Wennington was never a progressive school of the Summerhill persuasion and, more conventionally, Kenneth forbade smoking. Naturally a number of us took to it with enormous enthusiasm. Not only was it forbidden and therefore to be indulged as a matter of principle, having a fag hanging out of the corner of your mouth and squinting through the smoke went very well with listening to Saturday Club down Lovers’ Lane. We embraced readily the squalor that Kenneth described in his colourful denunciations of smoking and we would stand beneath dripping rhododendron bushes, ankle deep in mud, practising our smoking styles. We gloried in the degeneracy that Kenneth railed against. We were happy to identify ourselves with those dull-eyed lost souls who were oblivious to the glories of long hikes across the moors with the wind whipping around their bare legs. And the marginal risk of being caught added spice to the vice too. Kenneth always used to announce his rambles through the woods unwittingly by jingling the keys in his pockets and delivering his trademark throat clearing sound. On a couple of occasions when short of a smoke, my best mate Geoff Deering and I would silently approach the entrance to Lovers’ Lane, he with keys and I with my uncanny facsimile of Kenneth’s cough. A swift rendition of both would cause panic and flight and Geoff and I would slip into the Lane and harvest the bushes of the jettisoned ciggies.
If these were fairly widely shared experiences of rebellion ‘agin the government’, there were other more personal areas of dissent. Geoff and I developed a fanatical antipathy towards PE and games and would go to ingenious lengths to avoid them. At our high point of creativity we were fortunate in the school’s PE teacher, an uncharacteristically tolerant local man called Frank Leafhead. Week after week he would castigate us for our lateness, our lack of kit, our apparent inability to perform even the most routine of physical manoeuvres. Punishment never worked. It generally took the form of something called circuit training, which comprised simply running around the perimeter of the playing field. This Geoff and I would have to do while Frank carried on with football, cricket or athletics. We developed a kind of arthritic shuffle that, at a glance, might be taken for running but which didn’t actually involve either foot in leaving the ground at the same time. We finally broke Frank’s heart completely one winter’s afternoon when we turned up on time but not wearing the appropriate kit. Geoff wore an outsize pair of brown coverall dungarees, a pair of army boots and a tin helmet and I wore a camelhair dressing gown, slippers and a trilby. From that crucial point on, we were sentenced in every PE lesson to a punishing run down the entire length of the drive and back. Employing our special circuit shuffle, we would proceed as far as the short cut to Wetherby – a track that ran between two fields – and concealing ourselves behind an accommodating bush, get out the cigs. After a decent interval and appropriately short on wind, we would return to school.
On reflection, much of my small-scale rebellion was done with Geoff. I think we saw ourselves as a sort of revolutionary cell, dedicated to a war of attrition. Adolescent hubris and insensitivity insulated us against any developing sense of responsibility throughout our time at Wennington and neither of us was ever courted for prefectorial office. This released us from what we saw as numbing orthodoxy and we passed through the school untouched by academic, artistic or sporting success. Instead we explored every single tributary of the main drains in the woods. We built a two-storey den in a bush and attempted (unsuccessfully) to seduce a number of girls inside its dark loamy interior. We brewed mead one summer, incubating it in Kenneth and Frances’ airing cupboard. (Drunk while packing at the end of term, Geoff fell into his trunk and, drunk too, I locked the lid. Much later, sober and horribly hung over, I tore the lid open to find him curled up in a foetal ball and fast asleep).
And then we left Wennington in 1963 in a blaze of bravado, ready for that big, bad world whose allure we had contemplated so wistfully for so long. And we spent two or three rather confused years finding out that, whilst it was certainly very big and not without its excitements, it wasn’t very bad, just puzzling. And we hitchhiked triumphantly back up to Wennington to see those who had remained behind and to tell tales of voracious sexual conquest, massive drug indulgence and, of course, rock and roll – for this was now the era of The Beatles and The Stones and the ‘60s had really begun.
What was not immediately apparent to us, either within our new bright, shiny lives down south or back inside the shabby security of the school was that the world that Kenneth and Frances had tried to conserve at Wennington had already changed. The material prosperity that had eluded that idealistic generation of the inter-war years and that was so long awaited through the ‘50s suddenly arrived. Kids had money; kids had power; kids had kudos. Hair grew; skirts retreated; trousers flared. All those symbols of youthful self-indulgence against which the Barnes’ had set themselves so implacably were adopted wholesale, nationally and across the class barriers. The notion of clean-limbed youths in shorts and sandals, discussing philosophy over cocoa, or clambering cheerily up steep slopes with the rain in their faces seemed locked into a distant past. Wennington was so very much a living embodiment of a vision born in a different era that inevitably many of the accoutrements of those times became completely anachronistic almost overnight.
