It is poetry week at my school this week, linked to New Zealand’s (I’m assuming it is New Zealand’s, it might be all over…) poetry day this friday (23rd August). I am currently avoiding others tasks, but have been spotting all sorts of beautiful poems on twitter, and it has made me think of some of my favourite poems, what they mean to me, and where I remember learning about them. While I often get frustrated with my own stuttering prose and find expressing myself clearly a challenge (not to mention sending my grandmother round the bend with my appalling spelling) I love reading, and greatly admire those who can work their words with such magic.
And after writing the above, I realised I have already written about two of the poems on my mind, all the way back in 2014. It is funny how the past comes back….. and how despite meeting these poems in high school some 20 years ago, they are still with me.
‘So, it is day 2 of Ulearn, and we have been given some time. Time is so precious, and I always struggle to use it wisely. Or I get so caught up in tomorrow I forget about today, or last year, or even before that.
One of my favourite poems is about time
Time out – Hone Tuwhare
Can not catch up with you, Time.
You precede me
like the echo of sad footfalls in my heart,
as I turn back
to find the solace
in a resolute search
for my space
It is resonating with my right now, as I think about the English teacher who first introduced me to it, Ms Fowler. Fowler was hard arse – she reminded me off the teacher Katie Novak talked about in the keynote. Fowler made me work harder than I ever had, and unlocked some potential. I argued with her, got cross, got disheartened and then picked myself up and tried again. I learned to love poetry as a means of expression rather than to loathe it as yucky english – even if I still can’t spell to save my life. I learned resilience, perseverance, and the importance of sticking to you guns despite what others say or think. To go with your gut feeling. That can again be described by a poem (this one I found specifically for a ‘read allowed’ assessment we had to do, I didn’t fully understand it at the time) – she taught it to her classes after which I found amazingly flattering. We ‘bumped’ into each other online recently, and she is still doing amazing things.
The Riders in the Stand
There’s some that ride the Robbo style, and bump at every stride;
While others sit a long way back, to get a longer ride.
There’s some that ride like sailors do, with legs and arms, and teeth;
And some ride on the horse’s neck, and some ride underneath.
But all the finest horsemen out — the men to Beat the Band —
You’ll find amongst the crowd that ride their races in the Stand.
They’ll say “He had the race in hand, and lost it in the straight.”
They’ll show how Godby came too soon, and Barden came too late.
They’ll say Chevalley lost his nerve, and Regan lost his head;
They’ll tell how one was “livened up” and something else was “dead” —
In fact, the race was never run on sea, or sky, or land,
But what you’d get it better done by riders in the Stand.
The rule holds good in everything in life’s uncertain fight;
You’ll find the winner can’t go wrong, the loser can’t go right.
You ride a slashing race, and lose — by one and all you’re banned!
Ride like a bag of flour, and win — they’ll cheer you in the Stand.
Even 5 year on, and maybe always, I often think of these poems. I am thinking specifically of the riders in the stand – I need to work to my standards, not the standards of others. It is so easy to look at others and think, they aren’t doing this or that, so I won’t. Rather than thinking this is where I want to be, now get there.
Another poem on my mind right now is Epiphany by Ted Hughes
London. The grimy lilac softness
Of an April evening. Me
Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge
On my way to the tube station.
A new father – slightly light-headed
With the lack of sleep and the novelty.
Next, this young fellow coming towards me.
I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him
Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it)
What I’d been ignoring.
Not the bulge of a small animal
Buttoned into the top of his jacket
The way colliers used to wear their whippets –
But its actual face. Eyes reaching out
Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar!
The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression –
The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear,
Between the jacket lapels.
’It’s a fox-cub!’
I heard my own surprise as I stopped.
He stopped. ‘Where did you get it? What
Are you going to do with it?’
On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!
‘You can have him for a pound.’ ‘But
Where did you find it? What will you do with it?’
‘Oh, somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough
At a pound.’ And a grin.
What I was thinking
Was – what would you think? How would we fit it
Into our crate of space? With the baby?
What would you make of its old smell
And its mannerless energy?
And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself
What would we do with an unpredictable,
Powerful, bounding fox?
The long-mouthed, flashing temperament?
That necessary nightly twenty miles
And that vast hunger for everything beyond us?
How would we cope with its cosmic derangements
Whenever we moved?
The little fox peered past me at other folks,
At this one and at that one, then at me.
Good luck was all it needed.
Already past the kittenish
But the eyes still small,
Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone
As if with weeping. Bereft
Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur,
The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper
Of the constellations
Out of which Mother had always returned.
My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds
Circling and sniffing around him.
Then I walked on
As if out of my own life.
I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back
Into the future
Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried
Straight on and dived as if escaping
Into the Underground. If I had paid,
If I had paid that pound and turned back
To you, with that armful of fox –
If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox
Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –
I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?
But I failed. Our marriage had failed.
I was sitting in the staff work room listening to a spirited discussion between two English teachers – they both taught yr 13 classes, one was doing Ted Hughes, and the other Sylvia Plath. I was listening purely from enjoyment as they argued their points about the intricasies and styles of the writers, the different possible interpretations, and how had we really changed in our expectations and realities of relationships since the 1950s and 60s. As an avid fan of Slyvia Plath, I had avoided Ted Hughes, but as there two English teachers teased out ideas I began to become more familiar and would occasionally skim read a poem or two. The ‘team Ted’ English teacher read this to me, and as two people with our own young families discussed how life had changed so much, that risk was now so much harder to take… that consequences were suddenly so much more real. And that epiphanies often strike when you least expect them. (I feel I need to add we are both still with our significant others, and seem to be weathering the occasional twists and turns of life reasonably well)
I also wonder if I’m thinking about this poem because I feel like I am running from a few ideas at the moment. I had a good conversation with a teacher friend yesterday about how I still can’t find a way to pull myself out of assessment driven teaching. How I am uncertain about how to build learning for L2 chemistry next year as the standards are changing. Have I, too, left the fox cub on the bridge and taken the ‘easier’ path that is safe and known??
And last, but not least, Dunedin poem, but Janet Frame. My favourite work of Janet Frame is excellently terrifying ‘The Bath’, but many of her poems pop into my head sometimes.
I thought of this poem yesterday, as I too went to the beach, and stared at the waves, and stood in the sun.