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Poetry Blog: Fledglings

This is a poem that I wrote about the transition to high school. It’s something that is very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment as for only the second time in a decade, I have a Year 7 form again. Not only this, but I start again on the merry-go-round of teaching English to a new Year 7 class too. So, this year I will see a Year 7 class at least once a day every day.

As one of the people most responsible for these new students, you tend to find that they’re on your mind quite a bit. So, a few days ago I found myself discussing a particular student in my new form with a colleague and it got me to thinking about this stage of their school careers. I began to think about my role, but also what I’d compare the Year 7s with and the image of fledgling birds in a nest came to mind. It’s not the most original thing, but I ended up writing the following poem from the idea.

Fledglings

(A poem best read in your best David Attenborough voice...)

Safely incubated over the course of a carefree six week summer,
now is the time for parents to let go of
one more downy feather,
as their latest fledgling ventures out into another brave new world.

Shielded up to this point by everything familiar
and much the same routine for the last 6 years,
now almost everything will change.
Another journey is about to be made,
new lessons learned and, with a tear of trepidation,
they are pushed from the nest.

Pushing through a door, a portal to a new life of possibility and potential,
some upright, confident, ready, while others seem still to lack
the confidence that will see them take flight.
Gathering in groups or shuffling into corners where adult eyes
are immediately alerted to the potential for danger
or a plan being hatched.

Already, lines are being drawn...

From here, a steep learning curve will be climbed
by choosing haphazardly from a list including
bravado, belligerence and bewilderment.
There will be casualties along the way,
tears and tantrums, but eventually all will thrive in one way or another
as confidence grows, feathers are earned and flight, however cautiously,
is taken, and however long it may take,
is embarked upon in order to begin yet another grueling journey.

With this poem – as with lots of the others that I write – it started with a few lines just arriving in my head after a little bit of thought. Usually, from there I’ll scribble them down and try to write more, before I decide what goes together…and sometimes even what it’s about!

The difference with Fledglings was that when forming those few lines in my head I could ‘hear’ the voice of David Attenborough reading them! As I wrote more, this just seemed to keep happening until, in the end, I just decided to try and write the whole thing as if it part of the narration of a show like Planet Earth. I really liked the idea of having a bit of fun with the poem. After all, it’s a very simple metaphor, so there had to be something else that anyone reading might find interesting! I hope that it’s a ‘twist’ that other people like. And I really hope that it’s not just me that sees or hears the poem this way. Maybe, if you find yourself a quiet space, you could try to read it in your best David Attenborough voice…

As ever, feel free to leave a comment as I always enjoy people’s thoughts about what I write, especially the poems!

Book Review: ‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy

As an avid, lifelong reader I pretty much always have to finish a book when I’ve started it. Love it or loathe it, I really have to get to the end, even if it feels like I might die of boredom in the process. I consider it a bit of a super power to have the good sense to just give up on a book that you’re clearly not enjoying. But sadly, it’s one of many super powers that I simply don’t have and it’s a real rarity if I put a book down in order to give up on it. Hence the slog to get through what was actually a relatively short book.

Satin Island is by no means a terrible book. In fact, it was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and so, if you believe in awards, then that’s a decent yardstick of the quality here. Satin Island just wasn’t for me.

The story revolves around anthropologist U (or was it C or K, I genuinely don’t remember. Whatever it is, he hasn’t got a proper name) and the quest that he seems to have found himself on. He’s employed by a company to research stuff…this, that and maybe the other…I was never really entirely sure what he was doing to be fair and the crux of the tale seems to be the findings of his investigation.

The problem – both with the narrative and for me, the book itself – is that U doesn’t seem to ever really do anything that resembles work or the work that we’re led to believe that he should be doing. He’s researching stuff, but it never really seems to have anything to do with what it is he’s actually meant to be working on. Mind you, even the project here is vague. So, while you’re reading about what U’s up to, you’re also wondering why on earth he’s doing it. And for me this meant that the narrative never really took shape and I realised about halfway through the book that I had no idea what was going on.

U investigates the death of parachutists. U starts seeing a girl. U Googles stuff about Staten Island. U reads up on South Pacific cults. U spends lots of time looking into lots of different things producing very little in the way of results. In essence, U spends his days doing the equivalent of you or I disappearing down various YouTube or Facebook holes and while he gets paid to do it, this really added nothing at all to the book. In fact, with each little bit of research or thinking that U did, I would get optimistic that finally we were getting somewhere, only for U to find he’d headed down another dead end and me to find I still didn’t know what was going on.

