Poetry Blog: A Bracing Start to The Day.

I wrote this poem very recently after a drive to work. The title seems fantastically relevant now, given that we’ve just had our first snow, brought by a storm that featured some frightening 40 miles an hour winds.

It wasn’t the drive that prompted me to write, but the weather and just the way my world looked on that morning. It was the kind of morning that I’ve always really liked. Bright, crisp, dry. Quite still too, so ideal as I’m really not a fan of the wind. The kind of morning that I’d love to have gone for a run on. But instead, I was off to work to spend the day indoors, missing out on a beautiful day.

The first thing that struck me was spotting the moon still up in the sky, despite the daylight. I noticed it as I was getting into the car and then kept spotting it as drove. It prompted a series of thoughts and observations and I was suddenly really keen to write. But that’s a bit difficult at the wheel of the car and even trying to dictate into my phone would have been out of the question. So, it was a case of scribbling things down in a notebook as soon as I got into my classroom.

I worked on putting the notes together as a poem once my day of teaching was over with. Here’s the result.

A Bracing Start to The Day

The moon, still high in the sky,
suggests night rather than the bracing start to the day
that this early light informs us of.
Vapour trails from soaring planes scratch the blue
from a near perfect sky, like claw marks
down a freshly painted canvas.
Scan the horizon and a coral banner announces 
the sun, while frost on windscreens
defies its very existence.
Crisp air takes the breath away and begins 
to numb the fingers and toes as every
breath spray paints a fleeting pattern in the air.
Winter is creeping towards us.

I can see the weather influencing more writing in the weeks to come, especially on those early starts. I’m up early every other Sunday setting up goalposts, nets, corner flags and everything else that goes alongside matchday for the football team that I coach. I always find it a lovely peaceful, calm time of the day and usually quite look forward to it. Even in the worst of weather it’s nice just to be outside and alone with my thoughts and watching things come together.

I hope you enjoyed reading the poem. It’s a little shorter than they usually are, but it’s one that I think I quite like. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Book Review: ‘Marriage Material’ by Sathnam Sanghera

Every now and again, a newspaper or a magazine that I read will publish a list of some kind of essential reads. It might be an end of year poll or just something that links to a particular time of year, but for as long as I can remember I’ve cut these lists up and stashed the cuttings elsewhere as books that I will mean to get around to buying and reading. ‘Marriage Material’ was published in 2013 and was found on such a list and then, years later, recovered from whatever receptacle it had been stashed in. I finally got round to buying it last year! And I have to say, it’s the kind of book that makes me thankful for my hoarding!

‘Marriage Material’ is a novel that is predominantly about families. From the love and the tenderness through to the irritations, the regrets and the great big falling outs. But it’s about much more than that too. Set largely in the West Midlands from the 1970s and 80s right through to the present day, the novel has culture, prejudice and division at its heart and for those of us who grew up in these times – if not the precise location – it makes for a really interesting read as well as one that brings back times that were a lot darker in their attitudes to anything or anyone that was deemed ‘different’.

The book tells the tale of Arjan Banga and his family with the story being told via a dual narrative taking place some years apart, before the two sides come together in an interesting twist. I loved the narrative style here as it left me not only trying to follow the story but also trying to work out the connection between the two. I think I was a little slow on the uptake, if I’m being honest, as it wasn’t actually that hard to work out, but for the first third of the book I must confess that I didn’t make the connection!

The family are immigrants to UK, so as the story is set in the 1970s and 80s, the book covers the ugly racism prevalent in our country at this time. However, I’d say that Sanghera treats these issues with a light touch and is prepared to write with humour when tackling some of the notable instances of prejudice in the book, such as the geographical inaccuracy of most of the insults hurled his and his familys’ way. It certainly puts the ignorance of his abusers into perspective and Sanghera’s observations made me smile on more than one occasion.

As the two narratives collide the story picks up pace. When his father dies Arjan heads home and immediately feels family pressure to take over the business. But he desperately doesn’t want to slip into the kind of stereotyped life he’s worked so hard all his adult life to avoid. However, seeing his mother again leads to him worrying about her health as well as her ability to run things and he’s is forced into a couple of decisions that will have a huge impact upon his future. One of these decisions is to track down a long lost relative and her impact on all of their lives has mixed, but ultimately positive results.

