Month: April 2016

Thoughts Written Upon Turning Over an English Literature A-level Paper on Shakespeare

Question 1: ‘If we wish to know the force of human genius
we should read Shakespeare.’ William Hazlitt


Do you share this view of Shakespeare? Illustrate your answer
with examples from his writing.

For goodness’ sake,
what a way to break the ice.
This is all Greek to me.

It may sound like treason
but I cannot make rhyme nor reason
of his words.

I knew I should have paid more attention,
but at the merest mention
of the bard, I fear the game is up.

Shakespeare sets my teeth on edge.
It is all too hard.
I have been hoisted by my own petard.

Question 2: Answer either a. or b.
a. Using quotations from his work, show how Shakespeare’s language still resonates with us today.
b. In what ways is Shakespeare still relevant in the twenty-first century?

I am still in shock.
For this is the long and short of it;
I shall be the laughing stock

of the class. A sorry sight.
A foregone conclusion.
I am under no delusion.

I should have worn some quotes
on my sleeve, not my heart.
Perhaps I should try the second part –

or will that, too, give me indigestion?
2b or not 2b, that is the question.

Question 3: ‘A fool thinks himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself
to be a fool.’ Consider Touchstone’s observation in As You Like It in relation
to the current predicament in which you find yourself.

I wonder can others hear
in the midsummer madness
of this examination room,

this brave new world’s crack of doom
as my thoughts thunder and race
on their wild goose chase

for Shakespeare’s words.
No sooner do they stop
to linger there,

then they vanish into thin air.
I could more easily catch a cold
than manage to keep hold

of one of his phrases.
I have reached stasis
and I realise now

this naked truth;
my head is as dead
as a doornail.

I know that I am going to fail —
and thereby, I suppose,
hangs this tale.

This Poem

This poem,
whilst perhaps not one of my best,
still has its moments,

such as the surprise appearance
in line six
of a capybara, snuffling in long grass,

and a beautiful descrption
of the dance of light upon sun-dappled Umbrian stone
in line eight.

It also contains, in the same sentence,
the striking incongruity
of a conjured image of St Joan, flames rising

to her Roman nose, juxtaposed
with a muddied puddle, in which lies one
of Jeremy Clarkson’s driving gloves.

In spite of this delicate brushwork,
this poem has generally been poorly received,
described by The Sunday Times

as ‘irritatingly self-referential’
and The Guardian as ‘promising much
but delivering little’.

Considerable schadenfreude
has been experienced on Twitter
concerning the spelling mistake in line seven.

This poem, though, harbours no delusions
of anthologized grandeur,
expects no recitals at literary lunches,

indeed, would feel surprised to be remembered
for more than thirty seconds
after being read.

This poem is just happy to be here,
to have filled these pages,
which were all so much white space before.

po-em

If your rhyme is stuck and you can’t get by
then you may need the use of a hy-

phen implanted at the end of a line
and soon your poem will sound like a Stein-

way piano in a grand concert hall,
its notes floating in the air like a ball-

oon. So what if the words happen to spill
into two lines? Do not pity these syll-

ables, orphaned, adrift, left there to hang;
their beauty is in the way that they dang-

le.

what you need to remember when you bring all the boys to the yard

so your milkshake
brings all the boys to the yard
well i am pleased for you
but remember that tuesday
is laundry day
and that is when
i hang my underwear
like bunting
on the washing line
under the vanilla sun
so should all the boys
catch on the breeze
the scent of your sweet to goodness milkshake
and assemble in the yard
like so many birds
they should be mindful
of my stripy boxers
as they dry
with all their flap flap flapping

Thief

You caught me stealing
a glance at you.

Ordered me
to empty out my pockets.

I shook my booty
onto the table:

a swiped charge card,
a nose I’d pinched,

one poached egg,
a ruler (half-inched),

a gaze I’d shifted,
some spirits lifted,

and other
stolen moments.

You told me
to stop thieving

and start behaving.

Fat chance.

I would even nick myself
shaving.

Best seen, not heard

Writing poems which rhyme can be tricky and tough
for words often look like they’re from the same bough,
yet the end of each line sounds quite different, though,
and best hidden behind a hiccough or cough.

I wonder, did this bother Byron or Yeats?
Or Larkin or Wordsworth, Auden or Keats?
Were opportunities presented or simply just threats?
Could they think up their rhymes without caveats?

But what should it matter when all’s said and done
if you should read this as scone when I meant scone?
It’s hardly a crime for which you need to atone;
it would all be baloney to an abalone.

So perhaps I should not be quite so afeard.
Some poems are best seen rather than heard.

How Poets Write Poems

It starts with a window,
preferably of the Georgian hung sash variety,
for the Poet is nowhere without one.

There may be other things involved, too:
a laptop, or some paper and a pencil,
or a Remington Home Portable.

And a pipe, of course.

Equipped, the Poet sets his* face
to one of Ruminative Contemplation
to survey the world through the window.

The Poet stares. The Poet gazes.
The lips purse. The brow furrows.
The eyes narrow and then …

    a leaf floats down from a tree,
a snatch of birdsong is caught,
a postman rummages in his bag,

and the Poet is off!
The image, smell, sound
is plucked, examined, cross-examined,

until a memory is stirred …

    perhaps the pattern
on a childhood picnic blanket in a Dorset field

    or the trace of that first kiss
in a grimy bus shelter in Wolverhampton

    or the crumbling headstones
of a Cumbrian church graveyard in October

which, in turn, provokes
larger – far grander – thoughts
about Life and Death and Beauty

and Hope and Truth and Loss
and God and Loneliness and Self
and Terror and Forgiveness

and so it continues
until the day slips softly into darkness
and the people who have proper jobs,

in factories and in offices and in shops,
walk past, carrying their bags and lives home,
and glimpse the Poet, silhouetted with pipe,

through his Georgian hung sash window,
and think to themselves
that he really needs to get out more.

 Please note that Poets are available in all genders