Sunday, 17 June 2012

In Xanadu did Michael Gove

It would be all to easy at this juncture to write an amusing ditty about Michael Gove and his plans to make five year olds learn poetry by heart.
Stuck in west Wales for a week with no access to the blogosphere I've had yonks to contemplate it.
I was planning to write one based around Kubla Khan by my old mucker Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The verse is strewn with stately pleasure domes, damsels with dulcimers, sacred rivers and sunless seas - so perfect for a little satire of Government diktats.
Alternatively, I could have re-written one of my favourite Michael Rosens about a boy holding melting chocolate or that McGough one about a teacher opening fire in a lesson. All would have been perfect.
But no, I'm going to resist it, for fear of looking like I have my head up my ars* and my brain in a Seamus Heaney trance every Sunday afternoon. (Come on, you've seen my poems in previous posts, you really don't want another one)
Instead, I'm going to rage and moan in a sarcastic fashion, the low-life, low-culture pond dweller that I am.
Of course it's nice to know poetry by heart. It makes one feel intensely smug. God is does. I knew a couple of poems once, I felt like I was the king of the world.
For instance, you can whip it out in public and inflict it upon unsuspecting passengers on the number 37 bus. Over dinner with a lover when there's a lull in conversation as an alternative to quoting The Matrix or Star Strek.
If there's nothing on telly, you can write it down in a notebook and illuminate the first letter of each line with a quill pen and ink made from herbs and roots.
And above all, you can reel it out in exams to fill space in your answer sheet. For surely, being able to quote poetry is far more useful than actually, say, writing it.
I went to school in the 1980s, before the compulsory National Curriculum stuff. We were nuts about poetry. Everything was game: bits of broken bike, tadpoles, paper bags, armies of plastic soldiers, our own navels. It was very liberating. And IT DIDN'T HAVE TO RHYME. Although rhyming is intensely fun, it was liberating to strew the page with random words and read it out in a bold and epic voice, with appropriately dramatic pauses.
What piques me in these Govian proposals is not the memorising poetry bit, but the idea that the Government - surely the antithesis of poetry - should go anywhere near it. Playing with words is surely the purest pleasure there is, and daring to share one's shameful efforts is finer than a double bill of Borgen with a bowl of Sainsbury's Soft Scoop (by that I mean good, obviously).
So, the idea of the education secretary making our little mites rattle off Wordsworth of whatever other rigorous old-skool poet they pick is depressing. Let's hope he really means he wants children to write their own and remember it. Or maybe remember each other's? Let's hope teachers find a way round this next directive. Some politically subversive poetry perhaps?

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