‘You Are Tennyson’s Mouthpiece’ : a great poem by Dennis Haskell

It’s a short post today as I must get out early to catch the 7.47am London train to meet with some very interesting colleagues, supporters and potential new friends.

Yesterday I was remembering the way Tennyson’s poem, Crossing The Bar, had made me realise how powerful poetry could be once it had escaped the long-distance handling of University teaching and learning. Out of the educational context it was a different beast, dangerously alive!  Of course, it  always was dangerously alive for me as a private reader. And in some lectures and tutorials  something powerful did happen ( I mentioned Brian Nellist, my tutor yesterday. Meet him here, but be careful, it  starts with some strong swearing) but mainly, no… university tutorials were rarely the right place to share those personal experiences that made my private reading of  literature so rewarding. Why? Lots of the students were too young and shy, seemed mortified, dumbstruck, or scared of losing their best ideas to someone else. They made a lot of notes but not much noise. And lots of the tutors were strange-ish folk, and seemed equally socially uneasy, some of them dumbstruck, some terrible show-offs. So University tutorials were not, on the whole, occasions on which  to share one’s deepest thoughts. We kept ourselves to ourselves, or, if you were me, you talked too much and  felt an idiot in a different way.

When I started ‘Get Into Reading’ in 2002, I started with years of adult education teaching  behind me, and behind that, my having grown up in a pub, and having been a barmaid, a waitress. There’s a necessary human ease you have to find in those jobs, and it turns out, if you mix that barmaid and waitress, (not restricted to those professions: could be that kindly physiotherapist or creative midwife quality, or the quality of the man in B+Q who helps you find the spiggot without making you feel an idiot) with really great literature you get the most amazing firework mixture.

Over many years along with my colleagues at The Reader – both  staff and volunteers – I have been amazed by the power of poetry to ‘touch’, ‘strike’, ‘move’, ‘get’ and ‘hit’ people  – these interesting verbs come from readers trying to explain what is happening to them as they read.

A great poem about this effect sits alongside Tennyson’s poem in Phil’s out of print ( buy it on amazon for only 1p!) anthology, All The Days of My Life. That’s one of the great things about this  book – the setting together of different poems so that they form a kind of context for each other.

I didn’t have time to write to ask permission to use it here, so you will have to go Dennis Haskell’s own site. Read it aloud.  Take a tissue. I have  found myself moved to tears when reading this (with the Tennyson poem alongside) in Shared Reading groups. In fact I’ve just cried now, rereading it for the first time in several years.

You’ll find Dennis Haskell’s wonderful poem, ‘One Clear Call’  here. The poem sets out what happens when the human situation really makes the words come alive in all their wild animal power.


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