Elizabeth Jennings

I read The Young Ones (1964) by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) again recently, and I thought that if I substituted ‘Luas’ or ‘Dart’ for ‘bus’ it easily be a scene in Dublin in 2013. Not that much has changed, it seems to me, except the hair styles of the young women. I often look at teenagers in Dundrum Shopping Centre and think that they look so much more self-assured than I did at their age. I can sympathise both with the satchel and the school coat; at one point I think I had a grey duffel coat which was hardly the height of teenage glamour. One of ‘The Young Ones’ I was not. Perhaps that’s true of most of us in each generation.

The Young Ones

book jacket of Recoveries

A gorgeous edition of Recoveries

They slip on to the bus, hair piled up high.
New styles each month, it seems to me. I look,
Not wanting to be seen, casting my eye
Above the unread pages of a book.

They are fifteen or so. When I was thus,
I huddled in school coats, my satchel hung
Lop-sided on my shoulder. Without fuss
These enter adolescence; being young

Seems good to them, a state we cannot reach,
No talk of ‘awkward ages’ now. I see
How childish gazes staring out of each
Unfinished face prove me incredibly

Old -fashioned. Yet at least I have the chance
To size up several stages-young yet old,
 Doing the twist, mocking an ‘old time’ dance:
So many ways to be unsure or bold.

For Elizabeth Jennings poem, I have once more borrowed from The Oxford Book of English 20th Century Verse (with many thanks to the late Philip Larkin’s choices). However, as I have used the cover already and in any case it is rather a sombre jacket to depict the bright young things of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ I have snipped a picture of the edition that The Young Ones originally appeared in. The lovely looking cover of Recoveries (Deutsch, 1964) is tempting me to indulge in a purchase. I only know a handful of Elizabeth Jennings’ poems so this would be a nice addition to my TBR Pile.

Now I just need an excuse to treat myself….any suggestions will be gratefully received… 


Wilfred Owen

My choice of Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) today is another nod to the GCE ‘O’ Level syllabus of x number of years ago when I was at school in Birmingham and would have been knee-deep in exams at this time of year. If I tell you that I took mine in the year that Virginia Wade won the Women’s Singles title at Wimbledon….well I will leave you to work it out.

As I don’t have the original copy of the poetry book from school (we didn’t have to buy our own text books) then the next best thing is the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (edited by Philip Larkin, 1973, 1985). This is stamped as once belonging to a college in Coventry but I promise that I came by it honestly, via a second-hand book shop.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?

Jacket of OUP 20th Century Verse

Horror of War

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
 Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
 The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

I haven’t read Wilfred Owen for a while, though he was my favourite from the syllabus. The problem with studying anything for an exam is that you hack it to pieces until sick of it. I have found that for me, Owen’s poetry  has survived the school experience and that after a certain grace period, I could read it again. I also still read Owen because of my interest in reading about the First World War – in literary fiction, poetry, biography and history. He was the first World War I poet that I read and I could probably trace my interest in WWI all the way back to that stuffy classroom and Wilfred Owen. Perhaps I should do a First World War post in the near future?

That’s all for today’s edition of the poetry reading challenge, but drop me a line with your school literary loves (or hates)….