In the end, the crowning irony for me was that, having for so long adopted a stance of implacable opposition to the status quo at Wennington, I found myself largely unable to take seriously the alternative culture that grew up around sex and drugs and rock and roll. Although all three phenomena played an active part in my post-school evolution, in the final analysis, the sentimental cant and outright hypocrisy that lay just behind so much of the hippy ethos was simply indigestible. I was surrounded by ex-public and grammar schoolboys and girls all frantically divesting themselves of everything that they had accepted as unquestionable convention a year or two before and none of it rang true.
Bit by bit it became evident that so much of what was being represented as desirable – the small, non-hierarchical community, freedom of thought and speech, non-violence and pacifism as plausible realities – had already entered my consciousness. However constrained by the Barnes’ idiosyncrasies those notions were at Wennington, they were represented as constant and palpable possibilities for the wider world. The synthesis that occurred through the interplay of Kenneth’s muscular, bullish Quakerism, Brian Hill’s altogether more refined libertarianism, Roger Gerhardt’s eccentric and individualistic humanism was a rich and potent influence on us all.
I am enormously glad that I was born when I was. I believe that I have lived through five of the most exciting decades of the past five hundred years. I’m gratified that I was able to experience that crucial transition from the 1950s to the ‘60s. I share the not uncommon view that, in many important respects, the 20th century truly came into its cultural own in that brief span of years. And I’m glad most of all that I was given the opportunity to grow early into a powerful sense both of optimism and scepticism. I have witnessed ordinary people, young and adult, organising their affairs efficiently, honestly, responsibly, equably and to their mutual benefit without the need for authoritarian structures and rigid rules. And I have witnessed – and witness still – the insistence on the part of bureaucrats, bosses, teachers and politicians that without authoritarian structures and rigid rules order collapses into anarchy. Wennington was a flawed community in many ways; for some it manifestly failed. But fascinatingly it continues to exist vigorously in the phantom form of the Wennington School Association, which stretches across the world 25 years after its material demise. Which must prove something.
I posted an earlier version of this slab of scholastic autobiography back in 2007. Recent ponderings, public and private, have brought it to mind and I'm posting this revised version in two parts.
Whilst if schooldays really have been the happiest days of your life so far then it's likely that something has gone wrong somewhere, they certainly do forge templates out of the nascent experiences of mind, body and soul that at the very least help to determine what happens and how for the rest of your life.
My memories of schooldays are hard, clear and sharp. I feel no nostalgia for those times: adolescent pain, shame, guilt and anguish are unique in their intensity and I experienced my share. But I do look back with some affection for their vainglorious protagonist and his motley pals, all of them teetering on the edge of the most decisive cultural revolution of the 20th century.
IN THE DAYS OF SHORTS AND HARDBAKE
For those of us born during or just after the War, the trek from the black and white austerity of its aftermath into the digital age of today and tomorrow has been a varied and fascinating one. Arguably no generation has covered such varied and challenging social, cultural, spiritual and political territory within what has been, in historical terms, a very brief period of time. The 1950s were, in many crucial ways, as remote from the 1960s as were the days of Queen Victoria. And the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s were decades each with their own strikingly distinctive characteristics. So there exists within our generation a sense of having been rushed through the latter half of the 20th century with barely the time to absorb each mighty shift in perspective before the next has come along.
For me Wennington School was the environment, social, cultural, spiritual and political, within which I emerged into my teens from that smoggy, uncertain era that followed the War - a time that belonged almost entirely to our parents’ and teachers’ generation – into a new, exciting era, one that belonged to my generation. And my principal consciousness of that time is of fierce resistance to those changes from that sometimes benign despot, headmaster Kenneth Barnesand his wife and ideological ally, Frances. Here was found the paradoxical conflict that faced those 1930s/’40s ‘progressives’ who found themselves no longer in the vanguard of change and innovation a mere twenty years after setting up the school during the War.
