Waving at McGough, Again

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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.

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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?

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