In 1979 Kestrel produced a collection of poems by Roger McGough and Michael Rosen. That collection, You Tell Me, has just come out in paperback. Teachers who haven’t met it before should take note. If you want to convince your pupils that poetry isn’t just boring stuff about daffodils, written by people who are now all dead – this is for you.
Roger McGough and Michael Rosen know that poems to be read by children (and that doesn’t mean poems specially written for children) have to be immediately accessible and about things that mean something in their lives. Here there are poems about friends, relations, football, school. And they are all funny: sad funny, odd funny, wild funny, clever funny, smile funny and laugh out loud funny.
Some of McGough’s best-known poems of the Seventies are included: the sagas of P.C. Plod the famous Liverpool copper, and ‘Nooligan’, where at the end of each verse the tough, aggressive voice changes as it adds a disarmingly honest qualification. Here’s two verses:
I’m a nooligan
got a nard ‘ead
step out of line
and youre dead
I’m a nooligan
I spray me name
all over town
footballs me game
It’s the last line of the last verse that makes you think as well as smile.
‘First Day at School’ recalls for anyone over eight the incomprehension of that bewildering time. Here’s a few lines
What does a lessin look like?
Sounds small and slimy
They keep them in a glassroom
Whole rooms made of glass. Imagine.
Mike Rosen’s tone is conversational; the humour lies in the particular way he records the details of everyday existence, especially the ‘battleground’ between parents and children, teachers and children, and friends. It’s all there in the story of Mart, ‘my best friend’ and the woolly hat, and in his account of swallowing the leg of an alarm clock. Like Roger McGough, he also enjoys playing around with words. Here’s the title poem, ‘You Tell Me’
Here are the football results:
League Division Fun
Manchester United won, Manchester City lost.
Crystal Palace 2, Buckingham Palace 1
Millwall Leeds nowhere
Wolves 8 A cheese roll and had a cup of tea 2
Aldershot 3 Buffalo Bill shot 2
Evertonill, Liverpool’s not very well either
Newcastle‘s Heaven Sunderland’s a very nice place 2
Ipswhich one? You tell me.
Making kids laugh is a good way into poetry. It disarms opposition, breaks down barriers. Mike Rosen thinks it’s something else as well. ‘I find it slightly disconcerting when people, because they have laughed at the things that I have written therefore assume, either that I’m not serious as a person, or that poems that make you laugh aren’t serious’
Children don’t go about analysing the fun to find the seriousness, but it’s there to be absorbed. He goes further.’Most poetry is in some sense political because it is about social relationships. When it’s one to one it doesn’t appear immediately; but if you’re talking about anything to do with organisation of human beings and what they do to each other, then it’s a political thing.’
This one’s about teachers.
‘Teachers – they want it all ways –
You’re jumping up and down on a chair
and they grab hold of you and say,
“Would you do that sort of thing in your own home?”
‘So you say, “No.”
and they say
“Well don’t do it here then.”
‘But if you say, “Yes, I do it at home.”
“Well, we don’t want that sort of thing
going on here
thank you very much.”
‘Teachers – they get you all ways,’
A good book for junior or secondary kids, in school or out.
You Tell Me, Puffin, 0 14 03.1286 2, 75p
In our next issue, Poet in School reports on Mike Rosen working with a group of juniors.