Learning poetry by heart seems to have become a political issue over the last few days. All this was started off by Michael Gove's proposals, followed by responses such as Simon Armitage's piece in The Guardian.
Leaving aside the wider educational and political ramifications and homing in on the poetry itself, I'm convinced that learning verse by heart is extremely positive. This learning is generally done aloud, as the pupil works at making the lines stick, at which point the cadences and rhythms of the poem take over. Poetry concentrates and heightens the music of everyday language, a fact that only becomes apparent once the link between the spoken and written word is established. Learning verse by heart facilitates the process.
I recall the moment when I realised I wanted to write poetry. The repeated reading aloud of verse at school had intoxicated me with the musical effects that it obtained, and I was determined to find out just how to achieve the magic myself. Once poetry gets hold of you, it accompanies you for life!
For many years, the Edinburgh-based Irish poet Hayden Murphy has been producing wonderful keepsake poems to mark Bloomsday and since 1992 he has been colla...