Rather than returning to his far more cosmopolitan life in London, he opts to stay at home to help run the business, as well as looking after his elderly mother. However, with a fiancé patiently awaiting him back in London and old acquaintances vying for his time in the Midlands, his life just gets more and more complicated. Inevitably, Arjan messes things up!

Marriage Material is a great read. Arjan’s life veers from one catastrophe to the next and as a reader you can’t help feeling sympathy, even when it seems abundantly clear that he must know he’s making a terrible decision. There’s a real humour – often quite dark – to the book and though at times it seems seems like Arjan’s life is spiraling out of control, you can somehow still laugh at his predicament.

In the end it all works out for the family. But not without the kind of scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tarantino film near the end. But just when you think it might all end in the kind of tragedy that none of us saw coming, there’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. A happy ending of sorts and certainly not in the way that you might have predicted when you first picked up the book!

A funny, engaging and just all-round excellent read, I’ll give Marriage Material

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Poetry Blog: ‘As he fell…’

As someone who lives away from their home town and family home, I find it difficult to keep in touch. Sometimes that’s down to having quite a busy life. Family life can take over at times and then there’s work; having a job that is regularly the wrong side of hectic can mean that it’s tough to find time for a moment to relax, let alone time to think about who I need to get in touch with.

Sometimes though, I have to admit that my lack of phone calls home is just down to sheer laziness. When I finally get the chance to slump on the settee in front of some mindless television the last thing that I want to do is pick up the phone and make the inevitable and somewhat awkward small talk with my dad, asking and responding to the same questions that we always ask each other. A lot of our chats are just us counting down the minutes until we can tick a box marked ‘Chatted with dad/Graham’ and pass on the baton on to my mam.

A recent phone call got me thinking about the relationship I have with my dad though. Although I don’t think I’d ever describe us as being very close, my dad has always been a bit of a hero to me and always been someone that I’ve wanted to impress. My dad has always seemed invincible to me as nothing ever seems to really stop him in his tracks. He’s a typical Northern bloke, not given to outbursts of affection or praise and so it’s always felt like I haven’t really impressed him very much. That’s not me reaching for sympathy, it’s just the way things have been. I can’t say it’s ever stopped me from getting on with life.

There have been sporadic moments of affection and expressions of pride along the way but I think it’s best not to be greedy or needy. I’ve learnt to be happy with myself or proud of my own achievements and my relationship with my dad has been largely based around chatting about the football, something that I don’t imagine it’s unusual to build a father son relationship on!

A recent phone call led to my dad revealing that he’d fallen off a ladder and hurt himself quite badly. It was almost a throwaway conversation for him. No fuss, no need for sympathy, just very matter of fact. But it shattered my thoughts of him as being somehow invincible. He’d managed to hurt himself quite badly and had to go to hospital – of course he’d driven himself there – to get stitches in a leg wound and everything else checked over. He’s in his eighties now though and the incident and the way he reported it in our phone call made me think about him and I suppose his life expectancy a lot. And so, I wrote about it.

As he fell...

As he fell it was nothing that flashed before his eyes
and after the whump of the ground
and the surge of air that left him
all that remained was one, over ripe question mark.
Lying voiceless, his only thought formed as slowly 
as a child colouring carefully to avoid breaching the lines;
if this is how it all ends, was there ever really any point?

Flat on his back, doing whatever it is
one does when you cannot even manage to gasp,
he relaxed, rather than gave way to panic,
revelled almost in the moment that told him to do nothing,
prone in the hinterland somewhere between life and death,
looking serenely skyward while the now fallen ladder
balanced awkwardly across his chest
and wondered what was meant to happen next.

A faceless nothing seemed to silently gaze, take him in,
measure him up and contemplate his place in the world
before deciding that the time was not yet right
and placing him back carefully, like one would a
freshly unhooked trout spared the pan
and allowed to feel a freedom that would for now
be marked by the pain that besets the old fool
who overreached and fell from the ladder.

Breath returned, he gathered his thoughts,
dusted down his creaking bones
and swam tentatively back through the lake 
in search of not just sympathy and the inevitable scorn,
but a familiar face who would narrow her eyes 
and pass her shaken headed judgement ,before gently tending his wounds
and share not just his tale of woe and bloodied laundry,
but everything that life had, could and would throw at them
for their eternity together, and now for at least another day.

