Excuse Donald Trump

excuse me

Another poem from me, found in the language of DT and at International Times here.

As ever I am grateful for its publication, and I hope it can make sense, as it can for me just as catharsis, when what he actually speaks beggars belief in a way that expression could never have imagined it would apply so massively.

Laws on Tomorrow’s GCSE Results?

David Laws, leader of the Education Policy Institute, is reported/quoted in today’s Daily Mirror as observing The old ‘C’ grade is not an adequate aspiration, and this is made in the context of comparing our education system to the world’s best.

I do and don’t know what to make of this. On the one hand it is that inevitable, withering, irrelevant, diminishing comment that is always made just prior to or on the day that GCSE results are announced for the nation’s students, these appearing tomorrow. Rarely is there an up-front and centre focus on and congratulations for the hard work and consequent ‘success’ [at whatever relevant level for any individual student] there should be. This wouldn’t be ‘news’. This certainly wouldn’t be the regular annual third-week-in-August news.

On another, David Laws does appear to have a positive history of actually knowing and caring about national educational policy and relevant matters: he did criticise the previous Education Secretary Michael Gove for having a ‘hunch’ approach to dictating education policy, not least the changes to GCSE which have their realisation in so many ways announced tomorrow. I have no particular view on the EPI, but it does seem to be an independent, evidenced-based rather than party-political or similar organisation.

But this comment attributed to Laws is nonetheless a soundbite nothingness, apart from the – annual again – insult it delivers to students who have worked hard to achieve what they can, especially considering the pressures they are under from schools to ‘perform’ for all the wrong reasons [target achievement and consequent external school judgement]. This is the diminishing impact of such observations as an overall comment and summation.

More critically, I don’t quite understand the notion that attaining grade C [or similar] is not an adequate aspiration. Always maintaining my caveat that individual student progress and attainment needs recognition and celebration when it truly reflects her/his best efforts and aptitude, I can accept a thinking about the level of attainment one would like to assist most students – if they can – to achieve. This being the case, how is the grade ‘C’, or whatever its numerical equivalent turns out to be, suddenly no longer an acceptable aspirational goal?

The point is, such grades are criterion referenced. They are described and assessed to those descriptors by their objective criteria. They are skills. For example, in the subject I have assessed for 30 years, GCSE English Literature, the notional grade C and its numerical equivalent is based on objective criteria and its descriptors and this has not changed over those years. And quite rightly so. This is what sustaining a standard actually means.

Therefore, core skills/understanding such as

  • clear understanding of ideas
  • clear, explained response to task/text
  • sustained response
  • understanding of effects of writer’s methods
  • effective use of reference to support

have for all those years been sustained – occasionally varied in some language but meaning the same, and certainly consistent across all examining boards – so how are these no longer an acceptable gauge/measure of desired achievement for most?

Have other nationalities [the anonymous world’s best] become different readers of their literature? Have they become on average more ‘analytical’ and ‘exploratory’ and thus such skills [old grade A/new Level 6 descriptors] the new aspirational norm?

That’s nonsense. And this could now become a more complex analysis of grading, descriptors and very pertinently grade-boundary adjustments in relation to tomorrow’s GCSE grade details, but the point is this is precisely why Laws’ apparent soundbite of not an adequate aspiration is meaningless and ultimately just another annual knock-back to students, their teachers and the examiners who have this year worked so hard to sustain standards with a history of actual value and worth.

 

Total Eclipse in Nebraska

I think writing my review [previous post] got me tuned in to the reality of today’s total eclipse of the sun in the USA, but also nostalgic for its trajectory across my birth state of Nebraska. I’ve been watching CNN coverage, first of Oregon where in fact my immediate American family all now live – and I’ve just seen on Facebook how some have been watching it all in Medford and Portland – and the following images from the TV screen are a visual account of my transatlantic visitation to the Midwest.

Just a quick comment: astronaut Chris Hadfield’s guest commentary has been impressive for his articulate summation and humane grasp of the experience of viewing a total eclipse,

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Scar by Carrie Etter – Review

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It is timely that the natural phenomena of today’s complete solar eclipse of the sun in America takes an ‘ideal-view’ trajectory across the states of Nebraska and Illinois, for reasons that will be clear and relevant in a moment.

The linear path across the states wherein you would have the best view is both south of Omaha, the place of my birth, and Normal, the place of Carrie Etter’s: these two landmarks – for the sake of this review – on a reasonably close horizontal plane, interestingly.

The link? I had originally made a seemingly superficial decision to buy and read Etter’s poetry chapbook Scar because she is a fellow Midwest American ex-pat living in England, and the sample of work I saw from the book had that freedom of form – not experimental as such – which I so often enjoy in reading poetry. That her theme was exploring the effects of climate change on her hometown roots was of interest, partly for a shared environmental concern, but also because of my anticipating that writer’s nostalgic referencing of and concern for her origins with which I share a regular and profound personal preoccupation for my own.

In all respects, my instinct for seeking out Scar has proved a sound one, whatever the reasons. Further made relevant by President Trump’s arrogant and dumb decision to withdraw America from the Paris Climate Accord, the opening has on its second page a now ironic reference to

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and one can see immediately how that use of line space [‘freedom of form’] is used purposefully to draw the reader’s attention to and across the gradations of revelation and predicted impacts – ending on the page as it does with the simple but heartfelt lament for her home state [and of course everywhere else].

Further references strike a familiar, nostalgic chord:

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and the apparently casual sprawl of language and lines belies the serious reality where comfortable notions of safety from ‘more tornadoes’ are naïve as well as dismissive, for example, of those without and, again ironically, especially those ‘trailer-home dwellers’, Trump’s notional support base – excusing the stereotype but acknowledging a complex socio-economic factor.

I suppose the ‘superficial’ connection does get its fuel when such references do remind of the extreme weather and tornadoes of my childhood: living in Norfolk I remember once in 1965 when summer hail stripped virtually the entire town’s trees of their leaves producing an immediate winter landscape; on another occasion when cowering in my basement during a tornado warning [the town siren blares] a tree was blown down in the garden and crushed my boyhood swing-set.

And yes, there is a normality to these weather conditions, Norfolk and also Omaha in a geographical cyclonic zone, and any google search will reveal other continued, contemporary storm disasters – e.g. the Norfolk hail storm of 2014 – but the warning point highlighted in Etter’s poem is there will over coming years be much more of this.

The point is also how the warning recognises the relativity, but addresses America’s dangerous complacence, one again exemplified in Trump’s stupidity,

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It is a global climate problem [that platitude directed at the Donalds of the world].

One of the most powerful poems is a remembrance from Etter as a young girl of nine or ten in the midst of a blizzard, her father on the CB radio trying to find the whereabouts of someone – maybe a family member – and the palpable fear recalled is also a foretelling of further worse fears in a future of climate change unchecked.

There is an emotive crescendo as the poems and their recalled/imagined stories continue, and it is genuinely sensitive, that seemingly simple arrangement of lines with their paces and pauses and projections avoiding the melodrama of a more blatant poetic diatribe but instead more disturbing in the building outlining of the whole.

Like the puissance of a memorable short story, this poem is a one-sitting read and all the more impactful for that. You will return because it is also crafted to endear as well as inform, and that is its literary significance.

In conclusion, another incidental, surprise connection for me was reading the chapbook’s ‘i.m.’ to Peter Reading, my favourite contemporary British poet, and another writer deeply concerned with the environment and its impact on us culturally as much as in the reality of its physicality.  But even stripping away all of this personal linkage, this is a book I do recommend highly for its crafting and its meanings.

