Lent 36: Four Women Poets – on schools and poetry

I got this book, Four Women Poets as someone’s unwanted cast-off. It features Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Fleur Adcock.

I don’t like it. It feels like poetry for school kids. It probably is.

I love Duffy, and I’m currently on a Jackie Kay binge, but this collection… no thanks. The name, for a start, is patronising. It annoys me like it annoys me when people refer to ‘manageresses’. Manageress to manager is like booklet to book. A lesser version. Not quite the same, you know? Plus the word looks like a smear. Something has been squished and wiped on the page, all the letters are wrong and stretched out.

Do schools do poetry particularly badly? Wendy Cope seems to think so. I don’t really remember doing poetry at school. I remember Seamus Heaney drowning kittens and digging with a pen. I remember Edward Thomas sitting at a crossroads having a bit of an existential crisis. That’s it. That’s all I remember.

Here, from said hated anthology (and also from Standing Female Nude) is a somewhat related poem by Carol Ann Duffy:

     Head of English

     Today we have a poet in the class.
     A real live poet with a published book.
     Notice the inkstained fingers girls. Perhaps
     we’re going to witness verse hot from the press.
     Who knows. Please show your appreciation
     by clapping. Not too loud. Now

     sit up straight and listen. Remember
     the lesson on assonance, for not all poems,
     sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind.
     Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds –
     but do feel free to raise some questions.
     After all, we’re paying forty pounds.

     Those of you with English Second Language,
     see me after break. We’re fortunate
     to have this person in our midst.
     Season of mists and so on and so forth.
     I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself,
     am doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth,

     Right. That’s enough from me. On with the Muse.
     Open a window at the back. We don’t
     want winds of change about the place.
     Take notes, but don’t write reams. Just an essay
     on the poet’s themes. Fine. Off we go.
     Convince us that there’s something we don’t know.

     Well. Really. Run along now girls I’m sure
     that gave an insight to an outside view.
     Applause will do. Thank you
     very much for coming here today. Lunch
     in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately
     I have to dash. Tracey will show you out.

See the intro/roundup

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One Response to Lent 36: Four Women Poets – on schools and poetry

  1. Pingback: Poetry Month 2012. 7: Things | impeus.com

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