The Uses of Poetry: New AHRC Project

The Uses of Poetry: Measuring the Value of Engaging with Poetry in Lifelong Learning and Development (Arts and Humanities Research Council; Cultural Value project)

With the wonderful Kate Rumbold (PI, Birmingham University) and Tricia Riddell (Reading University), I have started work on a new interdisciplinary research project that will bring together literary, psychological and educational interests to focus on the ‘uses of’, meanings and definitions of poetry – or the poetic mode. The research is part of the AHRC’s major Cultural Value project and will include public events for both data generation and dissemination purposes. Our guiding questions are:

What are the perceived benefits of poetry to people’s learning and development at all stages of their lives? How do researchers and practitioners in literature, education and psychology currently express the value of poetry in their separate spheres? How can we best combine those insights into a rigorous interdisciplinary approach that will more effectively measure and evaluate the value of engaging with poetry?

And our research will address the following questions:

  • What research exists across our disciplines about the value of engaging with poetry?
  • What constitutes ‘evidence’ in our respective fields?
  • What is the assumed value of poetry in our fields, and how can we test that assumption? How is ‘value’ defined?
  • Which of our approaches, from e.g. subjective well-being analysis to reader response, comes closest to being able to measure, evaluate and articulate people’s actual experiences of engaging with poetry? Can existing research techniques transcend individual experiences without simply aggregating them?
  • On what forms of measurement do we currently rely, quantitative or qualitative? How could these be combined?
  • Does our disciplinary approach tend towards understanding the affective, cognitive or aesthetic role of poetry? How could we better understand these from an interdisciplinary perspective?
  • How can we optimise the strengths of our approaches to pilot a new, truly interdisciplinary valuation of the benefits of engaging with poetry?

I will post about future seminars and related events about the next six months. I am particularly keen that we try to offer practical educational alternatives for working in the poetic mode that go beyond ‘feature-spotting’ and have the potential to transform young people’s engagement with the spoken and written word inside schools (just as so many things have outside).