Valley Comprehensive

The other day I wandered into a bookshop in Cardiff and happened upon a collection of poems by Patrick Jones called darkness is where the stars are (published by the wonderful Cinnamon Press). In case you weren’t aware, Patrick Jones a Welsh poet who is the brother of Nicky Wire, the bass player of the Manic Street Preachers and he has collaborated with the band extensively over the years.  You can find his official website here.

This particular collection of poems was at the centre of a controversy around this time last year because a campaigning group called Christian Voice decided it was blasphemous and protested in large numbers outside Waterstone’s Bookshop where the book was to be launched at an event at which poet was planning to read some of his work. The launch was cancelled at  the advice of the local Police, for  “safety reasons”. Jones later read some of his poems at the Welsh Assembly.

Whatever its motivations this protest clearly backfired because the book gained  more publicity than a publisher of modern poetry could ever dream of. It certainly made me curious about it last year, although I soon forget about it. However, seeing it again more recently, I finally decided to buy it.

As an atheist, I’m not competent to pronounce on whether or not it is blasphemous, although some of the poems do deal uncompromisingly with themes about which many are extremely sensitive, especially religion and sexuality.

I thought I’d put one of the poems on here by way of an advertisement for the collection as a whole which Peter Tatchell describes on the cover as “thoughtful, provocative and challenging”.  I picked a poem called Valley Comprehensive. Although written from the point of view of an English teacher bemoaning the regimentation of modern school education, it struck a chord with me in the light of yesterday’s post. Science education nowadays also has too much of an emphasis on the memorising of facts and too little on the drawing about the creative abilities of the human brain. I always thought the main problem is that the word “learn” can be taken to mean “memorise” as well as “discover”. Too much education concentrates on the former rather than the latter.

I don’t think it really matters so much whether you use words or equations to express ideas. Poets and physicists are not as different as you might think, except writing poetry is harder.

when questions become answers
when stars are merely facts
as the white board becomes all knowing lord
and red pens stamp our destiny on our stooping backs

the beauty of learning dies
when minds cannot search and find
just swallow factations whole
when exam results and league tables
fire the engines of education
it’s the premiership in the classroom
no room for the least able
the noose tightens on free thought
as sets slyly amputate aspiration

only those who will pass the tests
will be allowed to take the tests

as
the unchosen
stammer in silence
tread water in clock watched anticipation
until their failure is legitimised
and school becomes brain asphyxiation

no wonder in the universe
no questions for their gods
i’d rather a tree taught me how to grow
than
tell a class how not to write

only those who will pass the tests
will be allowed to take the tests

shouldn’t education be
about teaching children

how,

not

what

to think?

(reproduced with the kind permission of Cinnamon Press).

9 Responses to “Valley Comprehensive”

  1. Oh Peter, how apropos. Thank you for pointing this guy out.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Christian Voice use vigorous polemic but I know some of those guys and would like to make clear that they do not countenance any rough play whatsoever, even in private. I would not have stood with a placard outside a theatre showing “Jerry Springer – the Opera” on their behalf otherwise. I was accused of muzzling free speech, when all I was doing was exercising my own right to that increasingly beleaguered commodity. Why the police cancelled the Jones event I’m not sure, but they are interested in “public order” nowadays to the extent of denying people the freedom to be attacked by counter-demos.

  3. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    Had the event been due to take place in a theatre or such venue I think it might have gone ahead. However, Waterstone’s bookshop (which was actually hosting it) is quite small and they were worried about disruption inside the store. Their prime business is to sell books, after all. The event of the stopping of the reading generated vastly more publicity and sales of his book than the reading itself would have done, so I’m sure Patrick Jones didn’t mind in the long run!

    Peter

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter,

    Police advice would have nothing to do with reasons of commerce, ie disrupting the sale of books. As for publicity – it certainly makes Peter Jones better known, but whether it makes him more popular (in the colloquial sense) is unproven.

    Anton

  5. telescoper Says:

    I think the Police were involved because they were worried about the consequences of having so many people in a space not designed for the purpose (with appropriate exits, etc). My understanding, though, was that the Police didn’t insist the event be cancelled: the store took the decision.

  6. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    What was your reason for protesting against Jerry Springer: The Opera if you don’t mind me asking?

    Peter

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: Because it depicted the adult Jesus as an idiot wearing nappies. I think it is obvious that that is intended to offend, and I do not believe comments it is just an “artistic statement”. Deliberate offence (of anybody, not just Christians), invoking the name of art in order to get away with it, was skewered by George Orwell in one of his many fine essays – it is nothing new.

    The play did offend me and others I know, and I chose to respond by making a peaceful public protest.

  8. You means, someone told you something about the opera which led you to believe it protest-worthy. But if you haven’t seen it, how can you tell if that was accurate, and how can you tell what to believe about it? Who gave the marching orders?

    And if everyone protested against everything they thought was offensive … well, the whole world would grind to a halt. You have to prioritise your offendedness carefully.

  9. telescoper Says:

    Incidentally, if you’re wondering why I took this offline and reposted it, it was that I was making absolutely sure of the copyright permission from the publishers of the poem. This was because an anonymous person with nothing better to do but an obvious axe to grind has been complaining about copyright issues on this blog to various publishers in the obvious hope of turning up a transgression and getting this blog taken offline. I have always taken pains to ask permission when I post things like this, but I thought I’d double check just in case.

    I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the likely identity of
    the person responsible.

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