Saturday, 4 February 2012

In the Glassroom

This is a Roger McGough collection from 1976. The glassroom in the title refers to school. In the poem First Day at School a child wonders what school is like:
                    "What does a lessin look like?
                     Sounds small and slimy.
                     They keep them in glassrooms.
                     Whole rooms made out of glass. Imagine."
There are poems about lessons, violence, being the best looking girl, football and being a hooligan.The second half contains other poems that do not coalesce around a central theme and the book ends with the prose piece Kurt, BP, Mungo and Me,

The British Library cataloguing data describes this as children's poetry. Kids should be encouraged to read it, for sure, but I did not see it as children's literature. McGough deploys his customary range of stylistic devices (puns, unreliable narrators, pithy pay-off lines, playfulness in making the text make pictures) to subjects either set in a school or, mostly, using children as protagonists but I did not detect a different tone from that used in his other works with which I am familiar. I have got his collected poems but have not read it so might change this opinion later.    

 Although I always imagine McGough reading his poems aloud in his distinctive voice, my favourite works in this book are those that rely on being experienced on the page for their full effect. Spaced-out Summer Poem is just that - a poem about summer with big spaces between all the words. Autumn Poem is spread across the page in a flying V mirroring the classic migration formation of birds. Words...Poems has gaps in the text for the reader to insert his or her choice of words or poems.

 Rhyme fans will not find much to love. The poems are mostly in blank verse and when rhymes do occur they are fairly prosaic. Partly this is part of McGough's Poet of the People schtick similar to how he will suddenly reference somewhere like Stockport and partly it is dictated by the subject matter of the poems (and to be fair sometimes the narrative voice of the poems which are often of the uneducated and dispossesed) where the grandly florid style would be inappropriate and condescending.

 The concluding text piece is an enjoyable account of three lads on a spree but constantly let down by the failings of the author (the Me of the title). Owes an obvious debt to Tristram Shandy and At-Swim-Two-Birds but nicely carried off.

 All in all, it's not Summer With Monika but what is. Not bad for £1 from Grinny charity shop.