For me, Satin Island is one to put down to experience. I don’t feel that I can give it a bad review though. Rather, I feel like the book was possibly just a little bit cleverer than me. So yes, nothing seems to have happened, but maybe there’s a hidden meaning and I’m just missing the point. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve missed something in a book or a film. Whatever, it was though, I finished it!

Now, in terms of recommendations…well I’ll leave it to you. By all means read it and feel free to let me know what I was missing.

I give Satin Island,

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Poetry Blog: ‘The Quiet Class’

A simple one today; a poem about a quiet class. A silent class, in fact, but not in a good way!

Now, if you’re a teacher, you’ll know all of the anxiety that such a class can cause. You’ll know that just as you’ve prayed for your groups to work quietly, when one of them just isn’t giving back it can be the worst feeling that you’ll have in a classroom. And it will invariably happen when someone else walks into the room, leaving you to imagine all manner of things that they’ll think – or worse still – write down about your ability to foster a relationship with your classes!

So, here it is; my poem dedicated to that very strange phenomenon, the quiet class.

The Quiet Class

When faced with the class that's just not giving back, 
the front of even the most familiar room can be the most isolated place in the world.
Silence ensues from the very start, aside from the shuffling of paper, 
the turning of pages and the scratch of a pen on the page that seems to creep furtively around the space.
Even a starting gun would fail to rouse such a group,
and yet, today you are charged with just that.
Questions are met by ever longer silences whose shadows stretch further and further across the dewy morning grass,
as if answering would result in almost certain death.
Eyes are frantically averted, darting around the room,
like those shoals of tiny fish that children chase in the shallows at the beach,
before the resistance of the waves sees them crash face first into the sea.
And this is your fate today, 
where every request is met with a room sized helping of nothing.
Today is a day to jump the waves, corner those fish and fill the room with noise.  

To be blunt, I didn’t want to bang on too much about the subject matter in this poem, so I kept it short. It’s a quiet class after all and a niche market for all but the teacher, really. But a quiet class can make life very difficult. I mean, you’ve heard the saying about getting blood out of a stone, right? Well, when you’re faced with an hour – or sometimes more in post Covid teaching – in front of a class that’s just not giving back, it can be an exhausting process! Obviously there are strategies that we can use, such shining the spotlight of doom and just nominating people to answer or offer an opinion, but I personally don’t always like that type of thing to be rolled out within the first ten minutes! Hence the feelings that led to the poem.

Hopefully, you enjoyed reading this one. However, whatever effect it had on you, feel free to leave a comment as I also enjoy reading them and it’s nice to interact with people about what I’ve written.

Poetry Blog: ‘An Observer at the Theme Park’

This is a poem that I wrote the bones of and then lost in Spring last year. I recently discovered it again when looking through documents on my phone. I was looking for a birthday present list for my wife, which I thought I might have made on my phone. I found it, but I also found some ominous untitled documents. Most were useless, but one of them was almost a poem.

I’d written this while we went around a North Yorkshire theme park on a day out, which for me is an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Unfortunately, I am in no way, shape or form any kind of thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie (what an awful expression that is, by the way). Thus, I found myself standing at the bottom of many rides, rapidly tiring of people watching and running out of the guts I felt I needed in order to tread my book while others queued up for the kind of fun that I didn’t understand. People were beginning to point, children were beginning to laugh…

And so, as far as I can remember, I began to think about how I must look to other people around the park. That is, if they even noticed me. If they did though, I imagined people were nudging each other and whispering stuff like, “There’s that bloke with the book again.” I was also in a perfect position to take note of all of the different kinds of people around the place. Very lonely bored looking bloke here was only one of a ton of different sights and sounds to be had and so my discomfort was eased somewhat by the fact that maybe people had other things to occupy their time. Not wanting to lose any ideas, I started to type them into my phone. Barring a few revisions made when I rediscovered it a year or so later, these notes were what became the poem.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there can be no lonelier place than a theme park for the man who does not seek to be thrilled.
Wandering aimlessly around in the cold, of this Yorkshire spring will make an outcast out of any man. 
Children's screams far outweigh the fifteen seconds of fear that Andy Warhol might have said we should all experience, 
wasps hang around menacingly, seeking one last victim before buzzing off south for a proper summer, 
and fathers stand stock still, balanced and anchored,
readying themselves for the thump of returning children from rides
with tales of adventures from the moderately high steels.
This is a resting place for cheap summer leisure wear
and incongruously A-list sunglasses,
where gangs of girls from the caravan park roam, arm in arm,
almost identically dressed, looking for the thrill that could be found
either at the top of a rollercoaster or in the arms of a visiting stranger from a far of land in another part of Yorkshire.
A man in camouflaged trousers walks past and I consider 
that with my imaginary special forces training, I may be the only one who sees him.
I wonder if the same applies to me; not camouflaged professionally,
but somehow hidden in plain sight on a bench near a queue,
reading a book like persona non grata in this particular place.