So my experience of Wennington is underpinned by that friction and I perceive my five years of education there entirely within its context. But, they were, by and large, a very positive five years. The conflict, far from being enervating or distracting, was of great educational value. Although I frequently found myself squaring up to both Kenneth and Frances, the lessons learned in pragmatic withdrawal and subsequent reflection were invaluable. I discovered that the sparks that were sometimes struck between my teenage quest for freedom and Kenneth’s demands for order ignited more substantive ideas and values that caught fire then and remain with me now.
This evolving of raw adolescent rebellion into something altogether more considered and structurally sound was due in part to the robustness, even aggression, of the Barnes’ beliefs and practices. Kenneth spoke and wrote with passion and eloquence and his utter sincerity and consistency were unimpeachable. Nor would many of us have quarrelled at that time with his fundamental liberalism and the humanity of his world view. Our dispute was with the rigid and implacable dispensation of those views as a form of holy writ. The Barnes' brooked no contradiction and presented us daily with the baffling contradiction of militant pacifism, punitive mercy and muscular New Testament Christianity.
But where his all-too-frequently dogmatic certainty, impatience and, on occasion, manifest unfairness rubbed many of us up the wrong way, there were others within the community whose flexibility and capacity for humour and tolerance provided a less abrasive experience. Were it not for English teacher (and renowned poet) Brian Merrikin Hill’s altogether broader articulation of progressive philosophy and innovative French teacher Roger Gerhardt’s cosmopolitan interest in the world beyond our fences and fields, the ideological environment would have been much the poorer. I suspect now that Kenneth was well aware of the benefits of the leavening presence of those two men, in spite of the conflicts that I feel sure must have sometimes taken place between himself and them.
Times have changed greatly since the early 1960s. Much of the raw material of rebellion that so excited some of us at that time has now become 21st century protocol – ‘revolt into style’, as George Melly so succinctly phrases the phenomenon. Much of the optimistic dynamism that drove so many of us to march to and from Aldermaston against Britain’s nuclear weapons has atrophied into the very acquisitive cynicism against which Kenneth spoke as a socially aware Quaker. But at the time that material captured our imaginations and persuaded us of the possibility of new worlds and we marched and sang and leafleted and campaigned.
I remember a mock general election one year in which, amongst the grey predictability of Conservative and Labour, I devised, with a wonderfully sardonic 6th Former named, rather poetically, Richard Moody, a political party that would sweep all before it in a tidal wave of socialist renewal. I called it the New Left Front and I pursued its vague and rhetorical policies with vigour, seeing myself as a combination of George Orwell (in the photographs of him fighting in the Spanish Civil War) and those firm-jawed, muscular workers who, in socialist-realist posters, stride towards red suns rising over the wreckage of capitalism. Sadly, my proletarian thunder was stolen entirely by another friend of mine, Andrew Brighton (subsequently a well-known art critic and senior curator at the Tate Gallery Modern) who stood as an anarchist protest candidate. So convincing were his arguments against the varicoloured patchwork – from pale pink to deepest crimson - that constituted the manifesto of the NLF that I ended up voting for him along with everyone else. But for all my chagrin at having my revolution firmly spiked, I absorbed thoroughly certain principles and perceptions then that doggedly persist today. Whilst I no longer throw the curtains back eagerly in the morning to check whether the anarchist uprising has occurred overnight, I still can’t take seriously the promises of politicians; I still rail against an education system that has no interest in children; I still view the manoeuvrings of big business with mistrust and disgust.
Because of the nature of those times, many of us were forced to consider carefully the constitution of the larger world within which we were living. The Cuban missile crisis is a vivid memory for all who wondered for twenty-four long hours in boarding schools many miles from home whether they would ever see their families again. Our parents’ tales of the days of the blitz and the buzz bombs and our acute consciousness of the possibility of nuclear holocaust made for a precarious sense of security at a time when it was most needed. So we were a generation with an acutely developed sense of mortality. Small wonder that protest became so dominant a motif for us.
But the school establishment largely legitimised the broad political dimension manifest in widespread support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Anti Apartheid Movement, for the Movement for Colonial Freedom. Kenneth and Frances and several staff were, after all, active Quakers and pacifists and they had campaigned vigorously against war in the ‘20s and ‘30s. So there was little currency for would-be rebels at Wennington in opposition to the establishment through the wearing of CND badges and the dissemination of leaflets publicising marches and demonstrations.
