A Conversation

“Watch me”, she said.
“I never do anything else”, he said.
“Take note”, she said.
“It’s all written down”, he said.
“Really?” she said.
“Yes, everything. Even now as I bow”, he said.
“Give me a line”, she said.
“The more it waits”, he said.
“Is that it?” she said.
“No, there’s more”, he said.
“Surprise me”, she said.
“The better it glows”, he said.
“That’s poetry”, she said.
“Yes, that’s true”, he said.
“Why are you bowing?” she said
“I worship you”, he said.
“Never stop”, she said.
“I won’t!” he said.

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Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy

When I finished reading this book, I let out a cry of exultation. For whilst this is an account of the author’s thirty year journey teaching in the UK, bursting with anecdotes – with all the rich tapestry of emotions that humanity yields – it is ultimately a revelatory celebration of all that is good and life-enhancing when teachers with the requisite skill, passion and flair for their subject are able to teach, and how they can have such a positive impact on their charges.

“Some Kids I Taught…” is written with a poet’s telling eye for observation and comparison. Kate Clanchy is a wonderful writer and what becomes apparent is that she is an equally wonderful teacher, with a gift for self-deprecation, as well as being able to see things that others perhaps don’t. There is a refreshing honesty and wit embedded in her insights. You feel that despite the politics in education and the various battlegrounds that have ensued as to how best deliver state education, the author firmly believes in the enabling and civilising influence that such education can provide when it is well-managed, well thought out, well-funded and teachers are provided the freedom to practise what they love doing, without short-sighted political interference.

Anyone who reads this will acquire a sharper and more enlightened understanding into the various challenges that teachers currently face in the UK and why it is a profession that gives anyone who has ever been a part of it, plenty of “wow” moments. Not only should every person involved in education read this, but every politician too – they may learn a thing or two and consider how best to create a 21st century state educational system in which students are best able to demonstrate their creative skills and flourish.

In the despairing world that is Brexit and Trump, where division has reared its head with purulent intent, it is uplifting to read a book that praises multiculturalism and diversity as beautiful ideals to embrace. In one scene, Clanchy describes looking around her classroom thus:

“I look around the room. It contains Muslims from five countries,
one Hindu, a Filipino fundamentalist, one transgender kid,
two mixed race girls of no faith, two white kids, a Pole,
and the rule range of human skin colour. Fabulous.”

Isn’t this what education, life, and this beautiful world of ours are all about?

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“Felicity” by Mary Oliver

Is there a book that you like to give away over and over? Is there a book that you turn to at regular intervals in your life? Is there a book that acts as a counsellor, a friend, a comfort, a consoler, a realist, an idealist, a bridge to empathy, a window of light? if there is, then this why books possess an indefinable magic and why, like all great loves, their spirit never truly dies.

“Felicity” by the American poet Mary Oliver is one such book for me. Mary Oliver, who died early 2019, was one of the great American poets of the latter part of the 20th Century and early 21st. Steeped in the transcendentalist vision of Emerson and Thoreau, the exuberance of Whitman, and the eager eye of Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver wrote with brilliant perception about the physical world she immersed herself in, letting the natural world take centre stage and reminding her audience that there are other worlds and other dimensions to taste and relish besides the human one. Her philosophy is one of deep sensitivity, lucid empathy, and a life-affirming sense of expansion, that nothing is too small to be wondered about.

These qualities shine forth in “Felicity”, which examines that most fascinating of topics that interests us all: love. Some of the poems are only a few lines long, yet this is to suggest a disservice as to their merit. Within these parameters, Oliver conveys more sense and beauty that many lesser poets would strive to achieve in poems of greater length and opaqueness. “Felicity” can be read in a quick thirty minute burst from cover to cover but in order to savour the full magic of the writing, it is best to read slowly and fully appreciate each poem for the enriching morsels they are.

Oliver invites us along the journey with the great Persian poet, Rumi, acting as a guiding spirit, injecting the poems with pearls of wisdom, a credo for living and loving, threaded with compassionate humour. There are poems that you will want to declaim in recognition and commit to memory, for the sheer sense of exuberance and aliveness they contain. For example, in “Moments”, the central lines underscores one of the main themes of the collection:

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?

These nuggets of learning sit cheek by jowl with poems that more obviously speak of love. In “I Know Someone” , the poet compares kissing with a flower opening and, despite acknowledging a flower’s potent charm to captivate, concludes that ultimately it is humans who are the fortunate ones as we can kiss other humans and realise the supreme and tangible delight of connection.

There is a recurring sense in this collection of 38 poems, that love is the highest ideal that we can aspire to, “love is the one thing the heart craves”. Notwithstanding the pain and affliction that life will throw at us, from time to time, it is a force worth seeking out, worth embracing, and worth singing about. Mary Oliver may have departed from earth, but her poems transcend the mundane and will continue to blaze bright, long into the future. Seize the rich lens of attention, she advocates, and never lose your childlike sense of awe, your acceptance of mortality and, above all, your desire to love. Live while you can, have fun along the way, and wear the cloak of gratitude with unbounded joy.
To put it blithely, these poems capture perfectly why harbouring an open heart and an alert mind are fundamental qualities in a poet, besides a keen sense of the precision of language and an eye for the fitting image, “I don’t want to lose a single thread/ from the intricate brocade of this happiness”. Dive in, at any point, into this book and you will come swimming to the surface in a state of buoyancy – revitalised, refreshed, and reborn.

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There Is A Light

There is a light that never wavers.
You have to hold on to it.
No matter the time, day or night,
You have to nurture it.
There is a hope that always sings.
You have to yield to it.
Hanging on trees, lifted by breath,
You have to touch it.
There is a smile that conquers sadness.
You have to caress it.
When the shadow prowls,
You have to fashion it.
There is a love that keeps you buoyant.
You have to melt into it.
Before the waves drag you down,
You have to cherish it.
There is a light that tells of wonder,
You have to dance with it.

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Your Name

Your name is a charm
I wear in my heart.

Your name is the wind
In which desires start.

Your name is the sun
Where sorrows depart.

Your name is colour
Everlasting art.

Your name is a song
That sweetens the past.

Your name is beauty,
A blessing, not in part.

Your name is a kiss
Blowing this spark.

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I Woke Up

I woke up with an urge this morning
to tell you what you already know –
while madness may afflict the planet
and troubles afflict the weary soul
my love for you never dissipates,
every day it is born awake.
Like a bird in flight, soaring free,
your scented light surges through me.

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Arrival #2

You come to me in dreams,
holding a blade of light;
You come to me in life,
casting out the fright.

You come to me in style,
a smile that sweetly greets;
You come to me in hope,
gilding the fleeting beats.

You come to me in peace,
a sea of watchful grace;
You come to me in joy,
this heart an open space.

You come to me in thought,
slipping the weight of time;
You come to me in flesh,
one word will do – sublime.

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