Monday 25 May 2020

Spring Journal Canto X by Jonathan Gibbs

Last Friday's Leap in the Dark began, as usual, with the latest canto of Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, read 
impeccably by Michael Hughes. I struggle to find adequate superlatives to describe what Jonathan has achieved already, 
and will go on to achieve, withe this astonising, urgent, vital work-in-progress. It is a poem for our times. 

Here is the tenth canto, with the author's kind permission:


And work this year will see no cap and gown
In the vestry of Westminster Cathedral
No procession up the nave, no lunch in town,
No garden party back on campus to celebrate graduation.
And I think of the ends of other terms,
Other marquees in other university grounds,
And memory reaffirms
The thrill and exhilaration of ending something well,
Among friends, who you know you will leave behind,
As you push on into life; these are they with whom
You will reconnect, if time is kind,
And look back on how what you achieved together
Set the tone
For what you would achieve apart,
Posing in variant groups, for camera or phone:
Exhilaration is the grandparent of nostalgia.
It’s odd that these moments should claim
Our attention; they were not when we were most alive,
But when we paused life to give it a name.
Life was something happening in the background,
Expressing itself in textures and scents:
A television on somewhere else in the house,
A table you worked at, a creosoted fence,
A tally as vast and arbitrary as our 25,000 genes,
Each one waiting for its cup of tea and madeleine,
Its apotheosis in a hiccup or a sideways glance,
Or the half-heard refrain
Of a pop song dopplering from a passing car.
But we tossed our caps and raised a glass,
Half-drunk already on expectation of the future;
That prosecco must taste flat to the class
Of 2020. The door opens for them onto a wasteland,
No jobs, no prospects; the economy is scarred
As the buzzword has it, but what caused the scarring,
And why weren’t we better prepared?
A stab-proof vest, not miracle gels, would have been preferred.
They won’t take it for granted that things
Will get bigger and better and better and bigger
They won’t expect to just pull on the strings
To have cushy days roll in from over the horizon.
While for me school – a grammar school in Essex –
Did provide a fertile bed for growth, though not just as
Defined by the dominant metrics
Of exam results and future earnings.
We ran comedy shows on the school hall stage 
And formed ramshackle bands in the prefab huts
Left there from a simpler, humbler, beiger age; 
We covered them with murals, and now they’re gone.
So there are no junior ministers or captains of industry
In my generation’s notable alumni
But comedians, musicians and journalists,
From off of TV, and the main stage at Glastonbury.
We didn’t get to go on the dole,
But we did get to make schooling a frolic
And a revel – though maybe the whole
Thing’s the same big sentimental trick
Each generation gets to play
On itself, and these kids will look back at their education 
With the same grating whimsy, and say,
Those days, indeed, were golden; we were so young; and the times were just.
And today is the warmest day
Since August last year; the sky belongs to the condescending clouds
And the few contrails
Of planes that passed earlier unheard; this morning the bird
Song seemed to come not just 
From the gardens close by, but round them,
Through airways clear of smog and dust,
From all the birds of SE26 and SE20. 
And I think of the Year Sixes,
Who may not get to get their last weeks of primary school –
Yes, ending something well carries riches
Not all of which get reinvested in what comes next.
And though the schools may still open
In June, in spite of the cares and concerns;
The bond of trust has been damaged, if not broken,
For all education is built on trust, then love, 
And only then on grammar and spelling,
And the basic numeracy of what R equals today.
Tomorrow there’s no telling
What children will bring home with their homework.
And the summer looms like a bright black hole,
As infections decrease and we raise our heads
And ask ourselves if we understand the role
We are being asked to play in the next stage of this terrible opera.

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