There’s something really brave about reading a piece of poetry in public. You never really know how the audience might react – if it is humorous will they ‘get’ the funny bits? Will they laugh at all or will they sit there stony-faced or cynical, asking (without actually asking) why you bothered in the first place? If it’s not funny will they laugh anyway, at rather than with the reader? Or will they simply be mentally elsewhere, coming to at the end of the last stanza with a telling look that says ‘oh good, finished at last then?’. And of course it’s worse if you are not entirely used to doing the job. Will I get the flow and rhythm right, will I stress and un-stress so as to make sense of both what the poet has written and what underlies the words? And do I really understand what the meaning of the words really is – not just the literality spelled out by the words and phrases. Do I know enough? Do they know more than me?
All of which makes NPD an intimidating prospect for all of those who are not gifted enough to be English Teachers, and who have therefore not got the necessary toolbox for the job to hand. But each year the day comes around at the beginning of October and each year Craig Ennew (BWS’ Head of English) sends out the rallying call across the BWS staff to encourage as many brave souls as possible to read at the beginning of each lessons that they teach. And each year there is a response from across the departmental divides. 2019 saw an eclectic mix, D.H Lawrence rubbing shoulders with Seamus Heaney and Dylan Thomas. There was more school-focused material, for example ‘Economics’ and the rather prosaic ‘Eye Have A Spelling Chequer’, but boys also heard the wonderful ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, and Ewan MacColl’s ‘Dirty Old Town’. The Languages Faculty played a full part with Victor Hugo’s ‘Demain, des L’aube’ and (slightly less profound) ‘An Ode to My Socks’ by Pablo Neruda. There will have been many others…
I toyed with the idea of a rock-centred poem, of course. Auden’s ‘Ode To Limestone’ was perhaps first in line, but on balance I thought better not – it’s not perhaps his most compelling piece! Instead I was completely self-indulgent and chose one of my all-time favourites, Ted Hughes’ ‘The Thought-Fox’. It’s hard to read, and even harder to fully comprehend what Hughes had in mind when he wrote it, but the imagery that he uses has always gripped me, mainly because of my lifelong fascination with the natural world around us here in Britain. The fleeting images that I have had of foxes, almost always on very early morning bird watching trips come back to me vividly every time that I read the poem. The images stay with me, inspirational and un-faded, and I guess in Hughes’ words the page is printed.
I read the poem and, much to their credit, my A level Geologists listened. I was really impressed that there was some hinterland of knowledge too, so that they were aware of not only the poet but also some of his traumatic life story too. I really do hope that my rendition of the poem made them want to read some more. If they do, then it is mission (partially) accomplished for NPD 2019.