In order to write this poem I tried to imagine how my dad must have felt. All he really told me was that when it happened he lay there for a while to kind of gather himself before getting up and making his way slowly home. So for a bit of an uncomfortable while I had to try and inhabit my dad’s mind and think about what he’d have done, how he’d have felt and kind of join the dots about what had actually happened, because he’s very much an octogenarian of few words. Has been since he was about 40, I think!

He was actually in his allotment pruning a hedge and overreached. Subsequently, he lost balance and over he went. But given his time of life I imagined that he’d have felt quite bewildered by it all and having fallen from quite high up on the ladder I thought it might have knocked the stuffing out of him and left him not only in pain, but groggy, confused and possibly…possibly, even as a big tough, gruff Geordie, a bit scared.

Speaking to my dad that day he was resigned to more or less giving up on his allotment, admitting that it had gotten too much for him. He’s 82 after all! But there was a definite sadness in him about that as it’s something he’s toiled away at for probably well over 20 years now, since they moved from the family home to where they live now.

I ended the poem with a little bit about my mam. They’ve been married for around 60 years and it’s always funny to watch them together. For every small tender moment there seem to be a thousand gripes and snipes and they argue like, well like an old married couple. But I know that she worries about him and as an ex nurse, I know that she’ll have tried to clean him up and get him to just sit down and take it easy. There wouldn’t have been a great deal of explicit sympathy, but I think she’d have been scared by it all too. He actually managed to slice his leg open and only noticed a while later when his leg felt damp and he thought he’d had another kind of accident altogether.

I hope I’ve done them both justice with this poem. I wondered what must have gone through his mind as things failed him again. He’s always been so strong and just tough, so I think this latest age episode must have been strange for him.

As ever, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment. It’s always good to read people’s thoughts, particularly when what I write is as personal as this poem.

Poetry Blog: Lost

This is the latest in a long list of poems that I’ve written and then forgotten about. It was one of about half a dozen that I discovered in a notebook a couple of weeks ago.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to place these type of poems simply because firstly they’d been forgotten and secondly because often I write a poem and don’t give it a title. In the case of this poem the title was just a question mark, which didn’t seem very helpful at first!

Once I’d read through the poem the subject matter became a little clearer. For the record this is a poem about my state of mind at a certain time. I still feel this way at times now and it’s been a feeling I’ve had throughout my life. I think it affects lots of us though. Having read this poem through a few times and had a bit of a think I think it’s about just everyday life and the sense that this might be all there is. Certainly, I look at what I’ve achieved in life and often wonder if it’s enough. I suppose it’s a sense of slight dissatisfaction at how things are. There are lots of reasons for it as well. It might just be wanting to impress people, like your parents or it might be linked to the dreams you had as a kid. There are definitely references to self esteem in there too.

Whatever the reasoning this is a poem about a moment in time. It’s about looking back and regretting decisions, but it’s also about simply wondering whether you’re satisfied with your lot. I guess that in my case, it’s about getting to the verge of a milestone birthday and just reflecting back or having a good old think about things. I think when I wrote the poem I felt quite down about a lot of things, but mainly about me and my worth as a person.

Lost

Imagine not knowing how you got here.
The feeling of a half life, 
the wondering behind a thousand what ifs
and the nagging feeling that it all somehow won't matter.

Imagine the lack of identity.
The uncertainty of what you are
and who you are and whether you matter
tugging at your sleeves, like restless children.

Imagine the sense of loss.
The statelessness, the weightlessness,
the sense that however hard you swim, the tide has 
other ideas, a plan for you more powerful than dreams.

Imagine that this is all there is
and not understanding how that feels.
That the child lost among a crowd of unfriendly faces
is you, for the rest of whatever this is.

There’s also a sense of not really feeling like an adult here. When I was a kid and I’d hear adults saying how they still felt like they were 18 in their heads, I’d roll my eyes and think the worst of them. Now I’m very much an adult, well I often don’t feel like one! When I’m joining in training with the team that I coach, I still feel like a kid. My body is quick to remind me that I’m not, but I still feel that way. It can be the same in my job, teaching in a high school. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get off topic and just resort to making jokes, which was all too often my problem as a pupil in school!

Finally, the poem is about growing old. Lately I’ve been thinking about the future and I guess what we’d call the next stage of my life. I’m tentatively planning for retirement or possibly a change in work or working hours and I think all of these thoughts and ideas are in the poem too.

