The month of May ushers in much excitement for our school aged grandchildren. Only a few more weeks and the school year will be over! Already they are wondering which teacher they might have come mid August! How fast a school year opens and closes. Certainly, these past two years of school have been hard for both students and teachers. Both are deserving their summer rest! Today, I turn to the poet Carol Ann Duffy and her poem, Head of English. In this monologue, the poet Duffy is critical of the teacher. Did it arise from Duffy’s experience in the mid 1980s when invited to speak in a school? We can most likely give that teacher a name. Although welcoming to the guest in her introduction, the teacher reveals some envy and not a lot of appreciation for modern poetry without rhyme. The teacher much prefers last century poets such as Kipling (racism is so very evident in his poem The White Man’s Burden) and a quote from Keats “Seasons of mists”. Racism is present in the teacher’s mention of those students with English as a second language, assuming they won’t understand much of this poet. Reference to “winds of change” is a direct quote from a speech by Harold McMillan a British Prime Minister speaking in Cape Town 1960, about ending colonization in Africa. The teacher wishes no new ideas in the class. The idea that a poem comes suddenly “hot of the press” is a criticism of the teacher failing to understand the process of writing. However, Duffy can also be accused of being unfair to Heads of English and her words could be heard as rather arrogant. As you ponder these words, who do you align with, teacher or poet?
Head of English
Today we have a poet in the class.
A real live poet with a published book.
Notice the inkstained fingers, girls. Perhaps
we’re going to witness verse hot from the press.
Who knows. Please show your appreciation
by clapping. Not too loud. Now
sit up straight and listen. Remember
the lesson on assonance, for not all poems,
sadly, rhyme these days. Still. Never mind.
Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds –
but do feel free to raise some questions.
After all, we’re paying forty pounds.
Those of you with English Second Language,
see me after break. We’re fortunate
to have this person in our midst.
Season of mists and so on and so forth
I’ve written quite a bit of poetry myself
and doing Kipling with the Lower Fourth.
Right. That’s enough from me. On with the Muse.
Open a window at the back. We don’t
want winds of change about the place.
Take notes, but don’t write reams. Just an essay
on the poet’s themes. Fine. Off we go.
Convince us that there’s something we don’t know.
Well. Really. Run along now, girls. I’m sure
that gave an insight to an outside view.
Applause will do. Thank you
very much for coming here today. Lunch
in the hall? Do hang about. Unfortunately
I have to dash. Tracey will show you out.
as daylight chases away the darkness,
may you, O Light of the World,
chase away all our fears.
Come, O Light of the World,
come with hope and reassurance,
that love will prevail,
that fear will be conquered,
that truth will champion the lie.
as daylight soon ends and night falls,
surround us with your comfort.
Might we rest in the warmth of your grace.
gently waken us to a new day.
Might hope stir within us,
might love abound amongst us,
and might you, O Light of World,
overcome all our darkness. Amen.