We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot – “Little Gidding”
When I was about seven (old enough to be in the lower junior class, not the infants), we had a poetry day or event - a Poetry Thing - at school. Sometime in advance we were given a slim sheaf of pale blue paper stapled together, covered in poems, and told we had to learn five - either off the sheet or of our own choice - which we would recite in class.
My mother and I, in a fit of misunderstanding or enthusiasm, largely ignored the blue sheets in favour of learning five poems not on them. After all who wants to listen to the same few poems over and over and over again, when read by six and seven year olds? So I learnt the opening verses of Hiawatha, and the whole of The Walrus and the Carpenter, amongst others (there was probably some Michael Rosen and Roger McGough in my pack), and toddled off to school ready to stand up straight, with my hands behind my back, and recite. And there I discovered that we were doing group reciting. The teacher would announce the poem that we were going to recite off the blue sheets, and everone who had learnt that one would go up to the front and recite it together. If we had learned our own, we were would then do them solo. GULP.
Because when you’re a slightly shy, self-conscious small child, who the teacher already quite dislikes for asking, “What should I do next, I’ve finished this?” quite a lot, and who the same teacher doesn’t believe has read The Diary of Anne Frank, what you really don’t want to do is to stand up at the front of the class and recite Hiawatha after everyone else has gone in groups.
So, since I already knew some of the poems on the blue sheets, I joined in the group recitations, hiding on the end of the line, mumbling along with the rest. School, it teaches you to love learning things, right? HA. Because I couldn’t face the prospect of going home and telling my mother that I hadn’t done any of the poems she’d helped me learn, I picked the shortest, funniest one in my pocket, becase if your class is going to laugh when you’re reciting poetry, they might as well laugh at the poem than at you. I cannot remember who wrote this, and google is actually failing me, but it was one of the first poems in a collection edited by Tom Baker that was called Never Wear Your Wellies in the House:
What’s the point of poetry, said the starling to the bat He’d already asked the weasel, and he dared not ask the cat ‘Oooh, that’s too hard for me,’ said the furry, sightless creature ’You should fly to Leicester Modern School, ‘And ask the English teacher.’
And that was that.
Fortunately, a few years later I had another, better teacher, who instituted Friday poetry morning in my class, for which we all had to go away and choose our own poem, and recite it. Once again, my mother got the poetry books off the shelf, and helped me find this one, listening to me recite it over and over again. So here, for my mother (and for Mrs Hyde, who was, definitively, my best primary school teacher), twenty-one years after I first learned it, me reading John Masefield’s Sea Fever: