|9 yr old blethers|
For the last twenty years or so, I have known about poetry. That sounds very prosaic, at once sweeping and vague. But I mean I know how poetry works, why it works; I have learned how the right word in the right place can stir emotion in the reader, how a sudden shining image can transform a piece of writing - or a sermon, come to that - and I have explored these exciting possibilities in my own writing. And how did this come about? I certainly wasn't like this as a young teacher, let alone as a student at school or university. What brought about the epiphany?
I think it can only be described as a visceral need to know. Poetry, as my father's wonderful note on the subject began, poetry, like all the arts, is useless. There is no practical need for it - so it's not like basic reading skills. Somewhere along the road, however, teaching Larkin's poetry to seniors, I suddenly got it. And I have this picture of myself, on either a holiday or recovery from a sickie, sitting at the table in our dining room with three books open in front of me - the Selected Letters, Andrew Motion's A Writer's Life, and Larkin's Collected Poems. For perhaps the first time in my life I was behaving like a real student, reading, comparing, contextualising, making notes - and all for my own enjoyment. There was no reason for this depth of study in terms of the teaching I had to do, but for the fifteen years or so after this event I was aware of the added depth, the insights I was able to share, the asides that would bring a poem to life for someone else. I did the same with the work of R.S.Thomas, buying slim volumes eagerly as they came out, even copying a whole collection laboriously by hand into a notebook when I realised it was out of print. I studied his style as it changed over the years, his subject matter, his autobiographical writings; I read both the unauthorised biography by Justin Wintle and the much more perceptive one by Byron Rogers. Two summers ago I visited two of R.S.'s parishes, and bought another small collection I'd never encountered. Two weeks ago, I re-read some of his work and was able to find the words to write another poem of my own. No purpose here, only enrichment and excitement.
The third leg of this self-motivated learning props up what I am doing at this very moment. From the day when I decided that I wanted to touch-type while my second-born infant had his afternoon nap, I was on the road to being what I am probably best known for now. I asked a friend who taught Business Studies if there was a good way to learn this skill; he gave me an old school text-book to prop up beside my portable typewriter and I started - two fingers, two hands, three fingers .... Then came the day, years later and back teaching, when I sacked most of the pupils who could use Adobe Pagemaker and had to learn desktop publishing for myself, and my latest forays involve YouTube videos and Google+ hangouts. You could argue that there was a degree of practical necessity in there - the magazine would have died the death had I not learned to format it - but there was no compulsion for me to run it at all. It was fun, though.
And that last sentence sums the whole thing up. It was fun. It is fun. Nowadays, I'll not stick with anything that doesn't engage and absorb me. The idea of sitting for hours on uncomfortable bench seats at cramped desks listening to boring teachers talking about quadratic equations appalls me. (When did you last use a quadratic equation?) What a dreadful penance to impose on the innocent young. What did it do for me? Even in the English class I found a way to opt out and became expert at reading under the desk, where I would stash a pack of Mintolas to sweeten the experience (soft enough to swallow whole to avoid detection). Now, if we'd been exploring our own passions, I could have told you all about the vicissitudes of first century Rome - for that was an enthusiasm of my mid-teens.
And that too was fun.