Spam Deposit at X-Peri

x-peri logo

I am delighted to have my latest spam poems Spambolic Q&A published here at X-Peri, an experimental writing site that continues to support my work of this kind.

For those interested, I have explained some of the processes of writing these here, found as they are in a bulk of literate email spam I once received – this reception some time ago.

These latest are an actual re-visiting of that spam, and therefore a re-writing of what is there, and for me this adds to the creative engagement with found text where the here and now is a part of that process: current thoughts and feelings as well as, simply, new seeings finding the meanings.

Previous spam poems have also been published and supported by Stride magazine.

You Can Lead an ‘Expert’ to Water, But If It Doesn’t Know How To Drink…

I wrote an angry comment to/about the author of this comment piece here. I make no apology for being angry with its simplistic and patronising tone and suggestions. I genuinely believe the author – who would appear to have a notably non-teaching educational experience/presence – is writing to write rather than to share any knowing observation on new GCSEs.

I admit I write now and in my comment from a wholly English GCSE perspective, as an English teacher for 30 years – 18 as Head of English which includes in my latter time the annual intense scrutiny and judgement regarding examination results and targets – and as a Senior Examiner for GCSE English Literature for over 30 years. I do have at least this very precise teaching and assessment experience.

In the article, the only subject-specific comment is about ‘set texts’ and thus this has to be about English Literature, and thus my totally focused backlash. Nowhere else in the opinion piece is there any specific reference to subjects and/or examples of linear vs modular curriculum designs, even if these ever existed in the way described – well, not described, but vaguely invoked.

I leave it to any interested readers who have perused the article to see if they can make any sense whatsoever of the claimed liberating effect/impact of the new GCSEs. As for the condescension on how teachers ‘now’ need to work hard with the new exams and, for example, not bother their unnecessarily concerned little heads with ‘what grade constitutes a pass’ – this is simply ignorant.

For me its greatest contextualising nonsense is the assumption that all teachers have done over previous years is teach to the exam rather than tackling the syllabus with energy and creativity. It is the implicit rather that is insulting. As I reference in mentioning Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman who has recently made similarly daft ironic accusations and suggestions, teachers have taught to the exams – because they have no choice in the target-setting and judgemental climate of the last two decades at GCSE [and elsewhere], yet the very nature of teachers in this vocation – especially in English and, I suspect, other more creative subjects, but not exclusively as the vocational tag apples to most, whatever subject taught – has and always will be to make the teaching as lively and engaging as they possibly can, whatever complete dissatisfaction is professionally held with the content and means of assessment.

I would like to know how the author thinks this sweeping statement about teaching and learning in the past could ever apply to a subject like English Literature:

A generation of teachers has spent their professional lives teaching a modular curriculum. We are used to serving up six-week, bite-sized, discrete chunks of knowledge. It was formulaic and predictable – if students could answer a limited number of questions in a certain way there was a good chance they would get the requisite mark. Superficial skimming over a subject and teaching to specific questions would usually get a student through an exam.

I might say if only if I was as cynical and ill-informed as the author. The intensive study then and now of, for example, the poetry in the GCSE English Literature anthologies could not deliver this model for discrete parcels of knowing. That doesn’t mean it was then and is now perfect: indeed, it never was, and is still demanding for all the wrong reasons in terms of amount of content and therefore a requirement of over-knowing [and of course those creative teachers the author imagines didn’t previously exist would teach skills and transferable appreciation over content knowledge, as they now do where possible]. But if I go on I will have to get even more specific and detailed and illustrative, and the article in question doesn’t deserve a treatment it woefully did not deliver itself.

This is what angered me most. This complete lack of specific references. As I said, it seems to be an article that exists entirely for the sake of being an article.

And as for the ‘Experts’ heading…

Boris Johnson’s Abuse of English


Boris Johnson speaking in his role as Foreign Secretary at Chatham House today continued to use a by now utterly becalmed nautical metaphor, grand gestures to eloquence, and a Shakespearean mishmash of ‘knowing’ quotation to talk complete bollocks.

Answering a question on Brexit, he began by revisiting his previous metaphoric reliance on sailing, here expressing his belief that the EU now has a

‘…fair wind to the idea of themselves discussing the new trade deal…’

Feeling immediately exasperated at the presumed pace of this, wind-aided or no, he added they should now

‘…get on with it…’

However, also immediately struck by the brisk simplicity of this, Boris felt compelled to expand in that ostentatious but preposterous oration he imagines clarifies and solidifies. Working through three hacked-out-of-context Shakespeare quotations, this is how his rhetorical tragic three filled a momentary expression of nothingness:

from Macbeth: ‘I dare not wait upon I would’

from Hamlet: ‘let the native hue of resolution be [misquoted] sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought’, [then adding in his own words the somewhat bathetic] ‘or whatever’

from Julius Caesar: ‘there is a current [*misquoted] in the affairs of men’

At which point he realised – though actually I can’t imagine he in fact had a moment of any kind of percipience] that what he said initially was what he meant, so repeated that they [the EU] should

‘…grip it…get on with it!…’


[*] You would have thought with his proclivity to water-bound metaphors he would have recalled the word is tide.