So if one was impelled to oppose that establishment, other outlets had to be sought out. And they were easily found. For me the principal target was the Barnes’ dogged early 20th century commitment to the uniform of green corduroy shorts as symbolic of health, wholesomeness and the outdoor life. I hated them with a passion. I saw in them a symbol of repression that married ingenious physical discomfort and personal humiliation. There was absolutely nothing that one could do with a pair of green corduroy shorts either to moderate their unique lumpy, pre-pubescent unattractiveness or to render them somehow stylish. All the boys at the local secondary school in nearby Wetherby had to do to their terylene long trousers was take the bottoms in from 18 to 15 inches and lose the turnups. Even the sullen youths at the borstal next door had classy bib-and-brace overalls that make them look like convicts on a Mississippi county farm. It was always me that led the small party to the middle of the courtyard on an icy Yorkshire winter morning to take the temperature. If it was below freezing then we could wear ‘longs’ and so share at least some aspect of day-to-day normality with the outside world. One of Kenneth’s end-of-term reports grumbled that ‘Richard would rather spend the day standing around in longs than running around in shorts’. Which was true.
There was rich potential in another area of rebellion against tyranny and exploitation by the Oligarchs. Sex was a subject of such constant and intense scrutiny by the Barnes’ that it lost much of its forbidden glamour for us. (Which is not to say that it wasn’t investigated comprehensively in both theory and practice - but that is another tale). Drugs were known only to those of us who listened avidly to jazz and read Jack Kerouac, and – one nauseous tealeaf smoking session apart – that knowledge was strictly theoretical. Which left only rock and roll. In the early ‘60s the first great wave of testosteronal rock and roll had broken. Presley was in the army; Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran were dead; Cliff Richard already had his sights set on the mum's record request programme Housewife’s Choice and church on Sunday.
But in whatever diluted form it emerged, Kenneth loathed pop music. He viewed it not simply as sentimental tosh that debased the currency of relationships; he imbued it with almost diabolical significance, seeing it as an active force, an aural opiate, that sapped the vital energies of boys and girls, rendering them torpid and apathetic. And he drew no line between Cliff and The Shadows and the jazz and blues beloved of Roger Gerhardt and, via him, of a small, dedicated group of pupils). For this genuinely liberal and enlightened Quaker, it was all the Devil’s Music. During the one or two grudging spins at an end-of-term dance permitted to Billy Fury’s latest, he would glower from the sidelines, focussing balefully on those doped degenerates who were clearly enjoying themselves the most. And as soon as musical health was restored in the form of Victor Sylvester or Jimmy Shand, he and veteran Art teacher and brother square Louis Jones would sweep onto the floor with girls in their arms to show us all how it should be done. All of which meant that we aficionados of the jungle beat had to smuggle what passed in those days for portable radios down the woods for Saturday Club and Easy Beat and under scratchy blankets at night for Radio Luxembourg and the American top twenty. Rock and roll became our music of resistance. We listened to it with all the avidity and defiance that French households listened to the BBC during the War. Our samizdat journals were the top music weeklies Melody Maker and New Musical Express, sneaked in under cover of the morning papers, fetched from Wetherby by one of our couriers on a bike. And from time to time Roger – our man on the inside – would accidentally leave his state-of-the-art Ferrograph tape recorder open in the French Room on a weekend. We would relax in the Gallic café ambiance, playing his recordings of cutting edge jazz by Charlie Mingus or Roland Kirk, imagining that we were out there in the ‘Big Bad World’ (as it was universally and ironically known).
Today I will have been blogging steadily for eight years. Out here in the real world, eight years is eight years – the difference between dark hair and grey, L and X-L, distance glasses and reading glasses. In the frenetic, febrile, fast-lane world of information technology, it’s a lifetime. Empires have risen and fallen; cultures have waxed and waned; e-lives have flared brightly and faded ignominiously. Within a heartbeat I have moved from zeitgeist to mainstream; from stumbling around in the steampunk engine room of my first blog to relative comfort here on the bridge today.
For me, coming to computer use late in life, submerged as I was for so long in my generation’s contempt for and wilful ignorance of all things IT (aka fear), blogging was a revelation. Within a week or two of launching the Patteran Pages, I realised that I had fallen through a portal into a parallel world wherein all of my old time predilections – poetry, music, ham radio, social/political/philosophical debate, humour - were available. But now they were immediately accessible, just the other side of a mouse movement and a double click. And there all around me, accessing them too within a seemingly limitless territory, were likeminded souls, all chattering away to themselves and each other in noisy discourse.
So there I was, one amongst millions as weblogs became blogs and hyperspace became the blogosphere. Media indifference to we callow diarists with our literary and journalistic pretentions turned first into amused contempt and then, seamlessly and apparently overnight, into rabid enthusiasm so that every newspaper and every broadcast channel suddenly ran its own in-house blog. And we carried on ploughing our chosen furrows, amused and pleased at the same time.
For about a day the blogosphere settled into a state of uneasy pro-am symbiosis with traffic buzzing within and between both camps. Then, like a paintball riot, Facebook exploded onto the scene and the revolution changed direction yet again. With some caution I joined, running my page from the start simply as a sort of three-dimensional illustrated email facility whereby I could make, restore and maintain contact with friends old and new. And I utilise it as such now, benefitting too from its links to various causes and enterprises that I support.
But in the wake of all that has come and gone, some of us from way back prevail as independent bloggers, our objectives unchanged and our allegiances firm. We’re older but clearly no wiser: if that eight-year span had really steepened our emotional learning curves we’d be out there in the fresh air riding bikes or hoeing bean rows. Nonetheless, here we are, we happy few, still communing across the ether, enjoying as much as ever the strange intimacy of the disembodied but fully-fledged relationship, a paradox enabled by the internet’s capacity for the person-to-person nexus par excellence. Most of us will never meet in real space or talk to each other in real time and yet we communicate with the easy familiarity of old friends. And come what may in the faster-than-light-speed world of digital communications, I’m happy with the prospect of that sort of steady state stability for the next eight years.
I concluded my introductory post on that first page of the first edition of the Patteran Pages with a statement of intent and a poem about our awaiting the arrival of the then 5-month-old Reuben over half a year previously.
This blog will log random thoughts & notions, sparked off as the world goes by. And I shall use it too as a little roadside stall for the poems as they get sparked off too as the world goes by.
When external 5-month-old R was internal 5-month-old...
He is hypothesis, an act of faith, a theory. He's rumour without a name. What's the evidence? Radar graffiti - a splash of chalk dust in the dark. "Look, you can see his hand!" No, it's just phantasm caught on polaroid, foam blown off water, thistledown, thistledown.
And yet we watch, the two of us, solemnly, breathing through our mouths, seismologists on stakeout, waiting for the independent pulse. And there, and there again: a ripple in the skin, miniature tectonics; something stirring at the core. He is on his way from a dark place to break the surface of the world.
The great financial squeeze is tightening towards the point where very soon now the pips will begin to squeak. All but the fleshpots who govern us are beginning to wonder how, in the name of everything in which hitherto we have put our faith, we’re going to cope. And above it all there floats like a huge balloon, a question: is this really the only way?
For some time I have been pushing notes around for a post on this lunatic world in which a banker implicated in the crashing of his own bank, which is saved from burning by vast injections of public money, has enough cynical piss and vinegar left to award himself a £3,000,000 bonus. But the sheer suffocating mass of the immediate issues and the vast depth and breadth of the contextual material meant that I’ve made little progress. Which is probably just as well: the blogosphere will be the lighter for the non-appearance of another piece of lay socio-economic analysis from an earnest amateur.
Instead, I shall append a couple of paragraphs from British author Philip Pullman’s recent impassioned speech against the proposed library closures. Whilst he’s addressing a specific issue – cost-saving strategies on the part of a national administration for which the arts and humanities are bolt-on luxuries rather than lifeblood necessities – he is aware, as are we all, that the closures constitute the spearhead of a series of upcoming attacks on ‘soft’ community targets. This is, after all, a Tory government. 7% of the population of the United Kingdom receive a private education; 53% of the cabinet were privately educated with almost four-fifths of them registered as millionaires. Gratitude for and commitment to that befouled market place are to be expected from these zealous functionaries and for its continuing sustenance sacrifices must be made. We, the people, have ever been, are now and, for as long as we insist on feeding the market beast, always will be both the cannon fodder and the collateral damage victims of its rapacious processes.
Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. We're coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we thought was safe and solid. "Everything solid melts into air," he said. "All that is holy is profaned."