 

Rediscovering Weed

I knew that would get some attention…

…but I mean Weed near Mount Shasta, California, where George and Lennie had to flee and where I with two good friends and teaching colleagues made a pilgrimage many years ago before the mention of Michael Gove engendered instant indigestion – because he banned this text and others from American authors from GCSE study in the UK – and we were planning an exchange trip of our students in Devon to Ashland in Oregon. Those heady days of educational independence, creativity and professional all-round joy.

Found this and other large colour-photocopied pictures from the trip whilst cleaning today underneath the stairs:

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Out of extra interest: my school was lent one of the first colour photocopiers to experiment with for a few days, and so we did! That’ll date it too…

Precarious Real – review by Jackie Moore

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I was asked to publish the following review by my good friend Jackie Moore some time ago, but deferred, not looking for something better [I don’t think that’s possible, and I am so grateful for the honest comments] but perhaps hoping for an ‘objective’ commentary from someone who didn’t know me or my work, arriving entirely new. Alas, since its publication in 2016 there have been no other reviews, so I am going to share, as requested, with again my great thanks:

I have enjoyed reading these poems; it matters not whether I had seen them before. Ferguson’s writing always strikes me afresh with its understatement, irony and sudden reversals. He always draws the reader in with that non-intrusive conversational voice: almost a trap, sometimes.

I always appreciate the poems where he indirectly admits to the limitations of his life. The delicacy of the ‘loss’ poems is irresistible and moving. Two-Step is beautiful – so delicate, lyrical and gentle, which points up the extent of what has been lost from the past. The idea of dance with its coordinated harmonies also underlines this. So sad: this shouldn’t be a ‘two step’, should it? A sense of things stripped down, companionship lost, and closeness in the rhythm of life.

On the same theme, but in total contrast, is the superficially humorous meditation on the last shred on the roll in Toilet Paper. Although the poem is grounded in the trivial and the mundane, the link between the paper of the toilet roll – padded like his cell of life at times – and the paper of the map says it all. The choice of trivia as subject matter speaks volumes. Ferguson is forced to look down in contrast to the man with the map and his boundless horizons, unfettered thoughts flying free and high. Very much in harmony with Ghost Voice, the so-sad Reading at Port Launay, and the sense of the woman with only vicarious experience in relationships of Primal Instinct: the sense of being excluded from love and from life.

The two poems about snow are more direct about the cruelties of life and the pain delivered in a medical verdict. The last poem is terrifying, with a most urgent sense of life running out. At the same time, there is a sense of confidence running out, a dreadful breakdown of sense experience, of interpreting and directing one’s life. Too many years of pain and stress have undermined the existential joy of being alive. But then, is it worth it? The horrors of the natural law revealed in Wild Dog suggest the problems we face in a hostile universe. How can one be strong? Are we merely controlled creatures subjected to cruel laws not of our making and not in our understanding?

These are the poems I prefer because of their noumenal qualities, of movement outwards, very delicate and gentle, but perhaps Root Canal and Poo Pipe are too overt for me?

In Fishing, I don’t understand the link between ‘triumph’, ‘fears’, ‘optimism’ and ‘hope’. It seems to be about a dog-eat-dog philosophy, but I have doubts about that reading. Finally, Precarious Real: of course I loved the joke about the two philosophies, and again the sense of tentativeness, though it is rapidly explained by the cow shit. Perhaps this is too bathetic for me as I don’t have a scatological sense of humour, an imprint from my convent education!

There is fun to be had in the cover illustration. It suggests dance. Being a Virgo, I was immensely troubled by the illogicality of the sequence – it doesn’t do what it looks as though it should do, or is doing. In this way I think it’s a really good example of the ‘precariously real’. It looks as though the footprints meet; but they don’t. Looks like the standard use of footprints indicating coitus, but it’s wrong. It would be right if the LHS prints halt before a mirror – seeing things ‘through a glass darkly’, as Ruskin said. All-in-all it’s about the illusionary and the Real.

 

I’m not sure, but the chapbook should still be available here.