Waving at McGough, Again


Further to my previous on Roger McGough here, I have acquired another collection to add to my collection, waving at trains, 1982, and this is particularly meaningful to me as I will explain.

This collection includes memorable poems like the title one, and I Don’t Like the Poems and The Examination, these two self-referencing poets-as-writers poems that seemed much more apt and acceptable as both witticism and real observation at the time than they would be today, the moment for such having long passed in the exhaustion of the similar, and increasingly repetitive, self-reflecting. But these have charm and bright insight.

Waving at Trains is one of those ‘deceptively’ simple McGough poems that are accessible, engaging and, without overstating, deeply meaningful. I wouldn’t take that trio of tags away from any reader, but I do apply them especially to younger readers, and do so because I included this poem in my Longman GCSE poetry teaching recourse Poems in your Pocket, 1999, a book I am proud to have written because I believe as a study resource [rather than poetry anthology] it has one of the greatest number of poems collected in such, and a variety.


I used this poem to illustrate comparative techniques – preparing students for examination – and it is paired with Patience Strong by U.A. Fanthorpe. And I write this now because buying an original copy of waving at trains reminded me of all I am stating now, and in reading Patience Strong again I thought about this: since retiring from teaching, I have read significantly more poetry than I ever did, or could, while working; when teaching, I did, however, probably read some poems much more carefully and deeply because in teaching them I would need that substance of knowing and understanding [which makes students studying also of a particular value, I would extrapolate], and finally, I read poets like U.A. Fanthorpe because they were on a syllabus, and in this case I am glad I did so, where I probably wouldn’t otherwise have encountered/bothered.

In my teaching resource, I was particularly pleased not just with the number of poems allowed [and there is a significant, additional haul in the accompanying Teacher’s Handbook] but also generally with their presentation, including titles and illustrations. That said, the completely stock image of the train is the least inspiring of the book’s representations – unless this too was chosen as a precise visual metaphor?


Fake Whistle

whistle1 - Copy

a boy
from the
railway line

like a real
man’s whistle

there where
the holed
strips were
found in

between the
ties having
fallen from
passed stock

imagine a flat
strip though

bigger and
rusted metal
its powder-dots
as holes

and you
would fold
place between
your lips and

poke in
the tongue

but that
was its sound
not the
growing sores

angular cheilitis
trying to be
like guys

who could
use their mouths
talking big
whistling too


Reading a poem yesterday where the writer reminisces about having wanted to be able to whistle using his fingers [so the real deal] I recalled my inability to do so, but how blowing through a folded strip of metal with holes allowed me to perfectly make the piercing sound of a proper one. This is described in the poem, and I wouldn’t normally illustrate further – literally – but I was intrigued to find that what I produced as a kid is a well-known, if different, homemade construction, an image of this tin-can lid idea heading the poem here. I was further intrigued to discover this is a rudimentary version of an established and professional sheep-dog whistle:

whistle2 - Copy

And just in case readers have no idea what I mean in comparing my metal strip to a cap-gun’s ammunition strip, I am going to provide an image for this too:

cap ammo - Copy

We continue to grow and learn, but I still can’t whistle with my fingers…

The Long Haul of Roger McGough

I recently wrote about Penguin’s 1967 poetry collection The Mersey Sound and the BBC4 programme Sex, Chips and Poetry: 50 Years of the Mersey Sound here and it is this which prompted me to recently purchase a superb haul of Roger McGough’s largely earlier poetry books to add to my existing collection.


It isn’t that I needed reminding what a wonderful poet he is, and wonderful poet to read [there is a distinction], but nonetheless I was galvanised to seek out and buy some ‘originals’ to experience his work in its first contexts.

In my blog post referenced above I also direct any interested readers to my two reviews of McGough poetry books, but this post now is quite simply to reinforce how they are all worth having.

