Innate curiosity is a wonderful thing. John Berger, in his iconic little book of 1972, Ways of Seeing, celebrates this and aims to ‘start a process of questioning’. In light of the fact that all productive lessons have an aim, Berger’s has been adopted for the Transition Year Images in Poetry module. In this module pupils explore the link between images and poetry.
To begin, a selection of famous paintings is studied alongside corresponding poems by well-known poets. Questions about the poets’ intentions are posed: What might the writer wish to capture, achieve or develop? Why do they choose particular forms? Do the poems sit comfortably next to the images? And are they obliged to do so or not?
The next stage sees the pupils looking at photographs and paintings of their finding and questioning them; this is the most important part of the process and happens readily for most, even the sceptics. They might ask: Why has this been framed (it’s awful!)? What is happening just beyond where the field is cut off in this Millet painting? Who is the old woman hovering at Judith’s sword-brandishing side in Caravaggio’s gruesome depiction of Holofernes’s decapitation? And why does she appear again with a candle illuminating Samson’s demise in Rubens’s baroque painting of the ‘hair-cut crime’? Why is that nice looking boy staring at himself in a puddle in Waterhouse’s painted world?
These questions are written down, and each pupil chooses to answer one in the form of a poem. Different poetic forms are suggested and tried, and often retried. The fruits of the pupils’ writing can be seen here; you can read examples of free verse, the sonnet, the villanelle, and the haiku. But most importantly, here you can see pupils' creativity, their individuality, and that essential thing again: their curiosity.