‘Bull’ by James Roome – The Red Ceilings Press

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Bull isn’t a bully, but is bullish. And Bull isn’t full of it either, though doesn’t mind pretending. When Bull winks, it is cheeky and endearing. Bull appeals for many reasons, and these are because we recognise.

Bull dominates and controls the environment with clichéd asides and force of personality. Of course, James Roome does this, but to write about Bull as if, is to acknowledge the huge success of the poetic ruse.

Before engaging with the brilliant narrative, I want to observe the wonderful telling in and about the page. It isn’t enjambment in any traditional sense but the shifts and shunts simply work so well, surprising and emphasising and keeping us as readers and the story alive. Martin Stannard states in his back-cover blurb how Bull can be a ‘quick and enjoyable ten minute read’. I haven’t tried that yet, dipping in and out with the pleasure of [and pausing on] its many momentary delights.

Introduced to Bull, he becomes a quick and immediate focus of attention,

‘Bull and I
were in a café
That one that’s always in films
Go on then
Around us
people
tightened their cores squeezed
their rumps peered
over low-slung glasses
at his bulky form He
bellowed
to the waiter I
wish I could
wolf-whistle’

Bull can balance an e-cig in his muzzle whilst trotting out fake-news maxims as if they are real, and it is the balancing art that mesmerises. How does he do that? Keep us guessing?

In grappling at home with – that’s our persona/James – keeping a loosely fitting dressing gown discrete while at the same time dealing with a visitor who has leather phobia and nowhere to sit, Bull asserts ‘It’s about etiquette’.

No, I don’t know, but if Bull says it, it is.

However, in reading further we move beyond any uncertainty – this playful and engaging – into the lyrical,

‘If you only draw one thing
make it birds
See
the sweep
as I draw my pencil over
this sheet
of paper?
As he sketched
leaves fell
buds appeared
Flowers shot
red
at the window This
is the life
Bull hummed
as he reached
the bird’s taper added
a final wisp of
feather
stood back
and sighed’

This is the whole poem [part of, on a page of its own] – and I won’t spoil the delightful pleasure of reading first time by quoting more like this – and it embraces both the style and substance of how these poems so effortlessly [on the surface] sweep us into the strange joys of this world.

Though I now want to quote the first poem [part of] that follows this immediately ‘II. actually, I am Bull’.

But I won’t.

Bull’s rump is muscular and therefore cumbersome but that doesn’t stop him swaggering it about, a swagger so overpowering it is like dropping acid and watching his swagger-induced world change before our eyes. I don’t mean see the rump in patterns moving on a wall – just many other sudden and unexpected things. Like becoming a bird.

Bull is a painter but this is really Roome too and these finely tuned strokes of words brush page after page of captivating art.

When Bull seduces we aren’t really sure if this too is a painting or in a painting or in an allusion. Being covered in paints takes on all kinds of colourful meanings.

I just shot at but missed hitting a pigeon as I was reading the final pages of Bull, somewhere just after,

‘…I shouted
lifting a sudden
gun
probably
a Smith n’ Wessun’

which seemed to make it OK, my not quite understanding this morph to another story and thus moving outside my comfort zone writing this review. Outdoors. Gun in the conservatory, just in case.

In Ian Seed’s back-cover blurb he writes how Bull ‘reads like Ted Hughes crossed with James Tate’. I had already felt how Bull reads like Crow with a sense of humour, so there you go.

I now have to read it all in that one ten-minute go, and I can’t wait.

You can and really should get it here.

The Bees Knees Mobile Burger Van

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It isn’t his van
so not poetry and

spam, though bees
buzz in the memory

when driving by.
It is parked on blocks,

discarded seemingly,
where cooking smells

and grease shadows and
crumbs along sides

may still be there like
those words that filled

when read before.
And the list of what

to eat on outer walls
remind as well of what

once was – The Bees
Knees by the French

chef’s head logo door,
and miscue Snack Bar,

as signs of how lives are
beyond recall’s span.

 

[So I wrote the poem: context here]

Corbyn, Politicking, SATs and, Annoyingly, Gibb

I’d like to believe Jeremy Corbyn truly and wholly believes that SATs should be banned rather than this simply being a piece of politicking.

