I teach British Literature to 17 and 18 year olds of various levels and degrees of interest (in different classes). Something that I’ve noticed over the years is that just about all my students feel something when we read World War I poetry. I don’t know if it’s because it’s visceral, perhaps they appreciate the simple plain language, or maybe they can relate to the poems where the young authors express regret and naivete about their involvement in the war. Because come on, I remember regretting decisions made at 17, having made them with only my idealistic little mind. Either way, WWI poetry in my Idealism/Realism unit is something I truly look forward to, due to great discussions and insightful responses. Poetry is sometimes confusing but this poetry is evocative and I always look forward to the spark of lively thoughts and conversation.
Last year, a few people reviewed Above the Dreamless Dead for Cannonball Read 7, and I knew immediately that I needed to read and experience this book. I also knew that I wanted my students to experience it as well–so I bought a class set. We read some poems together, I had them teach poems to the class and utilize the artwork to further their interpretations such as considering why the artists chose to depict the poems as they had. It was amazing. You know how every teacher wants their John Keating moment where the kids are carrying their teacher on their shoulders and/or defiantly standing on desks stoically stating, “O Captain!” “My Captain!” (ok, maybe not every teacher…but definitely me)? I had one of these moments. The kids were so passionate, and I had a renewed interest in some of the old poems that I’ve taught for years and even a few new ones that I don’t believe that I have read before were added to my repertoire.
If you’re not an English teacher, or a student of English, or even a lover of poetry, I guarantee that this book will ignite something in your heart and leave a lingering thought long after you’ve shut the book. I can’t recommend it enough.