A tour of the Archive with Chris Pearson

Chris Pearson, teacher


When choosing poems for my tour, I had just one criterion in mind: that each poem must allow me to comment on the quality of the spoken word (after all, that is what makes the Archive such a brilliant resource). Consequently, I have ended up with an interesting and engaging (if not odd) collection of poems and not one that I would have imagined collating from the outset.



Slow Reader

Vicki Feaver

Considering the modern parent's certainty that his or her child is a genius in all pursuits, I admire Vicki Feaver's brave admission that her son is a slow reader. Of course, Feaver's voice betrays love and even a little awe when she is in the presence of her "white eyed-colt" - we can hear her smiling as she tells us about him. As the father of a painfully slow eater, I love the simile: "He toys with words,/ letting them go cold/ as gristly meat". I feel the speaker's frustration but also understand the antipathy felt by the child. What's more, the word "gristly" is so disgustingly onomatopoeic in Feaver's mouth.

Sonnet

Billy Collins

A little gem that I discovered in the Archive, Collins' 'Sonnet' is a delightfully playful (and instructive) poem, perfect for any teacher introducing this strict and often daunting poetic form. Listening to Collins' deadpan delivery and pauses confirms he is just as much stand-up comic as poet - and this is reinforced by the audience laughter. "Iambic bongos" is such an improvement on "pentameter" - so much more amusing, memorable and meaningful.

Mark and Lars

Anthony Lawrence

This is the sort of poem I can imagine would set students talking (I can't wait to use it). Its subject, risky male behaviour, would provoke a range of responses, from recognition to condemnation. Like any decent poet, Lawrence doesn't preach; instead, he connects two horrible incidents from his youth to show us that under the rush of adrenalin, young men don't always consider the consequences of their thrill seeking. Along with the guards' ironic advice, "to pull your heads in", I am quite certain that Lawrence's matter-of-fact delivery intensifies the horror of the poem.

Donegal

Robin Robertson

Robertson's poem makes me smile with recognition and sob in anticipation. I have been that father, wading in the shallows, half-bemused and half-bewildered, as his laughing daughters seem impervious to the bracing cold of the Southern Ocean. And lately, I have become more aware of the evanescence of childhood and the inevitable losses that must accompany the passing of this precious state. Robertson's voice becomes almost a whisper as the poem concludes and the tears well in my eyes.

Love, Like Water

Julia Copus

'Love, Like Water' is a beautiful and wise love poem, which is complete with tender, unexpected similes and images - the mind "curling/ in on itself like the spine of a dog/ as it circles a patch of ground to sleep" is my favourite. Copus recognises the paradox of love "ever so gently wounding us, making us whole". I think I might also be just a little smitten by Copus' diction too. I love her crisp enunciation and the quiet confidence with which she speaks.


Chris Pearson, teacher

Chris Pearson teaches English and Literature at Presentation College Windsor, in Melbourne (it sounds like a posh finishing school for ladies, but is really named after the order of Irish nuns who founded it in 1873). He believes that one of the greatest privileges of teaching English and Literature is being able to introduce students to the world of ideas and language, and often this is best achieved through the medium of poetry.

Enjoy new recordings of classic poems from the past read by contemporary poets

Sonnet: On Being...

Charlotte Smith

read by Denise Riley

August 1914

Isaac Rosenberg

read by Andrew Motion