Thursday, 2 June 2011

Imparting Poetic Delusions

A few weeks ago at our local Youth Offending Office we hired an ex-offender to read poetry to our assorted crew of delinquents on the Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme (ISSP) before we took them out in the afternoon to play basketball. The reasoning behind this initiative was well intentioned. Here was an ex-convict who whilst in prison had learned to read and write and discovered a talent for poetry and creative writing. Now empowered, he wanted to give something back. And so here he was on a miserable Monday morning hoping to inspire our young offenders to swap the stanley knife for the pen, that said, many of them would still stab you with the pen given half the chance.

Indeed our poet lived up to the awards he had won. His poetry was energetic, lively and raw just like his life story. He was a charming scouser from the wrong side of the tracks and you couldn't but be inspired by the manner in which he had turned his life around and the teenagers warmed to him even though initially they thought he was a bit unusual.

However, whilst he was good at making words rhyme and injecting his scouserly wit in to conversation, at imparting life skills he was hopeless. He told the young lads present that spelling and grammar were not important at all and not to worry about it. All I could do was sit there and nod my head in exasperation. Surely for every hand written CV and application form they send out for a job they will need to adhere to standard English? However, this was not going to be an issue I learned in that every young criminal in the room possessed the combined poetic skills of Yeats, Byron and Wordsworth, according to this jovial Liverpudlian, and what's more they could become very wealthy in the process. The fact that at least half of them were either completely or semi-literate didn't seem to be an issue.

"So how much do you make a day?" asked one young prolific burglar.

"I get a few hundred quid for just coming here talking to you today to show you there is another way of life. I drive a nice car and wear the best of clothes and have most of the day to myself and all because I learned to read and write. You can earn good money giving talks to schools and in detention centres and to the Youth Offending Service. If you grasp at the chance to improve your reading skills you all can have a life like mine if you want it. I believe in you lads you just need to believe in yourselves. Words can set you free. You can have a life like mine if you work hard for it. I know inside everyone of you is a story you can tell with words. If you work for it you can be a writer or poet like me."

I must admit it was great rhetoric and I really liked the guy, but he was talking gobbledegook. For a start there is a limited demand for scouser poets that spell badly and believe that grammar is irrelevant. Im pretty sure he has cornered the market there.

I wanted to stand up and scream:

"Poetry and creative writing are lovely hobbies but you should learn to read and write because you will all need at least the basic level to even get a job washing dishes in a pub nowadays. You will not all be award winning poets like our nice friend here. He is one of the lucky ones. The country is full of talented creative types be they poets, actors and writers and most of them haven't a pot to piss in never mind awards hanging off the walls of their damp bedsits. So learn to read and write for its own sake and to improve your chances of even getting a job stacking shelves in Tesco where you will be competing with graduates with English degrees. If you take pleasure in writing poems about how you used to enjoy robbing from pensioners but nowadays prefer to spend your time lying in meadows writing sonnets then thats great but please dont believe a word this man tells you about it affording you the material comfort he has and if you don't believe me go home tonight and put the word poet in to the search engine on at least five or six jobsearch sites."

Instead of saying this I just sat there. My sentiments would not have been welcomed as I've said before injections of common sense are seldom welcomed in the youth dependency sector.


The bike shed said...

Ah, but aren't you being a bit literal here - surely you understand he was talking a poetic truth.

And I'd reckon the lads on ISSP know all about that.

Anonymous said...

As long as they start reading and writing then at least they have a chance to pick up some grammar on the way.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, as always. An indication of how they are more likely to end up is given here (Scousers again, as is from a Liverpool site).

Anonymous said...

I stand & watch them while they go to education in the YOI I work at with 8(max) to a class. A see what education they could be getting but they’d rather piss about all day fight, assault staff & teachers (Male & Female they don’t care which & get no punishment’s for the assaults as the CPS say its not in the public interest!!!!!!). They think they are all "gangsters' because they can suck their teeth etc & believe all the crap they hear in the gangster rap they listen to. Believing all hype that it rambles on about. When really they are as thick as sh*t. When I’m on nights I have to read the out going mail & it’s shocking they can’t even write the address without it being unreadable. But hey they are misunderstood children (that’s what the new management name is for them not YP’S,Mr. or what ever the PC term is this week). Not murders, rapists & street robbers etc. but children. Being that we now have nearly 60 Lifers all under 18. 90% are all from London & 80% black (yes I’ve used the word that dared not be mentioned)

Mr.Blackheart said...

Sounds really interesting - I would share that exasperation too.

By not teaching the kids grammar correctly we are denying them the foundation to be fulfil their creativity.

