Balls Up

This posting is a confession of sorts and will cover: making a mistake; experiencing a sudden cold chill [or whatever the actual/psychosomatic reality of that feeling is called]; poetic interpretation, and anything else that crops up along the way of its overall delineation.

First: ‘cold chill’. I am talking about that sudden realisation you have made a mistake, but it is some time after the mistake was made, so it is that apocalyptic moment of discovery when the blood drains from your body/butterflies completely occupy the pit of the stomach/your blood pressure reaches the stratosphere/you experience that immediate cold chill – or whatever the expression is [I looked for a definition on the internet but only found something in Spanish which translated loosely to feeling ‘embarrassed’, and whilst this is a part of it, that gets no-where near the near-deathness of whatever it is you feel].

Here’s an example of what I mean, but a circumspect illustration so I don’t reveal details I still need to keep private – though I am tempted to be candid: some years ago a person in an apparent position of authority emailed me and offered to help review some data concerning an educational matter affecting my Department and me as Head of English. I didn’t care at all about that educational matter nor the professional advice being offered by the person in question, as genuine as that offer of help was. I emailed another figure of authority within my school to explain my feelings about being offered that help, and amongst other fairly ripe expressions of my complete disinterest I said that I would rather poke my eyes out with a javelin.

But I didn’t email who I thought I was emailing. I emailed the person who had made the offer. I remember exactly the moment of realising what I had done: I was teaching a year 12 lesson and students were completing some group tasks or similar so I was catching up on emails [as one had to….]. As well as an immediate, sudden cold chill of horrified discovery, I must have made a noise – an exasperation or similar incoherent brief expulsion of angst – as the students all looked up at me in their own instant horror and concern. Without explaining to them exactly what I had done, I do recall soberly telling how I had just sent an email I shouldn’t have, and sharing this really as a means of self-recovery from what I was feeling and needing to articulate whatever I could at that point. You get the scene. But I will never forget that feeling. And it wasn’t the last time.

I should just point out that as confident and resolute and fiercely opinionated as I can be I would never purposefully and intentionally be as rude as I was directly to the person in question [*]. Long story short, I immediately apologised [by email] about what I had done – and I had to be honest: no point trying to squirm out of such a blatant error – and this person, to their credit, took it all very graciously.

I should just also point out that some years later that person behaved despicably and unprofessionally and destructively and my instinct about that person had always been correct [* so I would justifiably now, yet this moment is not the time nor place]. As a final observation in this preliminary illustration I will say that when I first typed ‘graciously’ immediately above, I misspelt it and when spellchecking/correcting it came up as ‘greasily’. How unbelievably intuitive is that?!

Una larga introducción: at least this Spanish has an exact relevance! So to the main subject of this posting – for my 1999 Longmans text Poems in your Pocket, which was about teaching poems and poetry for the GCSE English examinations, I am particularly proud of the amount and wide range of poems I included. These were selected primarily to engage student readers, but a significant focus had to be the skills for studying and writing about poems in an examination. For one of the book’s three T sections Types [I thought it would be a useful learning tool to provide the alliterative frameworking of Tones, Techniques and Types] I included examples of conventional forms, like the sonnet, but also more experimental and free-flowing presentations poets used. I was particularly pleased to use a poem about football to be illustrative of a modern ‘concrete’ format, both as a direct appeal to boys [stereotyped but real] and to exemplify an experimental approach. Here is the poem ‘pass’:


What a great poem for its adventurous use of structure and willingness to tackle [excuse the pun] this subject matter. The problem? It wasn’t one I discovered until sometime after the book’s publication – and apparently to this date, not by anyone else to my knowledge – and again I can recall the precise moment of apocalyptic shudder and shock [as I continue to search for apt description beyond ‘cold chill’] when reading the poem quite casually and I think proudly as I reviewed my significant published work, and it hit me: this isn’t a poem about football at all. It is about foreplay and orgasm – in fact, a rather glorious metaphoric description of ejaculation – the only subject of footie being the general playing with feet occasionally, it seems, but including at least one toe-poke of a man’s testicles. Or balls. Yes, those balls. Not footballs.

I quote look at how he uses a particular structure to mimic a game of football. Can you feel it? No, not that. It’s that cold chill.

And I know you want to ask: did you not see and read the lines come my darling/come gentle/here?

I guess I didn’t. I was focusing on the line movements, thinking of the Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem Two Scavengers in a Truck in the AQA Anthology and how this had similar structural shifts.

So much for poetic interpretation. So much for close reading and external editing. So much for my intentions. I suppose one could argue that this poem really would appeal to boys……


2 thoughts on “Balls Up

  1. Pingback: Ole Bottomless and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Recollecting | mikeandenglish

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