21st June, 2017

On this longest day of summer
when the adjective qualifies the

I have had my own significant
length of time examining
a naming of parts

as students respond to two
unseen poems about

and whether personification
is spotted before the

like a light flashing its
desperate hope for

They have – well trained –
and most get the gists too:
one negative,

the other not, so an
extra mark for positive, perhaps
even the wind

blowing it into antithesis
and a move up
the ladder

which is an assessment metaphor.
Do not think this a
quiet rage

or unquiet one either –
it is just one long hot day of

until the enjambment kicks in.
So many felt the chill, and
the thief who

stole summer scaring them
with palpable fear,
then a summer so perfect

if only they could have
read it today
in sweltering school halls

sweating out names
to explain
just in case, just in case

feeling and sharing feeling
is not enough anymore,
the glistening of japonica

more about the verb
than how a camellia smells
of a different name

but is the same
in its beauty
being beautiful.



The Perfection of Baler Twine

When I worked for three years full time on a farm in Suffolk back in the 70s, I was always told you needed to have three things with you always to deal with unexpected problems: a hammer [my recollection is this was called a cuthpit, but I can’t find that term anywhere online], a five pence piece, and some baler twine.

I think a knife was considered a prerequisite and these were the extras! The hammer was for bashing things into being fixed; the five pence piece was like a screwdriver [if you haven’t got one on a Swiss army knife], and the baler twine was handy because that could just about repair anything broken and be used for a multitude of supporting purposes.

Handy indeed. I used to ride a Honda 50 around at the time and when it rained I wore a huge black oilskin coat that I acquired from somewhere and this was fastened up [it had no buttons/zip/snap or similar] with bright orange baler twine. I wore this all the time in winter. Sartorial oblivion and pragmatic bliss.

So when in the Lakes recently, I thought this amazing repair job on a farm field gate exemplified perfectly the extreme effectiveness of baler twine. Why buy a new one when you can…..


The Inspector Continues to Call

As will be obvious, I need to be circumspect, but in currently examining students’ responses to GCSE English Literature, I continue as I have done for nearly three decades to be impressed with the empathy and understanding so many demonstrate at all levels of their ability to engage with and respond to literary texts.

One of the perennial favourites is JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls and it has always seemed to me important that young people engage with its important message about social inequality, the palpable harmful impact of that on vulnerable and poor people, and the author’s hope of how in our recognising and putting this right we can all create and live in a better world. There is always a relevance to this message, sadly, whatever decade in which students have read and responded, yet that message has been heightened now by the recent events of London’s Grenfell Tower fire and tragic loss of life.

Whilst I will avoid the more explicit political relevance of this event to Priestley’s play and contemporary student responses, as I read their empathetic and knowing indictment of all that Mr Birling represents, as well as the just purpose of the Inspector’s exposure of this, I cannot help but be particularly moved by both that youthful appreciation of Priestley’s message and the poignancy of its absolute relevance to the tragedy symbolised by the Kensington disaster.

When students write about the theme of social responsibility and how this is displayed as such a divisive issue in a world polarised by political proclivities, I am sure it resonates for them as much as me in light of these recent events. I have over the years been reassured by their overwhelming support for the notion of and need for change at the time Priestley was writing and in the future – especially the acceptance of universal social responsibility – but it is personally sad for me to read this now when I know that change has so tragically not occurred.


Snake Teacher

Dressed in a dreary suit
with the laughter inside
barbed hours

what you say and do
is commando

is management

is dispensing remedies.

The multitudinous ways
you love

the wire of hours,

manifests your pain
as ennui

as where it discovers

as curator to the snake.

Here is where
you discover
the meanings

of chore

of clerking

of the crawl.

All the most
memorable jokes
have sloughed.


Goat’s Scrotum

The skin has been
detached and stretched

like truth,
this parchment a

perfect pitch on which
to scribe words

that cannot mean
what was intended,

a vellum voided
by hollow victory:

the goat’s balls were taut,
membrane rippled for

an indelible smirk.