There’s certainly a lot to see when all you have to do is watch! It was a fascinating day in many ways and yet, criminally dull in others. I tried to just be diligent and read my book, as I’d planned. And of course, I did go on some of the rides. I do kind of see the point in them! But eventually my day just descended into watching life go on around the park, hence the poem.

I’d love to read any comments, so feel free to leave them.

Poetry Blog: ‘A week to go’

It’s that time of year again. Us teachers are exhausted and conflicted. Year 11 are about to leave and we’ll benefit from the time that leaves us, so yay (!), but there’s also the shadow of ‘did I do enough’ hanging round. That particular weather front will keep popping back until late August and even then it’ll be immediately replaced by Storm ‘Could I Have Done More’ and Hurricane September!

Despite my vintage as a teacher – just over two decades and counting…not that I’m counting – this time of year doesn’t get any easier. I won’t lie and tell you that I’m not glad to see the back of my Year 11s though. We’ve got to that fractious stage together where we’re all pretty much sick of the sight of each other now, but it doesn’t stop the worry. Add to this the fact that my own daughter is also taking her GCSEs and it makes for a very tense and very tiring time. I’ve said this before about several things, but I think I’m just too old for all of this nowadays!

I wrote this poem – as I did another this time last year that can be found on the link below – while patrolling my classroom during a two hour pre-exam session while my class were working.

Poetry Blog: ‘In a Perfect World’

This year’s group are a set 2, so bright and capable, but watching them work all that came across to me was just how vulnerable, tired and disheveled they looked. So, when I got a little bit of time that evening after they’d gone, I began to scribble down the notes that would become this poem. As ever, apologies for the title; crap isn’t it? I wish I had more imagination when it came to naming my poems!

'A week to go.'

The latest in a long line of young adults are about to step out of the building for one last time and see what the weather holds.
The inevitability that you've been warning them about for years has dawned and the story is frighteningly familiar.
Everything is out and ready for their arrival,
yet still it takes two minutes to enter the room - some things never change - 
and even when I think they're in, several of the flock have wandered off.
I guess there's always a willful one or two that will find their way into someone else's field in spite of the fences, just because they can.
They arrive seven minutes late, quietly apologise, then,
having received the same instruction as the rest,
proceed to bleat idly to a fellow latecomer as if everything in this world was just perfectly zen.
Oh, for just a tiny dose of this carefree youthful optimism, this lack of knowledge of the world for just a few more days.

Functional stuff dealt with we attempt to power on, 
there's one week to go,
nothing can be left to chance,
no stone left unturned.
While they work, I wander somewhat aimlessly,
now adopting the roll of the lost sheep,
occasionally taking sharp inward breaths as if to speak,
but always holding back, telling myself to savour the silence,
let them work.
Outside, an ill wind blows ominous Shakespearean clouds across the horizon
and I wonder, is this a sign.
Maybe, maybe not. This is the north after all, where clouds are nothing if not ominous.

Averting my gaze, I take in the sights of the classroom once more,
looking for more positive signs.
One is slumped over the desk, writing, one shoe discarded perhaps for some kind of aerodynamic reason,
one wears tracksuit bottoms - more Sports Science in action, or more likely the result of what was lying on a darkened bedroom floor approximately 6 minutes before his lift arrived.
Several are conducting a tiny rebellion; dyed hair, trainers, no ties, shirts untucked. I smile and hope that this sense of rebellion and experimentation grows and grows until it bears fruit, lightens these lives.
I wonder though, what they're rebelling against, hoping that the answer would be 'Whadya got' but fearing excuses about not being able to breath with a tie on or school shoes breaking, giving up the ghost just at this most convenient hour.

