Archive for darkness is where the stars are

Valley Comprehensive

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on November 6, 2009 by telescoper

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

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
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




to think?

(reproduced with the kind permission of Cinnamon Press).