If a lot of teachers are poets and a lot of poets are teachers, it's inevitable that there should be a considerable amount of poetry about education. However, of all such poems I've read, one volume stands out: Stanley Cook's Form Photograph
Stanley Cook was from Yorkshire. He wrote clear, immediate and humane poetry, often from the perspective of a keen observer, both of society and of individuals, always homing in on the particular and specific. His subject matter was wide, ranging from townscapes to character portraits and the intermingling of people with natural landscapes, but my personal favourites are his poems about education.
Cook's set of thirty pieces about teaching colleagues, Staff Photograph
, tells us perhaps more about society at the time than it does about the individuals in question. However, the outstanding Form Photograph
, also comprising thirty poems, fleshes out its characters and benefits from the tantalising futures that lay ahead for the pupils in question. Here are three extracts.
...He has his expression ready for being tripped up
In the dinner queue and having his gym shorts stolen
The period before a clothing inspection:
But one day his mind will dislocate itself
In his efforts to impersonate the normal."
...From infant to junior to grammar school
To university to research he will keep his quiet,
Shedding increasingly the signs of life.
An odd-job boy with a face like a boot repair,
His regulation grey school shirts are never crisp
And a right-angled tear is mended in his blazer...
I thoroughly recommend Stanley Cook's undervalued poetry in general. For certain critics, his best work is a long piece, Woods Beyond a Cornfield
, which provides the reader with a beautifully layered interwoven series of human, rural and suburban cameos. For me though, the poems that really hit home are the ones about his pupils. Form Photograph