At the schools in which I have worked no one really seems to give a toss - and so many reports I have had to return from colleagues...well, that's a moan for another time.

Great blog.

Oswald Bastable said...

It's hard enough to make money writing, but for producers of Vogon poetry the odds are like a lotto win. Probably worse than a lotto win, as most weeks somebody gets the first division...

Mr.Blackheart said...

To anonymous @9.05

Nothing wrong with saying black if that's what the students are. It is not insensitive, politically incorrect simply a fact based on your observation. Hereabouts in the Deep South of England you could substitute black for white / chav...(deep breath)traveller or Roma...alternatively poor, underclass, aspirationally challenged or just a pain in the rear.

cheeky chappy said...

Regarding the lack of basic English skills, such as Grammar and Punctuation that are not being taught in our schools, may I strongly advise you to read a seminal book on this subject called: "All Must Have Prizes" by Melanie Philips. This book destroys the myth that there is actually any real learning being done in our schools anymore. Objective fact and traditional teaching has been replaced with subjective opinion and child centred rubbish. I work as a tutor/lecturer and as I read this book I found myself realising just how much twaddle I'd had to swallow at teacher training.

Please buy a copy of this book and be prepared to see just how dangerous these bleeding heart, cultural left educationalists have done to our children. You can buy it from Amazon for just 1p

Winston, as always a first class post, keep it up.

Timac said...

Improving your literacy means you can read books easily. Reading a lot makes you smarter. Being smarter means your likelier to get richer. Simple.

Anonymous said...

bit of cart before horse here in some of the comments i think. Surely learning grammar comes after people have started reading and writing for fun or self-expression. I only learned to write proper when I came to write up my post grad dissertation.

Overall it sounds like a good exercise. Sort of thing the tax payers' money should be spent on.

Rachel said...

The problem with this is that the man is being rewarded for committing his crimes in his cosy job giving lectures to young offenders.

Also I think raising giant career expectations in ANY young people is a not good idea. At my school they also raised aspirations and hopes too much. There's nothing wrong with aspiration or dreaming of a good salary but people also need to be realistic and satisfied with less to get on in an honest life.

The one thing I agree with in that lecture is that spelling and grammer often comes after enjoying reading.

WinstonSmith33 said...


I agree that initially to get people interested in reading there is no need to impose perfectionsitic spelling and grammatical standards on illiterate learners but to tell them that spelling and grammar does not matter is irresponsible.

I also agree with you that young people are often given unrealistic expectations. Part of the work we do with Young Offenders is trying to instil in them the idea that they can be materialistically successful if they stay out of prison. Whilst this may be true in some cases there are no guarantees. I have heard staff tell young people they can do anything they want. Sure they can have a stab and they may get the job of their dreams but how many people does life work out like that for? Telling young offenders they can have what ever they want if they just go to school and stop offending is ludicrous. There are graduates up and down the country struggling to get decent work and still living with their parents.

Tattyfalarr said...

"You can earn good money giving talks to schools AND IN THE DETENTION CENTRES AND TO THE YOUTH OFFENDING SERVICE."
Do you think those kids are bright enough to have worked out that approximately two-thirds of his income is dependant on them being delinquent ??
Do you think he is too thick to have noticed what he actually said there ??

Robert said...


Anonymous said...

Winston, Saturday will be my 27th birthday, please leave a new post before then so I have something to cheer me up! Oh go on, I bought your book and everything.

Citizen Jayne

Anonymous said...

I've worked in a prison training school and an FE college. Everyone wants certification without effort. Students cannot understand why, if their writeup is incomplete or ambiguous, I challenge its validity. Other tutors sign the same work off with a complimentary comment. Prizes for all.......Even the losers!!

spidertap said...

Hi Winston,
I enjoyed reading your blog it's entertaining and oppositional too. Perhaps you ought to think about this...! Only Joking.

Welcome home to Ireland. Maybe we'll meet in Temple Bar sometime. Have a Cigar! Until then I'll rest with this one comment:

I do agree that there is a softly softly approach taken to youth offending, and that the lads' or blaggards take the piss out of everyone attempting to inspire some positive change in them.

Perhaps I do think they are intelligent enough to sense at least some of those wounded healers reaching out to them are in fact subconsciously trying to feed their own need to feel good and of value to society. We all hope for recognition for our charitable efforts even if we act humble when this recognition comes along.

Lets face it, it's a thankless job the 'care world' and it's not that well paid unless you've got a special contract teaching poetry to people with no English.

I've started a Blog in Ireland focusing on the organisational structures in society constructed to propagate Blaggards because it depends on them for middle class jobs.

I'm hoping to highlight the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the blaggard and the wounded healer. Check out Ireland on