Rebels or not, for now all are working,
minds hopefully being emptied of every quote, every interpretation and perhaps,
if we're lucky a skewed version of some contextual nugget, a view of what life was like in the dark and distant past.
Pens race across pages, wrists are shaken in order to bring new life,
before the pen returns to the page to pour out more in one last effort.
And then, time stops and for a wonderful moment it occurs that I might have done enough...
Still, I think, a week to go.

It seems clear to me that there are a wide selection of attitudes and approaches to the exams and the final few weeks or so of high school among the students we teach. This was something that I was trying to get across in the poem, as well as the worry that we teachers can feel. So the bits about uniform and hairdos (and hairdon’ts in some cases) were supposed to reflect that. Sometimes I think that the exams take second place at this time of year because it feels more important to forget your tie and flaunt your new, casual look. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out why though!

Popular opinion sometimes seems to think that teachers only care about results the students’ results affect our pay – they don’t. What matters to most teachers – I can’t say all because I’ve worked with some that seemed to utterly despise what they were doing – is that we’re able to make even just some small difference to the lives of those that we teach. Certainly, when I look at my Year 11s around now I find I worry about what’s next for them, hope that they get what they want out of life and that they can just put enough work into getting these qualifications, all the while knowing that there’s not a lot left that I can actually do.

Anyway, whether you’re a teacher or not, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment as I always enjoy reading what people have got to say about what I write; especially the nice comments!

Poetry Blog: ‘What Would Happen If You Didn’t?’

This is a poem that I wrote very recently. The idea was sparked when watching something on television – I can’t remember what it was – and a character was suffering with their health. However, the character’s only concern was for her son who despite being an adult, was still lazily reliant on his mother to do everything for him. While the character was expressing these worries to a nurse and saying that she had to get back home to prepare something for the son, the nurse simply replied with,

“What would happen if you didn’t?”

At that point only 10% of my attention remained on the TV. Instead, I found myself reaching for a notepad and thinking about consequences and things that would complete the question. Having written the poem, I still think there’s a lot of other things to consider when asking the question. In fact, it’s one I may well revisit.

I thought about all of the genuine responsibilities we have in life, as well as the things that sometimes we obsess about or feel that we can’t do without. What would happen if we just didn’t do them? I ended up with a kind of spider diagram of notes that I tried to turn into a poem some time later. I think it’s about as finished as it’s going to get (for now), so here you go!

What would happen if you didn't?

Sometimes life can feel like just an ever-growing list of things to do,
stuff to worry about and stress over, 
an abundance of tasks, instructions and nagging doubts
designed to make you feel like you're failing.

So what would happen if you didn't?

What would happen if you didn't
smile at strangers?
Would they care or even notice any less whether you're there?
What would happen if you didn't
care about your career? 
Would your work be any better or any worse? Would it even be noticed?
What would happen if you didn't
count the calories?
Would you inflate to the size of a balloon, would your life expectancy decrease dramatically? Would you even notice any change at all? Would you just be happier?
What would happen if you didn't
wear a tie to work? 
Would they react differently to you? Would you mix up your words, send less professional emails, tell the bosses what you really think because that lack of a tie has loosened every inhibition you ever had?
What would happen if you didn't
answer their questions?
What would happen if you didn't
alphabetise your records? 
Would your musical world fall apart, would you never listen to some of them again or would you have to find another system to sate your need for control?
What would happen if you didn't
care about a football team? 
What would you spend your time thinking about? Would you finally be happy? Could you ditch the superstition and bear to use any old mug on a Saturday, wear any t-shirt you like? Could you just relax, for once?
What would happen if you didn't
renew the breakdown cover? 
Would you just break down, deflate or run out of steam? Would your car pull over in a brazen act of defiance at your flagrant lack of insurance?
What would happen if you didn't
dance with abandon in the kitchen?
Actually, maybe life wouldn't be worth living.
And what would happen if you didn't
listen at night for your heartbeat?
Chances are you'd still wake up in the morning, right as rain.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this poem. I know what I was trying to get at and the feelings that I was trying to get across. It’s about those foibles that we probably all have and that we probably all imagine we couldn’t live without, as well as the everyday, routine things that the majority of us feel life’s about, like going to work.

The point about the poem and the question for me is that I think I’m at an age where I’m beginning to feel tired of doing the same old things, while still finding that I get an awful lot of comfort from them. ‘What would happen if you didn’t’ is definitely a question that I’m asking of myself more and more though.

