After Peter Reading

One funny thing about a university education’s
the unexpected opportunities it will afford you:
in my case, middle-class girls who
(now they tell me) only liked me for my vowels.
One I caught on the bounce between a Crispin & a Tristram
took me home to Littlemiddleshire
only to leave me speechless & alone
with a dull-eyed eau-de-nil cushion fetishist known as ‘Mum’
and port-&-Stilton Daddy who
wouldn’t say he was prejudiced, not at all,
just didn’t like Asians
or Socialists — and just did like traction engines,
battle reenactments, and skiffle music. ‘Paul,
when you say English Revolution,
are you referring to the Civil War?
Gosh. And is that what you write about?’ Still
I put up with it. It must be love.




An Introduction to Poetry

Here’s an oldie but a goodie:
I’m twelve years old and Mr Foster’s reading us a poem —
except it’s not a poem, it’s the lyrics
to ‘The Living Years’
by Mike and the Mechanics.

I know the song. It’s one of Dad’s favourites.
I know it from the spasming synth intro
to the unbelievably cheesy child-choir finale,
but I string Mr Foster along,
discussing imagery & aphorism
before I heave a sigh and ask
couldn’t he just have showed us a real poem
instead of ‘The Living Years’
by Mike and the Mechanics?

He glances at the clock & licks his teeth.
But who’s to say it’s not a poem?
My reply includes the adjective platitudinous.
(I had access to Reader’s Digest
and had enriched my vocabulary.)
That term’s report damned me for life:
Quite bright. Not university material.
My parents take it badly: they’ve thrown in their lot
with vague, Heseltinian notions of escape
and so, for reasons I hardly need spell out,
the next twelve years are spent
proving Mr Foster wrong,
the scabby big-eared bastard,
clocking up a first, an MA, and a doctorate fully
funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council...
Life, I see now, is all about
finding a pattern that’s right for you.
I’m going to leave you
in the moth-infested flat I rented while I studied,
where once or twice a week I’d hear
the drunk next door beat up his wife;
then, worse, hear them make up;
then, worse, hear them solemnise
their post-coital intimacies
by playing, at full tilt, till two
or three or four o’clock, ‘The Living Years’
by Mike and the Mechanics.




[Paul Batchelor was born in Northumberland. His first book, The Sinking Road, appeared from Bloodaxe in 2008. A chapbook, The Love Darg, appeared from Clutag in 2014. He is Director of Creative Writing at Durham University. ]

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