Market fundamentalism, this madness that's infected the human race, is like a greedy ghost that haunts the boardrooms and council chambers and committee rooms from which the world is run these days. The greedy ghost understands profit all right. But that's all. What he doesn't understand is enterprises that don't make a profit, because they're set up to do something different. He doesn't understand libraries at all, for instance. That branch – how much money did it make last year? Why aren't you charging higher fines? Why don't you charge for everything? The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane. I'm afraid these fundamentalists of one sort or another will always be with us. We just have to keep them as far as possible from power.
I covet your house whose footings touch the field’s edge. Barley crowding at your windowsill, tall stalks peering in from the perimeter, all the host behind. And with harvest and beyond, great knuckles of bare earth, flints and pipe stems gripped in scabby fists through winter.
And you watching at that window as one poised on the very rim, implicated in each green shift and switch, in each golden wither and twist inside the shape of a day. You bear a burden, witness: tell this world of glass and silicone how it is, there at the god-points - radicle, and plumule and the bloom in flower.
I have a post about reading poetry in public up on the wonderful VOICE ALPHA blog. Bring me cheer on these cold winter days by reading it and then roam around the blog. For anyone with an interest in poetry in live presentation, it's excellent.
Read, read and read. You can’t be writer unless you are a reader. So if you don’t like reading, forget it. Simon Armitage
Dead right, of course. So how strange to find quite so many well-constituted interactive poetry sites hosting quite so much verse whose sole evident influences are the primary school classroom and the cheap greetings card. These excellent sites operate a non-discrimatory policy, which is entirely as it should be, and I'm neither impugning the motives nor the expressive needs of the writers. But they are speaking out loud in a public place and the open territory between each considered, well-made poem that carries with it some sense of provenance within the multiplicity of the genre and the barren doggerel that abounds is vast and windswept.
What is it about poetry that has the individual thinking, 'What's the big deal here? I know some words. All I've got to do is toss them in a basket, sugar or salt in some tried-and-true adjectives and adverbs from the Top 40 song locker c. 1959 and then spanner the lot into an A/B/C/D rhyme scheme. Voilà - truth and beauty'. Yeah, right: I can cook baked beans on toast but I'm not about to stick up a shingle saying, 'Something special? Eat at DJ's'.
Surely to God, if you're claiming some facility within a creative medium, almost as powerful an imperative as that which drives you to create should be the desire to consume. I started writing poetry in adolescence and it was crap a.) because I was 15 and knew squat about anything outside football scores and making model aeroplanes, b.) because I was extravagantly in love with unattainable blonde girls with pale blue eyes, and c.) because I never read any poetry.
I never read any poetry and yet I knew that what I wrote was noble, beguilingly strange and really rather beautiful. And others agreed (including after a while one or two of the blondes). But I was lucky: I had a pair of teachers - one English, one French - who, with infinite patience, laid slim volumes before me, saying, 'Read this. Please read this before you write another word'. So for a while I was Wilfred Owen, then I was Thomas Hardy, then I was Jack Kerouac, until eventually I was, for better and (more often) worse, me.
Okay, I had the advantages of a decent education, which provided access to process and product. But that was way back when and all we had to hand was treeware: if it wasn't to be found within the contents list, subject material or index of a book, it wasn't to be found. No excuses now. The great blues writer/singers, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Leiber and Stoller, Pomus and Schuman, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Smokey Robinson, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell came amongst us and, via the medium of juke box and radio, changed, changed utterly our sense of what words could and couldn't, should and shouldn't do. We were already dancing, but then we started to listen, and then we began to read...
And today these iconclasts and their worthy acolytes rule still so that we sing their lyrics when we wash dishes and mow the lawn. And for crying out loud - here in the eye of the data hurricane, does anyone with the slightest whisper of interest in language have any excuse for not bathing in the glorious stuff daily?
So in this age of slam poetry, hip hop, YouTube and a poetry shelf in every bookshop, what kind of hubris, arrogance or wilful ignorance has anyone claiming the status of poet when all they've ever read in verse is a fucking Christmas card? Yes, there are rogue poets who climb out of urban or boondock dereliction with the voices of angels. There always have been: they wrote the world's folk songs and fairy tales. But are you one of them? No. So cover that damn keyboard, shut that Moleskine notebook and reach down the Eliot, the Lawrence, the Whitman, the Dickinson and don't stop reading until all you want to do is discover and devour the rest. Then, at the point when you realise that it's 1% art and 99% craft and that if you don't learn it first you can't ignore it, you can uncap the pen and make a start.