Poetry Blog: Twilight Blackbird

I’ve found myself noticing quite a lot of things that could be filed under the heading of ‘Nature’ of late. I imagine it’s the fact that Spring has most definitely sprung, which in turn has meant that I’ve spent more time outside in our garden as well as more time simply gazing out of windows, getting distracted. And as a result, I’ve noticed a few regular visitors are back to welcome in the warm weather and plunder the supply of nuts and fat balls kept in our feeders!

I wrote the following poem about one of the visitors that I love to sit and watch, because I realised that their visits were increasing in frequency and with that, it got me thinking about the times I will simply stop what I’m doing and spend a few minutes trying to figure out what they’re up to.

Twilight Blackbird

The air is just beginning to chill a little, raise the hair on the arms 
as you strut your stuff,
a lone figure surveying all you rule in the dying light,
keeping a watchful eye out for the squirrels, the thrush
and those sly cul-de-sac cats that would gladly use you as a plaything
before presenting you as a lifeless gift on a welcome mat.
But you're better than that.
You stalk the perimeter, watching for flies, ants or maybe the appearance of
the ultimate prize, a succulent worm.
No creature can suspect you're there
as you dance a delicate tango under the disco ball moon,
hopping, prancing, creeping, darting, scampering
through a series of steps that you've honed over the years,
perfected as time ticked by until
Spring's annual yawn signals your entrance to the floor,
a flash of gold amongst the plush inky feathers,
capturing hearts as well as prey
and enchanting all whose eyes you catch.

We seem to have a number of blackbirds that visit the garden at this time of year. I don’t know if it’s literally just a couple of males and females – they all look the same! – or several families, but you can’t help but notice them. They’re quite bold too, despite appearing fairly skittish as you watch them. The ones I see will venture fairly close if I’m actually in the garden and on to our patio if I happen to be at the window, yet it doesn’t take a lot to spook them either.

Watching them, I found myself quite entertained, so that’s where the references to dance and theatrics come in with the poem. They just move differently; not quite graceful, but not particularly clumsy either. Yet, it all looks very well rehearsed and if I’m stood washing the dishes I can find myself getting distracted just watching their antics. I’ve realised too that I more or less always say ‘Hello’ to blackbirds and so it felt fitting when I began scribbling down a few notes, that I should write a poem about them.

As usual, feel free to leave a comment or two and thanks for spending some time reading in my little area of the internet!

Poetry Blog: To a terrifying mouse.

Spring brings with it many jobs, especially if you have a garden. And it was while embarking on some jobs in our back garden that I encountered a somewhat unwanted visitor, just the other day.

As I’m currently on holiday from work – it’s our Easter break – I thought that it was about time I got stuck into some of the more difficult jobs that needed attending to. Principal among them was cutting our back lawn, which I had allowed to get to an out of control kind of length. I do this every year; tell myself that it’s too early for mowing the lawn when it’s reasonably dry in March and then watch on in relative horror as it rains for weeks and the lawn grows and grows. By the time I’d got the lawn mower out last week, it was around a foot high in most places, meaning that this would be a big job!

I’d actually prepared fairly well for this task, making sure that our garden waste bin had been put out for collection the night before, so that it was completely empty when I started the job. However, as I repeatedly emptied the basket on the mower it looked more and more like I was going to run out of space. I turned to our compost bin but that too began to fill up quickly.

I then began to push the grass cuttings down, hoping that such compression would create the space I needed in the garden bin. It didn’t work. And then I was struck by what I thought was a very clever idea. Taking the lid off our compost bin, I got the garden sheers out, inserted them into the pile of grass cuttings and trimmings from various shrubs and began to chop away. It worked and the level of the ‘compost’ began to drop. But not nearly enough.

Warming to my task, I went to the shed, got my garden fork as well as a weed digging tool and began to push them down into the compost, twisting and turning in order to mix it all up and hopefully make some of it drop downwards. Again, it worked and this time well enough to allow me to get carried away, delving the tools repeatedly down into the bin. And then it happened…

To a terrifying mouse

I have climbed mountains,
clung on as if my very life depended on it while others screamed with joy
on rollercoasters,
peered nervously over the edge of perilous waterfalls,
flown in a seaplane very much against my better judgement,
hurtled headlong down steep, snowy hills
on a makeshift tarpaulin toboggan,
faced down bullies,
been confronted by an angry rattlesnake,
had desks thrown at me by frustrated pupils in a failing school
and argued with an Ofsted inspector, despite being warned never to do this by those who knew better than me,
but I have never felt fear like that felt when a tiny mouse scurried out
of our compost bin and escaped over my foot.
No more than three inches in length
from snuffling nose to tiny tail,
as I cowered, this timorous beastie,
no doubt far more scared of me than I of he,
disappeared behind a pile of bricks to sanctuary,
whilst I screamed like a child, yet cursed like a pirate
and promptly cut my finger on the edge of the compost bin,
on reflection a fair penance for my ridiculous behaviour.
Later, as I slept, it crept into my dreams,
turning them into nightmares,
leaving me to smile ruefully next morning at the memory,
while silently hoping to never encounter it again.

I’m slightly ashamed to say it, but I got the shock of my life when I realised what was happening. I spotted the blur that turned out to be a tiny mouse out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it run across my foot. It couldn’t have been there long however, due to a combination of the speed of the mouse and me leaping into the air in shock!

Later, after I’d told my wife and children about our little garden visitor, I started thinking about how I could turn the whole encounter into a piece of writing, settling on a poem. By the time I’d got to the writing things down stage I’d decided that I’d start with a list of scary experiences, then compare this to what had happened that afternoon with the mouse. I sat listing things I’d done that had caused me tension or fear before thinking about how I’d get on to the mouse.

The one thing that sprang to mind was the first line of the poem ‘To a mouse’ by Robert Burns and how he described the mouse as a ‘beastie’, which made it sound much more scary than it was in his poem. I liked the idea of my mouse being a ‘beastie’, just because it gave me some such a shock and so I decided to use that line, but play around with it a little bit. So instead of the mouse being ‘cow’ring’ I thought it would be better used to describe me and just left the mouse as a ‘timorous beastie’ like Burns had.

The fact that I then dreamt about the mouse that night helped me confirm my thoughts of it as threatening! In the dream I could almost feel the mouse on my feet and it actually woke me up! It definitely made me smile the next morning and had to be included in the poem once I wrote it up as some kind of first draft.

I’m pleased with how this poem has turned out and I have to say that I really enjoyed drafting it and then putting the finishing touches to it. I hope you enjoyed it too!

Poetry Blog: Not quite out of my comfort zone, but refreshingly different all the same.

Early last week I had to teach in an entirely different room to mine. Occasionally, we get put on cover for absent teachers and on this particular day I was asked to cover a Year 7 Textiles lesson.

There are two ways that I look at this type of thing. Firstly, it’s quite nice to have a change of scenery and interesting to get a glimpse of what other people do and how they do it. I’ve taught English for 22 years now and although I love it dearly, nothing ever really changes that much. I might have to adapt ever so slightly to a different approach every now and again, but even then it’s probably all been done before under a different name, so it’s never too taxing. So looking in on other peoples’ jobs and subjects can be quite refreshing at times, depending on the subject!

The negative side is that there’s always a cynical little voice in my head telling me that it’s not really the same as what I do. English teaching is difficult, that’s a fact. So sometimes, other subjects can seem a little bit more simple and straightforward. I understand that there’s a lot more to every other subject than I might learn on an hour long cover lesson though. So, I’ll leave that there!

Anyway, I enjoyed being in the Textiles room and not just because the pupils were so engaged with what they were doing either. So while I was there, I scribbled down some notes and from those notes, I wrote the following poem a few days later.

Not quite out of my comfort zone, but refreshingly different all the same.

The difference is apparent from the first step across the threshold.
Welcomed through the door by an headless Adonis mannequin clad in sparkling gold hotpants, this is a place of learning but not as we know it
and although at first glance this is alien, a second look confirms that learning is here, there and everywhere.
Around the perimeter sewing machines sit, caped in the red of emergency,
poised to perform vital surgery at any given moment.
Colour dominates every surface with paper, thread and all manner of materials scattered,
nothing uniform, just imagination allowed to flow freely from one stream into another.
Hooked, I cast my gaze wide around the place, allow myself a moment to be carried away by the current, from Pop Art to Van Gogh, Hockney to Warhol,
not quite a gallery but not quite what I understand a classroom to be,
a place to create, with mannequins and safety pins strewn liberally,
a riot of colour where fabric sweet wrappers and washing up bottles adorn the walls, a supermarket's shelves stitched together, recreated around the room.
In a corner, tie-dyed swatches are labelled with names that I recognise,
enabling me to take a different view of what I see and where I see them.
Later, I settle back down in a chair, find myself reliving memories of Art rooms from the distant past, wrangling with paint, contemplating colour and depth and wondering how, at such a young age, I could express myself when no longer cocooned by this creative hive, but finally out in the vast expanse of the world.

The Textiles room presented a real contrast to the order and uniformity of my type of classroom. As part of an academy chain we’ve long since been expected to adopt the academy colours for borders and backing of displays and we even have displays on school policy in each room, so it can begin to look a little bit formal, shall we say. Unless your attention is grabbed by my desk of course, where the words formal, uniform and organised don’t sit well at all.

Sitting in that room got me thinking quite a bit, firstly about the skills that are taught there and then also about my own background in the more creative side of education.

In the poem I refer to the displays of work that imitates various artists, which made me think of my own daughter, currently studying GCSE Art and having worked through all manner of different artists’ styles with her, it brought a smile to my face. It also made me draw parallels to the writers we study in English, making the two subjects feel a little bit closer than I’d ever really thought of before.

Looking at the various ongoing projects took me right back to my own schooling, where I took a slightly creative approach to my GCSEs and then A-Levels with a CDT Design course and the more traditional Art. It was nice just to reminisce like that and it got me thinking about how happy it would make me to create something back in those days, as well as the stress and ultimately the pride when having to work out problems with materials like paint as well as metal and wood. It also made me doubly determined to get out and doing some sketching when my latest half term holiday comes around, as it’s something I haven’t done since last summer.

All in all, a nice way to spend an hour at work! I hope you enjoy the poem.

Poetry Blog: Pushing Out to Sea

This was a poem that was prompted by a lesson I taught recently. Sometimes we use images as a prompt when doing creative writing. We’ve been doing it recently with Years 10 and 11; giving them an image and discussing what we can see and how we might describe it as well as getting them to think about what you might hear there, how it might feel etc. The aim here was to be able to give them a way into a narrative, a place to start before they began building tension or drama or whatever else it was that they wanted to build in there.

The idea for the poem came when I was teaching a small intervention group and discussing an image with a student. We concentrated on the image at the top of this page. Once we’d done with our discussion I gave them time to write and given that it was in exam conditions, quickly found myself with little to do. So, I started jotting down notes about the image with the intention of adding them to the lesson for next time that I taught it.

The poem came later. I hadn’t yet used the notes, but came across them at the end of the day on a bit of paper while I was gathering up stray worksheets and stuff for recycling. I took it home – it was just some sentences and observations about the things in the image – and sat down with it later on to write the poem underneath.

Pushing Out to Sea

As day breaks only the occasional whispered chatter of three tired fishermen,
or a shambling step displacing pebbles on the track breaks the silence.
Not quite day, not quite night, not quite still.
At the shoreline they yawn and stretch before dragging their boats towards the shore and into the shallows, feet wet, limbs already aching.
On the water, the light from each boat gives birth to a dappled golden fish reflected on the surface, stretching across the lake.
Hopefully a good luck charm for a catch yet to come.
The breaking sun spatters the dark of the sky with Jackson Pollock pinks, reds and oranges as a chill breeze welcomes the men to the water.
Soon, the warmth of the sun will toast their bones again and make them feel alive.

I really liked the image. There was lots going on; the mountains in the background, the light on the water, the colours of the sky, the men and their boats. But as well as the image I found myself thinking about the sounds and what it would feel like to be there.

I decided to focus on the men and the reasons why they were there, deciding that this was work rather than some kind of hobby. I liked the idea of them making their way to the lake, still groggy from waking up and almost hypnotically going through the motions in order to get out on to the water. Sometimes, the body functions and then we look back and wonder exactly how we got to where we are. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t mind mornings, but I find that I’m not the most sparkling company at that time of day and going through the motions is very much my way of operating until a certain point. This made me draw parallels with the fishermen and I decided that in the same way as a class coming in to my room can be like flicking a switch for me, they would only really switch on when they’d got to their destination and started fishing for the day. By that time, the sun would be up.

I didn’t want to write a long poem that took in their fishing simply because I haven’t much idea how they would go about fishing. It doesn’t look like a rod based activity, judging by the image, so I thought better of trying to guess. I was satisfied with what I’d got down up to that point and that the poem had quite a positive ending.

As ever, I hope that you enjoyed reading. Feel free to leave a comment, good or bad, as it’s always constructive to get some feedback.