GCSE students taking English Literature next year are allowed to drop poetry, over concerns that schools won’t be able to cover all areas of the curriculum because of the coronavirus pandemic.
I feel it is a mistake to consider poetry dispensable, so as we say goodbye to Seamus Heaney, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath and Benjamin Zephaniah, I walk through Twickenham to remind myself of the associations with poetry that I have built up here, as a resident for nearly twenty years.
Beside Marble Hill House is Montpelier Row, a row of Georgian houses that were built in the 18th century by King George II, as a retreat from London. Alfred Lord Tennyson was a resident at No.15, between 1851 and 1853.
South End House, on Montpelier Row, was where Walter de la Mare lived from 1940 until his death, in 1956. In Twickenham, Alexander Pope’s name is ubiquitous: Pope is buried in St Mary’s Church! Marble Hill Park made me think of John Donne’s famous poem on heartbreak, ‘Twickenham Garden’. Donne (1572-1631) visited Twickenham often to see the Countess of Bedford and was inspired to write the lines: ‘The spider Love which… can convert manna to gall’.
Donne’s inventive wordplay reminds us that, for a generation raised on clever Hip Hop lyrics, the consolations of poetry are more important than ever.
Dr Richard Mills is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Popular Culture at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.