Our thanks to the artists who have so generously contributed their work to the covers of The Interpreter's House.
Issue 54 CLAIRE HARPER http://www.claireinthestudio.com/
Issue 55 ROBBIE PORTER http://www.robbieporter.co.uk/
Back in June when submissions for this issue were coming in, my daughter’s high school had a take-your-child-to work day, so she came to work with me for a day of editing—in my office just off the dining room. She’s a voracious reader and being in Year 9 she has extensive experience from her English classes of murdering and dissecting the corpus of a poem. She once showed me the remains of Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Valentine’. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Like quantum physics or modern genetics, the class’s deconstruction of the poem’s lines and stanzas had not stopped with rhythm and structure, but had carried on to deciphering the genetic code, the subatomic layers of Duffy’s onion.
Other victims included Charles Causley’s ‘Eden Rock’, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, Christina Rossetti’s ‘Sister Maude’, Seamus Heaney’s ‘Following’, and another of Duffy’s, ‘Before You Were Mine’ (I am told there was forty to choose from). Unfortunately, this wholesale slaughter has put my daughter off reading poetry—she also became a vegetarian at the same time, so I suspect a link—which is sad because a few years ago she loved the red, blue, and yellow Poem-a-Day anthologies featured at her primary school. We bought her the set and she often asked me to read the day’s selection before she went to sleep. No surprise then that when I suggested she read some TIH submissions for a couple of hours during our work-together day, she gave me the notorious fourteen year old’s death stare.
I don’t want to blame English teachers for this (mainly because I know too many of them), so should I castigate the system? When I studied literature at university, it was considered by some of my friends (who were studying engineering or mathematics or business or any of those subjects that involved a straight line) as a bullshitter’s degree, because as long as you could defend your analysis with convincing enough evidence, then the professor would you give an ‘A’. I don’t endorse the view, but I could certainly see where they were coming from. Nowadays literary analysis has grown more rigorous so as to quantify knowledge acquired: key words have to be triggered in order to justify grades of C, B, A, or A*—oh sorry: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9. A child’s passion for poetry and literature is going to have to be innately strong to withstand this style of education—everything quantifiable. Luckily, my daughter’s love of reading novels has survived the past year, though Of Mice and Men has been sacrificed, and An Inspector Calls is currently under the knife.
When first writing this editorial, I suddenly remembered the teacher Irwin in Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys admonishing his students for writing such dull essays: they needed to find a new angle to the facts. But upon revisiting the play I discovered his methods were really a means to an end, that being to get as many of the boys into Oxbridge as possible, which is what ultimately the Headteacher desires as well for the reputation of the school. Hector, on the other hand, teaches the boys to recite the poetry of Hardy, Eliot, and Larkin and to re-enact film scenes like Brief Encounter, which belong to the realm of the heart and ‘not to be defiled by being trotted out to order’.
When my wife and I were first going out, we discovered early on a mutual love of Seamus Heaney. Mine was sparked from having attended his reading at my university, hers from having studied him at O Levels—poems like ‘Blackberry Picking’, ‘Churning Day’, ‘The Bog Queen’, ‘The Tollund Man’, and ‘Anahorish’. ‘My “place of clear water” ’, she reads to me now. Obviously, in ‘them days’ the analysis wasn’t dire enough to kill off her love of a good poet.
EPILOGUE: In the end, I managed to persuade my daughter to read submissions, which she enjoyed. Some of her recommendations are included in this issue.
Charles Lauder Jnr.
NOTE: please notice the new postal address for The Interpreter’s House. We have moved into a house up on the Moray Coast from which the last three issues under my editorship shall be published. If you’re in the area, do drop by.