I hope this is a poem that people can relate to. It feels like a much broader topic than just me worrying about me, that’s for sure. As ever, feel free to leave any comments about the poem as I always enjoy a bi of feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: Age of Innocence

This is a poem that I had the idea for while teaching my Year 7 English group. I decided to publish it as it is, but am thinking about turning it into something about that age group in general and the state of their education over the last couple of Covid blighted years. It’s certainly something I’ve been able to witness first hand.

I wrote part of the poem while my class were working silently. It was just their approach that struck me; their diligence and their keenness, dare I say it for fear of cursing myself and finding that we come back after half term and they’ve turned into monsters, a real desire for knowledge. The more I thought about it the more I thought about the fact that this group of people have had their education disrupted terribly by Covid and that maybe, their energy and enthusiasm was just a direct reaction to all of the disruption.

I have a son who’s a year older than my group and I know that various lockdowns, school closures and enforced periods of isolation have affected his attitude and approach towards his education quite noticeably. He’s definitely not the same kid that started Year 6, just before the news began to filter out of China about this terrible virus. It seems that as much as we tried to keep him engaged through lockdown and a combination of home-schooling and online lessons, he’s changed into someone who simply gets things done as quickly as possible in order to open up more ‘leisurely’ opportunities. There’s still a diligence about him, but we just don’t see the same thirst for knowledge that he always had at primary school anymore.

Teaching this particular Year 7 group has been really refreshing for me. They’ve responded to me and the curriculum and tasks put before them in a way that I haven’t seen in a group for a good while. Their enthusiasm seems boundless, but their general niceness is also very welcomed. So here’s the poem.

Age of Innocence

Circulating around the room leads me to ponder.
How wonderful you are at this age on this stage.
Earnest, diligent, keen,
still without the air of cool detachment that will inevitably spoil you for a while.
At this moment in time though, I'll enjoy the patter of the rain on the roof
as you work on in an un-asked-for silence that is only 
broken by peppered questions from one or two from time to time.
The brows crinkled in concentration,
the eyes narrowed as you sit in the middle of an epic quest
to find just the right word
and the tongues allowed to escape from the corner of the mouth
as you perfect the curve of a capital letter, the wording of a sentence,
or the shading of a heading.
But for now, amidst the hum of the air conditioning
and time ticking on
it seems like nothing could divert you from this task.

My group will change after half term as we set them more accurately using data gained over these past seven weeks. I’ve already had sneak preview of my class and this glance told me that there aren’t many of my original group left. Fingers crossed that things aren’t going to change too much. As an experienced, grizzled teacher of over twenty years, it’s felt nice not to have to deal with the deliberate disruption that some classes seem to revel in. Let’s see how things are panning out in about three weeks time. There could be a very different poem ion the way by then!

Poetry Blog: Forbidden

This feels like an ambitious poem. For me, that is. I doubt actual poets would feel anything like as intimidated by it as I did. In fact, such was the level of ambition and intimidation, it was a poem that I almost didn’t even take on. But in the end, it was a subject matter that interested me so much that I just thought I’d like to write a poem about it.

So the poem is about the mass repatriation of Zainichi Koreans who were (and still are) ethnic Koreans living in Japan. Between 1959 and 1984 93,000 ethnic Koreans living in Japan were repatriated to North Korea, despite the fact that lots of them were of South Korean origin. Furthermore, among the 93,000 were over 1800 Japanese women who had married Korean men. Many of these women had previously faced the opposition and disapporval of their families, such was the ill feeling towards Korean immigrants in Japan at that time. Now they faced an uncertain future in a land where they knew nothing about.

The repatriation was disastrous for many as the promise of a new life and the optimism that brought just didn’t work out in a North Korea that was heavily damaged by war. Later, as North Korea became more and more closed off to the outside world, the women were denied the chance to visit family and ‘home’ in Japan. My poem is written from the point of view of one of these ‘trapped’ women.

Forbidden

When we married, we dreamed of a future together in our home, 
like everybody does, I suppose. Something modest.
Having fought for just each other, we didn't need the world.
But it took only months to leave those dreams behind
and look towards others on another shore that we imagined as home.

