Book review: The Art of Poetry – AQA Power & Conflict: Volume 6

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Firstly, my thanks to Neil for the review copy. It’s taken me a while to find the time to write this, but I have read the whole book, several times.

It’s a beautiful book. To hold it and to read it is a pleasure. I also bought the Kindle edition (before Neil sent me a review copy) and it reads well – all the images have transferred well to the electronic format and the layout remains intact too.

I’d like to point out that it’s 150 pages long and it’s published by a small, independent publisher – Peripeteia Press. The price of £10.99 truly reflects the quality of the book – it’s such good value.

Who’s it for?

I will be buying sets of this book for my faculty to use in the classroom. In these austere times, that’s not a decision that I’ve taken lightly. I simply cannot find anything that matches the depth of analysis of The Art of Poetry. It’s phenomenal. The opening chapters (How to Analyse a Poem and Writing Comparative Essays) are invaluable – they’re so clear. Some parts of this guide are complex; the introduction to the poems, for example, is certainly something that I will use for my own preparation. However, our higher-achievers will thrive reading this and learning about poetry as a concept. The sections on language, sound, form, and metre have been enlightening for me and shifted my approach to teaching.

It’s for teachers and students alike, although I definitely think that I have plugged gaps in my own subject knowledge in the opening chapters. The 14 Ways of Looking at a Poem (again, in the opening section) may be of use to somebody approaching these poems for the first time. There are some lovely ideas in there. The pressures of the curriculum have meant that I simply don’t have time to do some of these, although I will be encouraging my students to do so in their revision.

Here’s the index:

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The Poetry Chapters

The rest of the book is organised into chapters, each one dedicated to one poem.

The authors deliver incredibly complex ideas and concepts with such a light touch that I have found myself nodding as I’m reading – Yes! That’s how I can explain it!Sometimes, we just need an overarching idea to give our students – one that transcends all the complexities of the technical analysis and cuts to the heart of a poem. Each chapter delivers on this. We learn of the ‘burning anger’ in Blake’s London; the ‘faceless quality’ of The Charge of the Light Brigade despite the Light Brigade being the epitome of ‘speed, action and courage’. What follows is an in-depth analysis of each poem on several levels. Structure, stanza, line and word are considered in context. Again, there’s a light touch, making it accessible to our GCSE students, with a thorough enough treatment to ensure that the criteria for the top grades are covered.

There’s a beautiful sense of the anthology as a whole in this book. The poems are seen in the context of the anthology and comparisons are made between poems within the book. I suddenly clicked with the AQA Anthology as a text within its own right, in the reading of The Art of Poetry Vol. 6. I can see how it fits together. It’s more than just a chronological collection of poems. It tessellates. This, from the introduction to Exposure, is an example of how neatly this is laid out for us:

The Charge of the Light Brigade is heroic, dynamic, explosive and, moreover, exciting; there’s no sense of suffering, or bloodshed or pain in this manly pseudo-sport. Owen’s poem, of course, could not be more different. Indeed, it could be read as a corrective to Tennyson’s patriotic and romanticised version of warfare. If Tennyson’s poem is characterised by action, inaction is the key aspect of Owen’s poem.”


Each chapter ends with the crunching of the poem – key words and ideas. The book itself concludes with activities and revision tasks for the students.

It’s a book written by incredible subject experts, perfectly pitched and truly enjoyable to read. It’s almost impossible to find such a resource – so thoughtful and detailed – on the market. I look forward to buying more for my students.

You can buy copies of The Art of Poetry – AQA Power & Conflict: Volume 6 here on Amazon. It’s £10.99 or £6.57 for the Kindle edition.