I’m aiming to raise a smile with this post so bear with me if you can.
A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be at a theatre writing workshop given by Gavin Kostick, 2014 winner of the Irish Times Award for Best New Play. It was really good.
One of the things we looked at was a poem by William Carlos Williams called ‘The Last Words of my English Grandmother’. You can read it by clicking here if you like.
In what is probably a gross over-simplification on my part, William Carlos Williams (among other things) worked to avoid devices like simile and metaphor in his writing, preferring instead to employ a pared down verbal reality with roots in the way people actually spoke.
Having looked at this for a while, we were packed off to evoke a personal memory of our own in as ‘pared down’ a style as we could manage. Most of the group came up with pieces that seemed inspired by the rather elegiac poem we had looked at. As for me, as is often the case when I try to haul up a memory for the depths, it was a sort-of-a funny one that came along. A little memory from school days that hadn’t surfaced in a long, long time.
So, today, just for fun, here’s my memory, presented in my best William Carlos Williams Tribute-Style.
Mr McDonagh Borrows a Compass
Sean Mannion and me
looked up from our boards
and caught Mr McDonagh picking his nose
in Technical Drawing Class.
This flustered him such
that he covered his smoking jacket
in a trail of snot
and broke his blackboard compass in two.
(A blackboard compass does not tell you
where blackboard North and South is.
Rather, it describes chalk circles
onto a blackboard
which is actually green
like Mr McDonagh’s jacket.)
“Armstrong, go to Mr. Cosgrove’s class
and borrow his blackboard compass for me.
Be quick and don’t run.”
Mr Cosgrove had a moustache.
He would show you his left fist
- see that? -
then, while you inspected it, he would clout you with his right
but he did it
in a friendly way.
I asked him for his blackboard compass.
“Mr McDonagh, sir.”
“He broke my last compass.”
“He can’t have it.”
“Tell him he can go and fuck off for himself.”
Mr McDonagh still stood,
opalescent and circle-less,
in front of his class.
“Well, Armstrong, what did he say?”
“He said, “No,” sir.”