TO BE OR NOT - new poem about schools denying lower sets the chance to take English Literature



(for   Rajvi Glasbrook  Carolyn Hitt Marjorie Sheen  and Abbie Wightwick   and all the children being denied the chance to study english/welsh literature at gcse level)  


 "you think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read."

James Baldwin


not Duffy Shakespeare Taliesin or Angelou

because you, you see, are in set two

so those words are not for you


for we need to prepare you for the workplace situation

cvs  letters forms and basic comprehension

to make you ready

for zero hour contracts  minimum wage 

and strict regimentation


no time for Miller  Sassoon or Ishiguro

oh no those words are not for you

because you. boys and girls are in  set two


no room for character motivation, metaphor   or  Barrett Browning’s sonnets

why so astonished?

think of this as a mind colonic

just dot the i’s and fill in the gaps

know your place  know your class

you’ll be surprised how quickly each lesson passes


as expression only distracts

and we cannot afford any cracks

so learn by rote and memorize the facts

all we are concerned about is how you can make a profit

what is more important,  a dream.  or a full wallet?


even though ‘ english literature remains a statutory requirement in the curriculum’ *

don’t fill your heads with literary nonsense

what matters is the a-c grade performance

achieving  the bare minimum,

we are in the age of officialdom

not martyrdom,


and anyway,  ‘the welsh government has never placed a statutory requirement on schools to enter learners for specific qualifications’*


so it shall be literature for those who will pass it

and language for those who are dull

and in the  selection of the brightest

all  poetic  aspiration  is   culled

no chance to escape the margins

no colours but the teacher’s red pen

where the sun is merely a noun

and writing’s  just a means to an end


And what of love?

Of Walcott’s mirror

What of doves?

Of Niemoller’s horror?


And What of  the compass to this land

Of Hedd Wyn’s Gogledd

Clarke’s West

And Davies’ Bells of Rhymney

What of  the

Caneuon  fy nghwlad ?

How to be yourself

Beat bullies, accept others


navigate the world with truth and  empathy?

When you are trapped in classrooms outwardly benign

where the bookshelves 

gather  dust not spines

a place of  cv’s and full stops

and the  application forms   await the primark  sweatshops



and i think of my own dear mother

reading bed time stories to me

and all the dead poets ‘ blood

 spilled  in their eloquent lonely  pleas


love imagination and humanity

as Lorca Sexton

Saro Wiwa  Plath  and Larkin

now circle in skies so lost

for they have no  place to alight on

as all literary dreams lay quashed

except for those  select few at the top



** the clock really is striking thirteen


and the pupils are asleep in what had once been the gymnasium


and april truly is the cruellest month


that was me.that is alex and my three droogs

we all learnt to love big brother 






i  now know why the caged bird sings,  sings   sings…. **





no Duffy Shakespeare  Thomas Angelou  or Wilde

for you boys and girls

as  you are now  in set  five

we want you to exist and survive

not  question and thrive

 and those words 

 those worlds

will never

be yours

no matter how hard you try.



*extracts of  an official letter from the office of education minister kirsty williams am


** based on the first and last words of life changing books  and poems many pupils will now never  read


1984                   george orwell

the waste land        t s eliot

the handmaid’s          tale margaret atwood

caged bird          maya angelou 

clockwork orange         anthony burgess