As we move along I’ll be posting some links to online resources on the poets that we study. Why? Well, the first rule about becoming an A-level student is: if you want to succeed, you better study independently. Read about your subject on your own time.
Get to know writers and what other people think of them. Believe it or not, your ideas about literature probably aren’t unique– someone will often have written similar opinions to your own about this or that writer or poem before. Don’t despair that you’re not a total original, though. The truth is, no-one is. Moreover, those people who beat you to publication are in fact your friends when you enter a literary debate; they’re on your side. Quote them!
Even better, there’ll be people whose ideas about literature are completely different from you. These are the really interesting articles to read. Some arguments will seem so unbelievably stupid to you that you’ll want to scream while you read, ‘you’re a moron!’. Others will seem odd or irrelevant or just plain wrong. But some of these arguments, even although you don’t agree with them, will stick with you, like a bit of grit in your shoe. You’ll find yourself thinking about them– either deciding just exactly why your original rejection was correct or, against your own will sometimes, seeing the other’s point of view.
The thing is that changing your mind about books or poems is a good thing. It shows mental flexibility. It means you’re learning, broadening your horizons.
So the first rule of becoming an A-level student is independent study. Here’s the second: ‘independent study’ does not mean ‘looking things up on Wikipedia’. Sure, Wikipedia is useful. It’s an amazing resource. Go have a look. Use it as your first port of call, if you like. But Wikipedia can be boring, badly written and wrong. It’s a collaborative encyclopedia– not always a place for interesting points of view. You’ve got to spend time finding the kind of critical voices that I’ve already talked about: this turns you from being a mere fact-checker to a literary student, involved in debates. So: no links to Wikipedia from here, I’m afraid!
Anyway. The first of the poets represented in our selection is Thomas Hardy– a writer better known today for his novels than the poetry he produced later on in his life. GCSE students, though, will probably be familiar with his war poem ‘The Man He Killed’; while A-level students might know novels like ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ better. As a much respected novelist and poet, his life and works are well represented on the net, and you can find some excellent stuff about him online. I’ll update as and when I find good sites or essays, but to start with, you might want to look here. Both these sites have compendious links to decent sources on Hardy: