Poem introduction

I left school when I was fifteen. It was a secondary modern school called Sefton Park, and now there's a supermarket where it stood. Just before I left, the careers officer called around to interview the entire school one by one. I think he gave us all about two minutes of his time. I said I wanted to be a writer, and he said I couldn't be a writer because I hadn't passed any exams. What he meant was the 11-plus and the 13-plus. Here's a poem called 'The Minister for Exams'.

The Minister for Exams

When I was a child I sat an exam
The test was so simple
There was no way I could fail.

Question 1. Describe the taste of the moon.

It tastes like Creation, I wrote,
It has the flavour of starlight.

Question 2. What colour is Love?

Love is the colour of the water a man
lost in the desert finds, I wrote.

Question 3. Why do snowflakes melt?

I wrote, they melt because they fall
onto the warm tongue of God.

There were other questions.
They were as simple.

I described the grief of Adam when he was expelled from Eden.
I wrote down the exact weight of an elephant's dream.

Yet today, many years later,
for my living I sweep the streets
or clean out the toilets of the fat hotels.

Why? Because I constantly failed my exams.
Why? Well, let me set a test.

Question 1. How large is a child's imagination?
Question 2. How shallow is the soul of the Minister for Exams?

from Armada (Flamingo (HarperCollins), 1996), copyright © Brian Patten 1996, used by permission of the author.

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1The Race to Get to Sleep

2Curtains for Gran

3Cousin Lesley's See-through Stomach

4Uncle Ben

5Mr Dahl Supping Soup


7The Lion and the Echo


9The Daft Owl

10Miss Shush

11Someone Stole the...

12Burying the Dog in the Garden

13Mr Ifonly

14A small dragon

15The Nightlight


17The Rose Tattoo

18Geography Lesson

19The Minister for Exams

20Sleep Now

21Little Johnny's Confession

22Come into the city Maud

23Interruption at the opera house

24The Projectionist's Nightmare

25Blake's Purest Daughter

26The right mask

27Into my mirror has walked

28Angel wings

29Sometimes it Happens

30A blade of grass

31The Stolen Orange

32Song for Last Year's Wife

33Simple lyric

34Her Coldness Explained

35meeting again

36The Ambush


38The Armada

39Inessential Things

40How Long is a Man's Life?


Books by Brian Patten