Dear Students

Dear Students,

September 2005

It’s a new academic year and time for a new letter. This message is mainly for GCSE and AS students.

Read the poem carefully before asking me a question. If you think first, your question will be more important than my answer. Your questions often show me the meanings I missed when I wrote the poems.

This might surprise you. How can you read more than a poet intended in a poem? Easily! Language is layered with meaning. When we choose a word, we know what we want to say, but we don’t know what the reader’s own experience brings to the word. Language is not frozen. It’s alive and it changes and grows with every generation of readers and writers and speakers. A poem is not carved in stone. It speaks. We listen. We respond.

Don’t let poetry scare you. It’s in English and the poet’s a human being like you. If you read the poem carefully, and if you bring your own experience to it, your response might be one that nobody else thought of. Trust your response. Trust that idea that pops into your mind, as long as you can support it by quoting the poem.

Understanding the poem is down to you. You don’t need me, or your teacher, or a book, to tell you how to respond to it. Once you have an idea, write it down, and quote your proof. If the evidence is there, in the language, you can’t be wrong. Your own honest, personal thoughts backed up by quoting the poem will delight your teacher and, when the time comes, the examiner.

I hope you’ll enjoy the course and the poems. I wish you luck, and a good grade when the time comes.

Gillian Clarke