September 18, 2010

Brighton Rock

old guy
in gentle
cruising the lanes
in eggshell-blue
window wide open
sound system

That was a 'next day' poem. I was actually in Brighton that weekend to be Conference Poet at the Voices and Visions Conference at Brighton University. This was my second stint as a conference poet, the first was NATE 2007. There is a full report and great pictures of the Brighton University day on the Voices and Visions page of the Brighton University website and some further details of my own experience on the blog of

This diary of my own day takes in the following elements:

Limerick Icebreaker, Haiku Workshop, Conference Poem

Diary begins-

Brighton Voices and Visions Conference, September 16, 2010

Who – Me?

(introducing myself to conference) I’ve always dreaded that so-called ice-breaker moment when you have to tell a group of conference strangers who you are in 20 seconds. As I have the luxury of 2 minutes, I’ll try to say who I am and who I’d like to be in two different poetic forms.

Who I Am (the limerick form, so that I don’t let this 3 minutes of fame make me take myself too seriously.)

I was schooled in the Sixties in Frome
When Apollo was seeking the moon
Education’s meaning?
To lead out from within,
To pant at the stars like a loon.

Trained and taught through the Eighties in Wales
As the steel and coal industry fails
Os and As, CSEs
Coursework folders, Mode 3s,
Free as Coleridge’s bird in the sails.

I’ve been a Youth Theatre Director,
I helped raise a beautiful daughter.
Early Years to Uni
Laughs and cries like a loony.
I sleep with an Ofsted Inspector.

Taught in Norfolk for 23 years,
Led departments through frameworks and fears
Education by numbers
Or progress through blunders?
Wrote textbooks, squared a shoulder for tears.

So from Dis-next-the-Sea Comp I travel
With my schooldays poems and novel.
My lesson for health
Is - To think for yourself
But debate is what keeps us all stable.

Who I’d Like To Be (free verse)
Star teacher
Look at the sky child
There’s Sirius, the Dog,
Orion, the Hunter.
There’s the Plough.
That’s how according to our lights, we know.

Now reach.

Workshop: Haiku- a poem on a single breath
Icebreaker: Introduce yourself in seventeen syllables, shaped 5-7-5..

i‘m gareth calway
I taught for three decades then
published a novel

That seventeen syllables would need work to become a haiku. A haiku is a snapshot, a timeless moment, not sequential and not linear like this. But that three lines does have the haiku- virtue of cutting to the essentials. As the imagist Ezra Pound put it-
say what you mean
in two
and get thru
long frilly
palaver is silly

A haiku is not a list or sequence of events/things. It is an eternal NOW. Is this (haiku attempt and record of a start at Grammar School in 1967 by Gareth Calway) a unified Now?
First day at school

uniform despair,
ear blushing from thump,
work to take home he can’t do

How ideal/ inspiring an education does it capture?
Latin meaning of the word education (‘to lead out from within…’),

Wordsworth: How little that to which we give/The name of education hath to do/ With real feeling and just sense’ (1802)

Assessment (focuses/objectives) arguably impinges upon current educational theory and practice more now than at any other period of this University’s history. But what inspires workshop delegates about the education process, what really keeps us breathing, hearts beating.

The haiku form is supposed to be the exact length of a single breath – can you concentrate the essence of all the thoughts and feelings and written material concerned into that one haiku breath?

Inspiration/respiration/perspiration etc are all from same (Christian) Latin root: spiritus, spirare- esprit (de corps) - spirit, - ‘breath.’ (Genius is 100% spirit, however divided between perspiration and inspiration.)

The recording
The ‘breaths of fresh educational air’ in the trace box were by: Gareth Calway (workshop leader/ conference poet, a poem written in the 1980s and performed to delegates near the start of this conference) Dave Simpson, Laura Tunstall, Yaa Asare, Sandra Williams (all Brighton University School of Education) and an initially reluctant Pam Ansell (retired Headmistress). The aeroplane that flew over as Laura was speaking - describing her first day of the Soviet education system - is a good marker of 2010: a very different plane from the ones that sent Pam Ansell out of London and Brighton (as she describes) as an evacuee in 1939. Delegates wrote and recorded the poems on the fifth floor of the recently built Checkland building and had a view, on this sunny September day, of beautiful Sussex downs, of trains passing up to Lewes and down to Brighton, and of two Universities, this very modern one high on its hill and the (then New) 1960s University of Sussex on the other side of the tracks.

Voices and Visions Conference: Impressions of the day

(as this had to be done in 40 minutes, not so much emotion recollected in tranquillity as in panic!)

Six centuries past at the Battle of Lewes,
Democracy trumpeted a first flourish.
Two centuries past in a pub in Lewes,
Tom Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ hinted how it should finish.
Last night, keynote speakers gathered in Lewes
To mark a century of democracy’s progress
In its lifeblood – education – from Brighton’s Richmond Terrace
Up to Checkland in Falmer, organised by Pamela…(Lewis).
Tonight I’ll ring my wife and tell her that Ofsted
Got the biggest laugh in the poem I read!
Suzanne spoke of continuity and change:
100 years of inspections (no change there) and commitment and a rage
Of new curricula and content, not always well thought out
But that ‘still’ of Fifties teacher and pupils sharing learning and a smile: still what it’s all about.
The Keynote lecture: in 1900 the teaching profession
Was mostly pupil teachers or teachers who’d been one.
In 2010, Governments are still finding their way from thence
From Model B to Model A: as Tom Paine would say, it’s not rocket science, it’s Common Sense.
New words for education (Governments take heed) are a language for life:
Breadth. Balance. Relevance. Progression – get the ducks in a line.
Education has a moral purpose, it’s the future, the life chances of all
Needs a broad, long term view not the politics of a football.
Looking for the needle in a haystack of words on a line of dusty shelves:
The most effective teachers never stop learning themselves.
Enjoy it. Like it when the pupil or the PGCE student twigs,
Isn’t tired out by ‘Continuous Professional Development’ but inspired - given breath by it - to live.

‘Learning conversations’ all took up the notes of the keynote address:
A step back from point-scoring or head-lining, more a shared intellectual breath.
‘CPD descends via advisers who impose a line without question.
This University’s culture: never accept anything without question’.
‘As a consumer, as it were, of your students’ - ‘many feel bound by the system
Freed by shed frameworks and judgements, but also lost without them.’
‘External judgements and top-down frameworks are acting like straitjackets
Making the teacher’s own ideas and skills feel inadequate: even lunatic.’
‘What have you been thinking about this week?’ asks the liberal Head:
‘I haven’t had time, I just teach, I’m the hand, you’re the Head.’
‘Government Initiatives, for want of a ruder word,
What comes out of a charging bull’s backside is by definition a…’ (couldn’t think of a rhyme)
‘Will Hill Crest in Hastings crest the hill?
Or will all that money without impact on the culture just spill?’
‘Doctors and Teachers are both professions potentially diminished
By all the auxiliaries being added – but Doctor’s still Doctor; is Miss still – Miss?’

‘Young teacher, look 20 years ahead. Have the confidence to risk and even fail
Rather than be outstanding inside a template that makes you stale.’
Change will change and change and change in this, the oldest profession.
To teach is to learn and vice versa. Here endeth the lesson.’

© Gareth Calway 2010

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