Too young to know better, to argue, to question
we boarded a ferry to our brave new world.
Promised the dream of paradise, we told ourselves that we weren't being forced,
that this was our decision, that our nerves would give way
to delight at what our future could, would become.

But our future wasn't bright at all. Instead it was the sombre
tones of mines and factories where we made our lives,
as had been their plan all along. Our utopia disappeared,
in time becoming nothing but a prison where we shed
tears for our loss, tears for our betrayal, tears for our home.

I clung, steadfast, to memories, allowed my senses to take me home,
closed my eyes to reality in order to see the acacia in full Spring bloom,
allow the smell to envelop me, stay there for a time bathing in the warm air.
In my mind I would walk pavements in parks with him,
cherry blossom breaking over us like gentle April waves.

But none of it would be real life anymore.
When we were forbidden from visiting our parents' graves
sadness turned to loathing. Those who frowned upon our youthful choices
were now just ghosts of the past and we could not mourn
the loss of our very beginning.

Instead we were forced to mourn the loss of our very freedom, our existence,
our souls, culture, identity
and, given no reason why this should be we could only feel more detached
than ever before, disillusionment disintegrating into numbness.
We were driftwood, pushed along by the sea, forgotten by the land.

Now, it feels like I have spent my life staring blind from this window
scouring the landscape for the past that I can no longer see,
searching through the coastal mist for a home no longer on the horizon,
imagining one last glimpse, one last memory, one last conversation,
while knowing all senses are lost like our identity.

We are widows.
Abandoned, forgotten, homeless, but never hopeless,
yet cast adrift, a life not lived,
forever seeking the answers to how and why.

I hope I’ve managed to do this topic justice. As I said earlier, it was something that I read about – and have read more about since – that just gripped me. For want of a much better way of putting it, I just felt such sympathy for the women that I read about. Some of them talked about how they married their Korean partner, despite pressure from their families and how despite not regretting their choices, they were forced to live with the eventual reality that they would never see their parents again. The stubbornness of youth leading a lifetime of feeling incomplete.

The stories possibly resonated with me because at the time of reading, in the middle of the Covid crisis, I had begun to wonder if I’d ever see my parents again. Their age combined with their vulnerability to the virus made for some very difficult times and although I wouldn’t dream of thinking I’d had it as bad as the Japanese women I read about it piqued my interest in their story.

I think I quite like what I’ve managed to write. I found it difficult to write as someone else, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t made a complete mess of it. I hope you like what I’ve written too. As ever, please feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog: Pursued

This is a poem that I actually wrote and then briefly forgot about. It was only when reading through a notebook and finding a folded up piece of A4 paper that I discovered it again. I think it was written some time in the last two weeks, but somehow I’d just tucked it away and forgot that I’d written it.

It’s poem that has a couple of different influences. Partly I think it’s about mental health. Not just my mental health, but peoples’ in general. It’s about not being able to get rid of the darker moments, the lower moods, which is something I’ve had to put up with for a short while now, but something that lots of other people have probably struggled with for many years. So, I’m not moaning or feeling sorry for myself; I know others have things much, much worse.

I think the other influence or meaning behind this one is that I’ve been suffering with an injury – it’s been about 7 weeks now – and it just feels like it’s never getting better. So again, something I can’t seem to shake off. (Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong; less shaking, more relaxing?)

Pursued

I feel like you defy description. I don't know how to cope with you 
and words almost fail me.
Every label seems not to stick,
neither adequate nor accurate.
You're definitely not a friend,
but not a stranger all the same
and a cloud hanging over me can actually pass on the wind
before returning, whatever the forecast.
This is a nagging doubt, a feral dog trailing too close at my heels,
craving trust, but up to no good.
An excrutiating headache, pressing down,
a torchlight shone in my eyes or maybe a spotlight exposing me
when I feel the need to hide.
A flare in a clear night sky, marking me out, just as I find sanctuary for the night.
A light that offers no illumination, but lets me know that there's to be no rest,
no safety, nowhere to serve as an escape,
just an uncomfortable reminder that tells me to keep moving,
because at times like these, slowly, tentatively,
like an old man shuffling around the room to find the candles in a power cut,
that's all that I can do.

I don’t know if feeling this way is a legacy of lockdown and all things Covid or simply just another stage in my life; an age thing perhaps. But where before any sense of feeling low was fairly easy to shake off, lately I’ve not been able to. So ‘Pursued’ seemed the perfect title for the poem as it’s absolutely how I’ve felt both mentally and physically and how I imagine lots of people who are struggling feel too.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment below.

Poetry Blog: Rain on the roof

There’s no great mystery about this poem. Quite simply, it was prompted by rainfall on my classroom roof. It’s quite a cool noise I suppose and I think the sight of it and the relief I felt at being indoors and being able to just sit and watch and listen to it, was quite inspirational.

I have what I think is referred to as an outdoor classroom. It’s not actually outdoors, but it’s a stand alone building away from the main buildings of school. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. My classroom is actually known as the ecopod; I think it’s supposed to be eco-friendly, but I’ve never really worked out why. The structure is covered with wood and we have skylights and also movement activated lighting, so I suppose there’s something in the name. That said, because it’s wooden, early on in its school life my room was also widely known as Nandos…

It was the skylights that partly influenced the poem, which is basically about the sound and the sight of the rain during a particularly heavy downpour about a week ago. My class were working and the rain just got me thinking, so I scribbled some lines down on a bit of paper and went back to it later to finish what I’d started.

Rain on the roof

Incessant, unrelenting and blended into almost one wonderful noise,
you set the tone, make me feel glad of these four walls
and the roof above, reluctant to leave and glad of my warm, dry room.
Through the window a filter of unedifying grey
blights the green of fields and trees, makes fools of the eyes,
blurring houses, factories, towns on the horizon.
The vague hope of home is lost in the mist
as the rain plays its song on the skylight.
This will pass before I venture out once more,
but its footprint will remain for hours yet.

The effect of rain on the roof of my classroom always raises a smile. It will always prompt at least 50% of the group to stop working. Next we might get an incredulous ‘Woah’ before finally eyes turn to the windows in order to watch the downpour. It’s as if the rain couldn’t actually be happening if all they could do was hear it! And given that we live in the north of England, where rain is fairly frequent, it never fails to amaze me that my students can be so captivated by something as simple as this and that they see on such a regular basis. That was kind of what I meant in the last line as you can always guarantee that your class will struggle to behave if it’s raining. Throw some wind into the equation and you’ve got a battle on your hands!

From my classroom windows I can see in the direction that I live and am able to spot certain places that I’ll pass on the journey home. It can be a bit of a comfort when I’m having a bad day. And so, when it’s misty and cloudy all of that disappears; hence the line about the ‘vague hope of home’. Strange how such a simple thing can spark so much into happening!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

Book Review: ‘The Honest Truth’ by Dan Gemeinhart

It might be argued that there’s no more honest truth than the fact that you’re going to die. I mean, I’d like to hope that – inspired by the theme tune to ‘Fame’ – I’m going to live forever, but you can’t escape the honest truth though, can you?

Mark is a young boy who’s facing up to a whole lifetime’s worth of problems, only they’ve appeared in the shape of just the one big problem. And with that problem comes his honest truth. It’s looking pretty much certain that he’s going to die. I mean, that’s a big old problem when you’ve not even made it to high school age . And Mark’s facing this problem…by running away to climb a mountain.

Mark has had cancer for most of his life. He’s battled to stay alive, battled to fight off the cancer and just be a normal child. But however many times he fights it off, it keeps coming back to have another go at him, as is the way with this horrible disease. In running away, he now hopes to just die and end all of the heartache for not just himself, but his parents and his best friend Jess. While he’s at it, he hopes to climb a mountain like his grandfather asked him to just before he himself died. In short, Mark is a boy who has simply had enough of the hand that life has dealt him.

The subject matter of ‘The Honest Truth’ isn’t what you’d call particularly nice. The death of a child, even a child with a terrible illness, is never pleasant. As a parent, having one of my children in hospital for any length of time and for anything at all, is a real nightmare. But Dan Gemeinhart writes about Mark’s situation with a wonderful balance of optimism, humour and of course a tinge of sadness. It all makes for a compelling story and right up until a few pages from the end, you’re never quite sure how things are going to work out for Mark.

‘The Honest Truth’ is probably what we should be referring to as a YA novel. But, even at my age, I still love reading novels from this genre. I have a bit of an excuse, given that I’m a high school English teacher. But regardless of what it is and where we squeeze it in, ‘The Honest Truth’ is an excellent story and at not much over 200 pages, a really quick one to get through too!

