Roald Dahl’s poetry – a forgotten gem

I’ve been falling love with Revolting Rhymes again. I remember loving it as a child, watching the VHS animated versions over and over again – my mum must have been absolutely sick of them.

 

Teaching a Year 9 unit on character, I’ve returned to some of them. It’s a challenging unit about re-imagining characters. A typical series of lessons, for example, will have us look at the original Pygmalian story, read a section of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalian, watch a section of My Fair Lady, explore Duffy’s ‘Galatea’ and then write their own monologue of Galatea coming to life. I love it – it’s so varied, incorporating all literary types and giving us chance to explore criticism as well, like reading Shaw’s instructions to his leading ladies on playing Eliza (which can lead to interesting conversations likening directors to Pygmalian).

 

This class isn’t very experienced in poetry and have been finding the technical analysis difficult, grappling with some of the more difficult ideas. I went back to Dahl originally in the unit as part of a sequence on Red Riding Hood, exploring different types. But re-reading that, I was struck by how densely technical the writing really is. Dahl’s subversive nature appeals to me, and I’ve always loved the reinvention of fairytales. But I’d forgotten – or perhaps never knew, as I hadn’t ever studied the poems – how packed with technical features they are. So we’re going back to Cinderella, and a couple of others. We’ll explore the subversive nature of his writing but we’ll also really unpick the technique behind it. It’s definitely worth rethinking texts that you remember from childhood and therefore, perhaps, dismiss as simplistic. Often, they’re really not.

What do you think?