Thursday, September 11, 2008

dangerous poetry (and keys)

Thursday Theme - keys

keys alongside a ride on Coney Island

and in other news...
(sorry, too lazy busy to think of a link here)

my weekend paper reported that one of the UK exam boards (responsible - along with other exam boards - for public Grade 11 school exams) has banned an anthology of poetry from its curriculum because a poem has been deemed "dangerous". Its a poem by Carol Ann Duffy which expresses anger, frustration and intention to go out with a bread knife and "change the world".

Given that I think there are some films and computer games which may have a negative impact on the behaviour of children and young people, I suppose I have to acknowledge that there may room for debate. Theres almost always room for debate.

But this decision seems to me to be both stuff and nonsense.

Though Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poets, I didn't know the poem in question.

Here it is:

Education for Leisure

Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets.

I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
We did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.

I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
Something's world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.

I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
for signing on. They don't appreciate my autograph.

There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he's talking to a superstar.
He cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
The pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

Apart from meriting inclusion in the school curriculum because it is such a good poem, it seems to me that it would also be an ideal focus for classroom discussion of violence, anger, frustration, education, being an aggressor or a victim on the street.... And shouldn't education involve relating literature to life and relating experience to the curriculum... and...?

Anyway, the wonderful Carol Ann has written a poem in response to this decision, published for the first time in the paper last weekend (The Guardian, Saturday Sept. 6, 2008):

Mrs Schofield's GCSE

You must prepare your bosom for his knife,

said Portia to Antonio in which

of Shakespeare's Comedies? Who killed his wife,

insane with jealousy? And which Scots witch

knew Something wicked this way comes? Who said

Is this a dagger which I see? Which Tragedy?

Whose blade was drawn which led to Tybalt's death?

To whom did dying Caesar say Et tu? And why?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark - do you

know what this means? Explain how poetry

pursues the human like the smitten moon

above the weeping, laughing earth; how we

make prayers of it. Nothing will come of nothing:

speak again. Said by which King? You may begin.

is she just wonderful, or what?

"how poetry pursues the human like the smitten moon
above the weeping, laughing earth" - isn't that extraordinary and magical use of words?


lettuce said...

(i'm unpleasantly busy with unpleasant work stuff at the moment but hope to catch up on your blogs at the weekend...)

tut-tut said...

Great poems; lots to think about . . .

Wonderful key photo!

Betty said...

I found the first poem both disturbing and discomforting. All the more reason, therefore, surely, to read & discuss?

Her response is just fab. Awesome! :D

edward said...

thank you for the Coney pic. i posted a video for your enjoyment but i warn you i am bigger-i weigh almost 2 kilos now.

R.L. Bourges said...

great pic. Great poem. Great response.

The problem isn't the poem - it's the adults who don't want to go back and deal with the teeming madness of their own teen age years, don't want to deal with the teeming madness inside their students' minds, and feel banning something bans the madness.

I agree with you - Duffy's poem (and her response) would be the perfect spot to start a really fantastic classroom experience that could change lives for the better.

Hope somebody thinks to do that.

thanks for this post and good luck with the workload.

PG said...

The most elegant and eloquent of responses.
I tend to think our society is going rapidly to hell in a handcart, so this kind of piffle doesn't surprise me at all.

Trac said...

Stuff and nonsense indeed.

In fact it's worse than that really, isn't it?

So these kids will be getting their 'education' on violence, anger and frustration etc, from watching bloody Eastenders!??

On another note (before I get cross) that flip flop hanging with the keys! :O)

Shammickite said...

The first poem reflects the thoughts in many minds in today's unhappy world. Ony a very few are able to transform their thoughts into actions. But it's the perfect vehicle for discussion and pondering the problems that eveolve with teenagerhood.
Sometimes I think the school boards should be made up of people under 30... people who have their fingers on the pulse of the world, no oldies allowed.
Second poem is stunning. I'll have to look up more about this poet.

Steve said...

Brilliant! I hate her. :)

Akelamalu said...

I found the first poem disturbing especially as my eldest son has recently been a victim of knife crime and the little 'scrotes' are undoubtedly going to get away with it. However I do agree that it could be used in the classroom to facilitate discussion on the consequences of using a knife.

Barbara said...

I'm up in arms at anyone's attempts to ban any legitimate form of literature. We have our own little problems with people (trying to be) in high places and wanting to limit what the rest of us can read.

I'm so glad she's fighting back (with or without a bread knife)!

mouse (aka kimy) said...

did you hear one of the campaigns that ms. pain (us rep vp pick) waged was to try and get books banned at the local library when she was mayor...grrrrrr

great photo and thanks for the poems.

Pecos Blue said...

That is sad indeed.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

That was a great response from her. And you're right, the original poem does present an amazing opportunity to open up and discuss violence and anger and frustration. Sad that people are too lazy to see the bigger picture. Tragic, that in this case they are educators. Speaks volumes.

dennis said...

Dennis is afraid after reading the knife poem...back to the cupboard...

herhimnbryn said...

Oh. Thankyou for drawing my attention to this. What next for the 'Nanny state'? Her response is fabulous.

Pod said...

hey thanks so much for alerting me to this. you know how i admire her. i was hoping to hear a response from her, and you included it. she is a genius. utterly amazing words. how cool would it be to have a class debate about this and the issues around it. it could be so valuable to teenagers to get into discussion around this. i love the earth/moon analogy. oh! i wish to sit on the bench and chat to you about this.

i breathe out talent on the glass to write my name


thank you thank you

lettuce said...

aren't they, Tut-Tut? & Betty

edward i love your videos so much whatever size you are/become

rlb i think maybe you are right - esp.with the 2nd part - feeling unable to deal with teeeming madness in teenagers minds. I know a couple of english teachers who could do so much with these 2 poems

pg its sad that its so unsurprising, isn't it?

trac! yes! bloody eastenders! i liked the flip flop too. :-)

Shammie I wonder if School boards have any teenager representation? i spose not...

me too Steve. The more i read the more i hate her :)

akelamalu, i hope your son is okay, how awful.

barbara & kimy, yes i did hear about sarah wotsit's history of censorship

hi, nice to see you again :-)

and Vanilla, whats happened now also presents the opp. to discuss censorship, the role of education etc. etc.... you'd have thought ...

oh poor dennis. your house is safe as houses

herhimnbryn - hello! oh, right over to yours to see what you're up to!

hello dear poddington. isn't she? and isn't it? and yes, breathing out talent, that was my fave bit of the first poem. (plus, the fly is in another language...)

Reya Mellicker said...

Poetry chases me around, too. Or maybe it's my heart it chases.

lettuce said...

me too reya. poetry like the moon, the moon like poetry...

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