A number of poets work as Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Doing so for a prolonged period has major drawbacks, especially if your only contact with English is through your pupils, as your own linguistic use easily becomes stilted. However, there are also considerable benefits. Above all, you find yourself in the position of explaining points that you never had to learn consciously yourself, thus bringing about a major reassessment of your relationship with your native tongue.
When first in Spain, I did a lot of TEFL work. I found that the Spanish tended to speak English in something of a monotone, not feeling its bounces. Of course, Spanish metrics count syllables instead of stresses, and that is a reflection of how stress and intonation differ between both languages.
Over time, I realised that English-language poetry was a useful tool in the classroom: I would ask my pupils to recite lines of pentameter to work on that afore-mentioned intonation. Meanwhile, another favourite activity was to take a sentence and analyse how its meaning would be altered by a slight shift in intonation. I often used the following example, the brackets providing an unspoken illustration in each case :
I want you to go (but your mother doesn't)
I want you to go (I really do)
I want you to go (not your brother)
I want you to go (not to come)
I recall rows of flabbergasted Spaniards trying to get to grips with an implicit semantic use of intonation and stress that just didn't exist in Iberia. The nuances might sound so obvious to a native speaker, but I had to go through a considerable process of working out how my own language functioned before I was able to explain them to my pupils.
In other words, coming to English afresh from a foreigner's perspective is a terrific experience for any writer. For a poet it's even more enriching.
I’m currently reading gendering poetry by Vicki Bertram as part of my reading for my PhD. I’m absolutely loving this book – firstly because I can understa...