.

  • The Tyger – William Blake.

    Most children lucky enough to have attended school in an English speaking country with a functioning state education system will have seen this poem. So I imagine it has a lot to do with why so many successful adults end up hating poetry. William Blake probably features on every metrophobe’s hit list, even those who will belt out Jerusalem at the top of their voice before an international rugby match, or on far less religious occasions, perhaps in adult life unaware that he was responsible for both these building blocks of English classrooms worldwide.

    To a child just about coping with the difference between advice and advise or even, have and of, spelling Tyger with a ‘y’ is just confirmation that any poet’s main mission is to sow confusion and doubt. The barrage of rhetorical questions that makes up most of the poem piles on the agony and it’s easy to see why so many children might respond perfectly well to a brightly coloured illustration of the poem without even beginning to grasp a single idea it contains. Even if they know something about the book of Genesis and quickly get the idea in the first verse of God creating the tiger, and designing its fearful symmetry; to any child trying gamely to grasp the concept of symmetry in their maths class, illustrations that show a tiger sideways on are just plain cruel. Think of all those diagonals. That’s verging on abuse. The poem always makes me wonder if Blake had ever seen a tiger himself, face first as it were.

    Blake was of course, an artist as well as a poet, although strictly speaking he was an engraver and when you look at his own illustration for The Tyger from his book, Songs of Experience, also sideways on, it doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence he knew anything about big cats. Blake’s tiger is a vastly oversized, overweight moggy, grinning stupidly on its way to meet Alice and the Dormouse for tea and some more of those yummy, toasted muffins. Critics and later fans love to describe Blake as a visionary, which has the advantage of being literally true, since he saw visions throughout his life, and they played a key part in his art. Just take a look at his illustration, The Day of Judgement for Robert Blair’s poem, The Grave, or anything at all he produced to illustrate Milton’s Paradise Lost. So it is perhaps naïve to even suggest he would be interested in depicting a tiger naturally. Wordsworth was convinced he was mad and the astonishing variety of revolutionary and radical thinkers and thoughts Blake toyed with throughout his life, certainly don’t point to a man of great intellectual stability. He wore the red floppy hat popular with French revolutionaries… and Noddy, until news of Madame Le Guillotine’s excessive appetite turned his stomach. He spent his life entirely in London with a spell in Sussex, so it’s fruitless to look for natural beauty or insight in a poem like The Tyger, as we might in anything by George Mackay Brown. Although the obvious word jungle was certainly available to him as an import from early British adventures in India, he opts for the temperate forests instead, as though he wanted his tiger to be stalking the English countryside alongside Robin Hood.

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  • Joe Nutt has written 5 private updates. You can pledge to get access to them all.

    21st February 2018 100% Funded

    Absolutely delighted to let people know the book is now fully funded and I'm really looking forward to working on the editing and design with Phil and his colleagues at Unbound. I was flattered by this Tweet in response to my Spiked article and hope it's an indication of many more readers' responses. 

    20th December 2017 Book Complete.

    Pleased to tell people that I completed the book a couple of weeks ago and it’s now with my editor, Phil Connor. I hope I’ve only given him one real headache, which is to do with copyright and a poem by Sassoon. Considering it’s only 66 words long, “breach of copyright” sounds a bit grand. 

    By the time I’d reached the end, I've become more and more convinced the book is genuinely prescient…

    9th October 2017 Poetry reading online.

    Sincere thanks to those of you who have kicked off with pledges. I am well ahead of schedule and on my final chapter but thought this might be of interest. I've listened to a lot of poetry being read online, because there is plenty to listen to, but it has really stunned me to discover just how variable the quality of the readings are. I could point you to a reading of Paradise Lost, for example,…

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  • Joshua Arnett
    Joshua Arnett asked:

    This worth supporting But all the tiers are locked out Even no reward Would like to support it, even without getting any reward for doing so.

    Joe Nutt
    Joe Nutt replied:

    Joshua, you have just missed the deadline to get your name in the book, but I will ask the team if there is a way to work round this. Did you have a specific pledge in mind?

    Joshua Arnett
    Joshua Arnett asked:

    No comment on haiku. Shame. I think this is worth supporting, and would like to do so. Not that interested in getting name in or a reward. I remember in US high school, how reading literature and poetry was jsft reading a bunch of words that we didn't understand, and then told a bunch of stuff that amounted to what would be on the test/homework. No exploration of feelings, or how to hunt out key phrases, or get a sense of the mood. Then in 11th grade, got a teatcher trainee who read Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven, and he used intonations, inflections, pauses, and imbued the words with feelings. My mind was stunned. We're not taught how to really read, just scan and copy information. Thinking $50 pledge or so. Not really interested in a reward.

    Unbound
    Unbound replied:

    Hi Joshua, If you'd like to email support @ unbound.com we can organise a pledge level for you. Thanks, Unbound