This new re-visioning of Matt Whitling's Grammar of Poetry is more than just face-lifted: in addition to making the student book more attractive and easier to use, Whitling has recorded a series of DVD lectures to accompany the textbook course. Since poetry is a verbal as well as a written art, this multimedia approach is only logical, and very helpful for the novice.
How Does This Work?
The textbook and teacher's edition are both perfectbound (as opposed to spiralbound in the original version), and the pages of the student book are also perforated for easy removal. Page layouts are clear and intuitive; the teacher's edition is identical to the consumable student text except that answers to all objective problems are also included. Nine modules divide thirty lessons into groups organized according to similar tropes.
If you don't know what a trope is, this course is definitely for you. A trope is a figure of speech, a rhetorical device, or a linguistic trick to make writing or oratory more powerful and appealing. Since poetry is rooted in both oratory and writing, it's essential that one understand tropes in order to be familiar enough with poetry to both read and write it well.
Engendering such familiarity is the goal of Grammar of Poetry. Whitling's exercises and text are meant to help unlock the mysteries of poetry as well as to direct students to writing good verse themselves, an educational concept rooted firmly in the Classical tradition, where imitation is the key to good original efforts.
Students learn through exercises to identify tropes in great poems of the literary canon, as well as to write their own. This course is as much about molding capable poets as it is about creating poetry connossieurs. Kids deal with fairly difficult poems, but Whitling's instruction is so clear and thorough they shouldn't have any trouble. Two appendices in the back offer lists of important poems grouped by topic, era, and author, as well as an invaluable glossary of terms.
Each lesson is around 5-7 pages long, with text to read and exercises to complete. The student book is consumable, though you could easily have kids complete their work on a separate sheet of paper in order to accomodate more than one. The book was written for students grades 6-9, but it's written in such a way that older students or even adults without much experience reading or interpreting poetry can make their way through the material with no shame (you won't find cute bunnies or talking flowers here).
For every lesson in the book, there is a corollary DVD lesson in which Matt Whitling explains the text further and offers a number of examples. There are two downsides to the DVDs: Whitling is pretty deadpan and almost monotone, and he doesn't venture very far beyond what's already in the book. On the upside, he does reiterate the book content in different words, thus thoroughly cementing the material in students' heads.
This two-part attack on the part of the teacher (Whitling) is an excellent element for users of Grammar of Poetry. As it's intended for beginners, the course thereby offers as much exposure as possible to concepts that to many (probably even most of us) are foreign and difficult. Whitling suggests younger students with basic writing skills can also use this program, but we'd probably discourage that as the terminology alone is pretty daunting.
Our Honest Opinion
If your studentswant to read Shakespeare (or Milton, or Frost, or cummings, or Merwin) but still think a "dactyl" is a kind of dinosaur, they need Grammar of Poetry. Buying the entire bundle may look like a lot of money, but the rewards will be well worth it. Understanding poetry will help your kids become better readers, better communicators, better scholars, and better joke-tellers.
A word of caution: don't let Grammar of Poetry be the last word in your students' poetry education. The concepts taught here are fundamentals, and there's plenty more to learn in high school and beyond. We suggest How to Read a Poem by Burton Raffel and The Art and Craft of Poetry by Michael J. Bugeja as excellent follow-ups, as well as reading as much great poetry as possible and writing their own.
Why Study Poetry | Doug Wilson & Matt Whitling from Roman Roads Media on Vimeo.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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