I freely admit it would, for example, be politically adept to make this case because of increasing parental dissatisfaction with SATs – in particular the stress this causes their children – and with the continued criticism from teachers themselves and other educational professionals. Therefore Corbyn, and Labour, would be appealing to a ‘ready’ market come the next general election.

I want to also stress it would be sensible for Corbyn to indulge in some clever and effective politicking, because I’m not convinced he or the Labour Party have an operative grip on this when presentation can matter as much as, or more than, policies – rightly or wrongly [well, of course it’s the latter, but…]. I would also go some way to agreeing with this stance, even if not as substantial as I’d ultimately like, because we all make politically skewed choices, and mine is between the inherently good and the inherently bad – Labour/Conservative – and thus I would always support the former for being on the ‘good’ end of the moral, intellectual and in-practice spectrum.

That acknowledged, I will never forget it was Labour in 1997 who continued wholeheartedly with the then SATs regimes and promoted and supported the testing and targeting culture from then to its grotesquery of today. Ed Balls as Education Secretary did ban Key Stage 3 SATs, but the rest remained and it all has been consolidated under the Conservative government.

I have written plenty on this previously so my reason for doing so today is the odious intervention of Schools Minister Nick Gibb and his tweet earlier:

gibbs tweet

The reason Corbyn and his education team need to articulate more precisely the objection to SATs is to counter Gibb’s regular defense of them, a defense I have also often unpicked on this blog, especially regarding the English subject SATs. The argument against them has to be more than the stress caused to primary pupils planning for and then taking them, as significant and detrimental as this is.

If Labour has a pro-active ‘education’ think tank it needs to get acting quickly and fire back some counter shots to these Gibb-lite throwaway assertions. For example, I have always argued from my subject-based knowledge, which is English, and it should be easy to challenge the soundbite notion that English SATs are ‘high-quality’. They are demonstrably not! And they are more often than not totally meaningless.

How would removing SATs ‘lower standards’? Is this a direct criticism of and attack on the integrity and effectiveness of all teachers in the classroom? That is the extrapolation one must make about teacher assessment [as the alternative to SATs] and would contradict Damien Hinds’ proclamations of late on teachers’ professionalism and how we should trust this – unless these are just sops to teacher sensitivities…

How would removing SATs ‘increase teacher workload’? I think this is the most absurd claim from Gibb. As teaching is and always has been the core elements of teaching/learning  and assessing, how does on-going classroom teacher assessment become an extra burden over and above the colossal extra of teaching and preparing for SATs? This needs a quick and cogent challenge from Labour, the quickness being of the essence as the latter is very simple to express.

We know that SATs have the fundamental burden of being augmented as pressure because of the targeting culture they feed and the judgemental weight this carries. Of course, you don’t remove scrutiny by relying on teacher assessment, nor the weight of this both in terms of its value directly back to students/pupils but also the professional commitment placed on teachers. What you do is make national provision for training and moderating and therefore professionally enhancing and securing its reliability and meaningfulness.

Equality Found

Today was not a feast, but priests
were permitted to offer bullocks tomorrow

[unknown number]

and on the second day, five bullocks
for other feasts.

At those feasts were
thirteen priests

offered two lambs too, and on the third day,
four courses as on other feasts.

On the fifth, lambs for eight courses,
and then they cast lots

[unknown numbers]

which was for the remaining one lamb each
and they were all equal. Today was not.

 

[Source: Hebrew Literature – Epiphanius Wilson]

 

The Latest News as Notre-Dame Cathedral Burns

As evening and darkness advances
new images capture and haunt,

the view with two surviving steeples
is their pitch-black perfect design set

in relief by the flames rising behind.
Newsreaders are lapping up too

trying to find more ways to describe,
using school and holiday French

as touchstones of real and competing
empathies, invoking this holy and

spiritual week when interviewing those
who can speak as if real by living there;

they also then ask why as a guest writer
explains fires in his novels’ make-believe.

It is no singular fault this is so empty
when the first spire’s fall has said it all,

bells and organ inside silent in demise
and superlatives still fighting for words.