There is so much fun in reading his work. And he is a funny poet, but he isn’t an exclusively humorous poet. He is an accessible poet and he is witty. His work is at times playful rather than experimental, but that doesn’t mean the latter won’t apply. I’m not going to mention that he is also a deeply serious poet because that would be a platitude, though a good one. [Yes, there are bad ones. Like that one].

watchwords, 1969, is his most playful in so many ways, but especially in the poems’ presentation acrossandalong and upanddown the page. Yes, I have. Emulated. I lovethat in his writing but am going to stop now. If I were Poet Laureate makes me wonder why he hasn’t been and isn’t.

after the merrymaking, 1971, is occasionally experimental in an obvious concrete way, and it also contains the delightful section The Amazing Adventures of P.C. Plod.

gig, 1973, is a book I read in one glorious go, and I did enjoy the opening section about his poetry gigging and the towns/venues in which he stayed where the romance of being on the road is amusingly dismantled. I was also surprised to come across The Identification because I had forgotten about this [I know…], a poem I had used in my teaching and read aloud many times back in the 80s because of the power of its storytelling – and this is that wonderful original context in which to experience it, reading all that had come before because it is one of the final poems in the collection. This must have been anthologised in one of the many English resource books available in those days, when reading poetry for fun was common. Even though there were no tests on this.

holiday on death row, 1979, arrived this morning and I haven’t read yet. Everyday Eclipses, 2002, is another I haven’t read completely, but it does have the great In Two Minds which has fueled many a creative writing model for students, and me [e.g. What I love/What I hate…].

If you look next at my McGough Shelf, you’ll see the other books I have the pleasure to have. Note also how they are bookended by double copies of texts where I forgot I already have, a common occurrence with my record collection, though here the memory is worse and I sometimes have at least three of the same. I also thought it would be interesting to see McGough’s work bookended by Lemn and John because this proves I don’t alphabetise my poetry books in the same way I do my vinyl collection because that would be weird.


Lastly, I have also recently received my copy of the 50th Anniversary Edition of McGough’s Summer with Monica and its brilliant illustrations by Chris Riddell.




Ophelia’s Sun Haiku

Ophelia’s sun
is a Sahara dust orange
of October sky


Social and other media feeds were wonderfully rife yesterday with pictures of and speculations about the orange dot of a sun in the UK sky, framed so by Saharan dust brought up with the whip of Hurricane Ophelia’s waning but still powerful winds.

I quoted lines from Coleridge’s Hymn before Sunrise…, and the picture above taken at Ottery St Mary, on the Coleridge Memorial Trust Facebook page,

Thou first and chief, sole sovereign of the Vale!
O struggling with the darkness all the night,
And visited all night by troops of stars,
Or when they climb the sky or when they sink:
Companion of the morning-star at dawn,
Thyself Earth’s rosy star, and of the dawn
Co-herald: wake, O wake, and utter praise!

but this morning I also quoted there the following, with an acknowledgement to Malcolm Guite, author of Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, these apter lines he tweeted from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon


The Good Platitude

Amanda Spielman of Ofsted has of late made a number of platitudinous and therefore grating ironic observations about the damage done in schools when there is too much focus on exam ‘success’ and targets-chasing.

In a similar but significantly alternative way, there is an irony in the platitudinous correlation being sought for confirmation in research reported in Schools Week today by

…the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) announced five trials to test the impact of different “cultural learning strategies” as part of the ‘Learning about culture’ programme.

Surely this link is already well-documented and proven by both decades of external research and the overwhelming evidence of classroom manifestations, this latter by those who have bothered to practice and observe?

It is probably a part of the sub-headline which prompted my mild ire – new trials to assess whether skills like music, drama and journalism can boost their [children] achievements at primary school – because it seems to me the correlation between creative pursuits and learning in education is meant to be much broader than ‘achievements’ which are inextricably linked to testing regimes. Perhaps it is simply an inappropriate choice of words.

What I did like [though again there is no fundamental need to ‘prove’] is the observation about how developing the skills of teachers as writers is being linked to improving students’ writing,

‘The craft of writing’ will meanwhile investigate whether developing teachers’ skills as writers improves year 5 pupils’ motivation and confidence with writing. The project, developed jointly by Arvon, the University of Exeter and the Open University, will see teachers working with professional writers.

I have followed this work in blog postings from tutors and teachers, but this has also been glaringly obvious to me for many years: English teachers in particular need to be writers themselves to fully appreciate how students become writers.

Is that too bold a statement? No, it is another platitude as far as I am concerned. But a good one.



Ophelia Coming


Somewhere in one of its many wars and perhaps
fearing death – or worse, celebrating its creation –
this floating terror had a skull tattooed on its
blue middle, faded and seemingly bullet-holed now
by years of travel and travail and then this beaching
in its own cessation. It’s a zooids’ presage for today’s
looming storm, Hurricane Ophelia floating up from
the south, misplaced like our Portuguese man and
a false steward to threats we usually just imagine

anyway. We are so safe. Here in the stones, on the
shore, on the pathways, and in our comfortable homes.
In this case, we are the more deceived. There is no
emblem but what we are sometimes pumped up to see,
here in the substance of froth; our skulls of real bones.

[picture by painter and photographer Nick Dormand]