Canine Graffiti by Mike Jenkins

 Some loopy boy wrote 'FUCK OFF'
in firm felt-tip on the white back
of a nippy-as-a-ferret Jack Russell.

Senior staff spotted it while it shat
in the midst of a modern dance
formation – leotards snapped!

(When they weren't busy piercing ears
with sharp instructions, or spiking hair
with swift backhand cuffs,

they did have time to snoop on lessons
which exceeded the statutory decibel rate.)
They set off in pursuit of the errant dog,

skilfully hurdling its poop in the process.
They chased it into Mathematics
where it caused havoc by lifting a leg

45° towards the blackboard's right-angle.
Then through the Audio-Visual concepts room,
across the film of Henry V, making Olivier's horse

rear and throw the bewildered actor.
It hid behind a smoke-screen in the bogs,
sniffed out bunkers in the coal-bunker.

For hours it disappeared and Senior Staff
suspected a trendy English teacher
of using it as an aid to creative writing.

Finally it was duly discovered
by Lizzie Locust (Biology), necking
with a stuffed stoat in the store-cupboard.

Now you can see the distraught Headmistress
scrubbing form bell to bell in her office,
a small dog held down by burly, sweating prefects.


by Mike Jenkins
from Invisible Times

Additional information: Just in case some of the words don’t make sense because they’re British words, or slang and euphemisms specific to the South Wales Welsh-English speaking region, here’s a quick breakdown of some of them:

Loopy: strange, odd, crazy, affected, etc.

Felt-tip: a marker pen, usually a cheap one meant for kids but it can mean the bigger ones too.

Nippy: to do something in a fast, quick, spritely, etc, manner e.g. ‘I’m nipping over to the shops do you want anything?’

Shat: the past tense of the verb ‘to shit’. It’s not a proper word as far as I’m aware and ‘shit’ is more or less used as it’s own quasi-infinitive in most cases i.e. ‘he shit himself [yesterday]’, ‘he has [just now] shit himself’, ‘he will shit himself [if he eats that]’.

Backhand cuffs: backhand hand motions or in this case backhand slaps to pupils or backhanded admonishment due to frustration at not locating the dog yet. That thing where teachers take out their frustrations by speaking passive aggressively towards pupils out of a sense of personal frustration (when it’s nothing to do with said pupils) as I’m sure we have all seen in our schooldays.

Snoop: spy, eavesdrop, etc.

In the bogs: the ‘bogs’ are the toilets… because, at least in my experience, there would be mysterious pools of water on the floor by about 10AM each school day and you could never be certain if they were sink water shaken off of hands or bodily fluids… the smoke screen in the bogs being that it’s where pupils would go to hide when smoking as is no doubt universally the case.

Bunkers: ‘bunking off’, ‘doing a bunk’, etc is the act of not attending class. Skipping class, skiving, but it can also mean playing truant as well though here it’s just the former. The play on words being that people skipping class are in a room intended for storing coal thus both are commonly referred to as ‘bunkers’.

Store – cupboard: A room where school equipment is stored behind a locked door. Usually a small antechamber between two classrooms or a smallroom leading from one classroom like an en suite bathroom but filled with shalves of old textbooks, random items and a prime location for pupils or members of staff to neck on with each other.

Necking: to ‘neck on’ etc involved kissing but implies a more salacious aspect such as groping, french kissing, fondling, etc. Usually done in a place intended to give some privacy but usually easily discovered such as behind the bike sheds or in a storeroom cupboard. ‘Necking on’ being a term often ascribed to teenagers at a party experimenting with such aspects of intimacy.

Prefects: In my experience sixth formers doing something for their school leavers certificate to have extra ‘good citizen’ points when applying for university. Not the Head Boy or Head Girl but given tasks by staff and running or representing various matters for the student body. Compare them to the ‘student council’ in anime for a more commonly known version of this type. I guess though on the whole it’s just teacher’s pets, the (within the school) social elite or those who are already prone to social climbing and a lust for power even at this early an age.

Curlew by Gillian Clarke

She dips her bill in the rim of the sea.

Her beak is the ellipse

of a world much smaller

than that far section of the sea’s

circumference. A curve enough to calculate

the field’s circle and its heart

of eggs in the cold grass.

 

All day while I scythed my territory

out of nettles, laid claim to my cantref,

she has cut her share of sky. Her song bubbles

long as a plane trail from her savage mouth.

I clean the blade with newspaper. Dusk blurs

circle within circle till there’s nothing left

but the egg pulsing in the dark against her ribs.

For each of us the possessed space contracts

to the nest’s heat, the blood’s small cicuit.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)


Fun fact: A cantref was a medieval Welsh land division, particularly important in the administration of Welsh law.

Foghorns by Gillian Clarke

When Catrin was a small child

She thought the foghorn moaning

Far out at sea was the sad

Solitary voice of the moon

Journeying to England.

She heard it warn “Moon, Moon”,

As it worked the Channel, trading

Weather like rags and bones.

 

Tonight, after the still sun

And the silent heat, as haze

Became rain and weighed glistening

In brimful leaves, and the last bus

Splashes and fades with a soft

Wave-sound, the foghorns moan, moon –

Lonely and the dry lawns drink.

This dimmed moon, calling still,

Hauls sea-rags through the streets.

 

by Gillian Clarke

from The Sundial (Gwasg Gomer, 1978)

Pathology of colours by Dannie Abse

I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,

but not when it ripens in a tumour;

and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,

in limbs that fester are not springlike.

 

I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve

in the plum-skin face of a suicide.

I have seen white, china white almost, stare

from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.

 

And the criminal, multi-coloured flash

of an H-bomb is no more beautiful

than an autopsy when the belly’s opened –

to show cathedral windows never opened.

 

So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,

in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,

I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact

like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.

 

by Dannie Abse

from a small desperation (1968)

Mouthy by Mike Jenkins

Sborin, sir!

We’re always doin racism.

It’s that or death, sir.

Yew’re morbid, yew are,

or gotta thing about the blacks.

 

But sir mun! Carn we do summin interestin

like Aids or watch a video o’ Neighbours?

Mrs Williams Media upstairs ave got em.

 

Oh no! Not another poem!

They’re always crap, rubbish

not enough action, don’ rhyme.

 

Yer, sir, this one’s got language in it!

It’s all about sex!

Yew’re bloody kinky yew are!

I’m gettin my Mam up yer.

 

Sir! We aven done work frages,

on’y chopsin in groups.

We ewsed t’do real English

when we woz younger,

exercises an fillin in gaps.

 

Sir mun! Don’ keep askin me

wha we should do,

yew’re the bloody teacher!

 

by Mike Jenkins

from Graffiti Narratives


Fun fact: The accent and inflections here are indicative of the Merthyr style of Welsh-English or ‘Wenglish’ dialect. Jenkins taught English at Radyr Comprehensive School in Cardiff for nearly a decade and Penydre High School, Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil, for approximately two decades prior to that. At the end of the 2008–9 academic year Jenkins took voluntary redundancy. He now writes full-time capitalising on experiences gleaned from former pupils. An extract from one of Mike Jenkins’s poems has been used as part of the public realm regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil town centre.