The story is intriguing as Mark runs away with the intention of dieing on the mountain, while dodging a missing person’s investigation that has been publicised on every format of media you can think of. As a reader I felt like any second now, he’d be found. I mean you’d imagine people would be on higher alert than usual keeping their eyes out for a little runaway, stricken with cancer. But, with the help of his dog Beau – the kind of amazing, loyal canine companion we’d all dream of having – he seems to stay at least one step ahead of it all, despite becoming increasingly sick and increasingly slow in his ‘escape’ to the mountain.

In all, ‘The Honest Truth’ is a just fantastic read and I was gripped from start to finish, torn between wanting Mark to get his final wish and wanting him to get caught and taken home to his parents and best friend, Jess. Whichever way it ended, it almost wouldn’t have mattered and surely that’s the sign of a truly wonderful story.

I’d give ‘The Honest Truth’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Poetry Blog: Imagine…

This was a poem that was almost forgotten. It was only a nagging feeling that I’d written two at the same time that led me to scour through a notebook to find it.

It’s another poem ‘inspired’ by not being able to sleep. As a teacher, I usually find that at some point in my summer holidays there’ll be a period of sleeplessness; probably a few nights in a row where I’ll get out of bed having not been able to sleep and sit downstairs or in our bathroom reading, wide awake for a good few hours.

This poem was written with another (see link below) a short while before we broke up for summer. I had a lot on my mind and having got up and written one poem, I found myself thinking about ways of getting to sleep. We were in the midst of a heat wave – in the UK we call it a heat wave whenever the temperature gets around 18 degrees or more – and it occurred to me that I could go and sit in the garden, despite the fact that it was around 1am. Maybe that would help me to sleep? However, as someone who sleeps naked, I’d gotten out of bed sans clothing and I thought it better to protect any late night curtain twitchers or unassuming neighbours with prying eyes. This skinny, hairy Geordie is not a naked sight for sore eyes. More a sight to make your eyes sore. Or make them burn.

Poetry Blog: Awake

Anyway, I found myself imagining heading outside, in the nip, as they say. Here’s the resulting poem.

Imagine...

Imagine the shock of the chill night air against your skin,
the delightful uncertainty of worn concrete
on the souls of your feet, the sharp, silent stabbing pain
of a stepped on pebble, invisible in the moonlight
and the sheer relief as you sit in the damp, three week long grass.
Sleep won't come so you take a risk, leave the house,
not far this time, but sure of the knowledge that this place 
is yours alone, yet fully conscious of unseen terrors,
alert to every noise, perturbed at the possibilities,
yet aware that this was the final door to walk through.
Imagine sitting in the grass, legs out beneath you,
succumbing to a ridiculous sleep and waking maybe hours 
or even just minutes later, the sky slightly lighter
and slipping back to bed while no one knows
about the risk you've taken, about the barrier broken 
and the possibility of more.

Reading this back, it seems very much the product of a tired mind. It feels like a strange idea, but then again sleep deprivation can make people think and act in a strange way. I remember having the idea to go outside. Where we live is very quiet and so the only risk would be from wildlife (cats and insects mainly) and maybe if I’d been clothed I might have ventured out. In the end, having the idea and writing the poems that I wrote that night led me to sleep anyway.

Having read the poem back I’m very aware that I spelt ‘soles’ as ‘souls’. Now at the time of writing the actual poem, this was deliberate. However, looking back, I can’t quite put my finger on what I was aiming for with that line. I think it was that being out in the fresh night air would be good for my soul and so I was playing around with the idea of bare feet and their soles and the benefits to my ‘troubled’ mind at that time. However, I can’t remember specifically what was troubling me – at this point in time it could be one of a lot of things, as it’s not been a very kind last 9 months or so.

Regardless of seeing the poem as a little odd and not being able to fully remember some of the ideas behind it, this is one I’m actually pleased with. In short, I like the imagination behind it and the narrative aspect to it. I like the idea that it’s something I might well think about doing, but am very unlikely to actually go through with, however tame it may seem to some. Writing about it and creating something from it is the next best thing.

I hope you like the poem. Sorry about the unimaginative title (no pun intended). It’s something that I’m not getting any better at! Anyway, feel free to leave a comment as I always enjoy reading them.

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