Thursday, May 21, 2009

Heads Down

An ex-student of mine now a University English lecturer told her professor that I was the best teacher of poetry she’d had. That will do me as an epitaph. I enjoyed teaching poetry for some time before I began to write it, which was when I was Head of English at Melville High School in Hamilton

During one annual creative writing week I’d brain-stormed ideas on the board for poems and having ignited the class to begin writing, I sat down at the desk and pulled up a pile of marking. ‘Aren't you going to do something yourself, sir’ a boy asked. I bit back a sharp teacherly ‘smart alec’ rejoinder to say quietly, ‘Why not.’ At the end of the period I had written a poem, my first:

Heads down my class wrestle with words:
unpolished stones await the mind's tumbling
glitter pranking in the wrong place,
statements shatter sense,
firecracker sparkle preceding obsidian moment.
Words in ink are strangely glib -
or taciturn.
Pens toy with patterns,
brows furrow, scowl.
an ambulance screams,
a starling preens).
Sir! Sir! please
a synonym for silly...?
the opposite of cant...?
Take up your own pen
Greenstone is greywacke to the idle beholder.

I shared it with them. ‘Pretty good, Sir.’ I sent it off to Lauris Edmond, editor of PPTA Journal. She published it - my class as chuffed as I was. My first poem. Others began to follow. I add for the record, my previous principal at Thames was an avid gemstone collector. He had a tumbler in his garage to polish the stones he’d found down the Coromandel – hence my image, as topical as the language is typical of the period.

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