A very mature student, by Veronica Zundel

Previously on More than Writers: In the last episode, I was waiting to hear whether I'd got on an MA course in Writing Poetry, run jointly by the Poetry School in Lambeth Walk, and Newcastle University. The story continues...

Well folks, I got into the course, and have now been on it three weeks, although I didn't get the formal offer till after the induction day, and haven't been asked for a single penny in payment yet! (long may it last...). So my weekly routine now includes a trip to my old stamping grounds in Waterloo and southwards therefrom, for a seminar with 10 other students of all ages and backgrounds (I'm glad to say I'm not the oldest in the group), to be quizzed on our reading from the week before and given the reading for the next week, as well as other tasks: last week the tutor asked us to write a ballad in 15 minutes, either based on a traditional ballad or inspired by an item in the news. Not a method to be recommended for producing great poetry!

Actually, most of my fellow students are women...
It's extraordinary being a student again, 41 years after my English degree (well, I did a basic theology course starting in the late 80s but it was all distance learning and I took 22 years to do a three year course so I generally don't mention it). Much of what we're studying is revision for me: metre, classic forms, historic and contemporary poets. It feels, however, very different, not only because I have forgotten much of  my degree work, but also because then I was studying for the purpose of critique, but now I am studying for the purpose of writing. This has its pitfalls, not least because my own work may become a pale pastiche of what I'm reading, but also because I may 'borrow' without noticing or improving on what I've borrowed (you know what they say: good writers borrow, great writers steal).

Also scary is the fact that by the end of a 10-week term I need to produce 10-12 reasonably finished poems, not to mention a critical essay on 'how I did it', with references to my reading and a correctly set out bibliography. And then another lot at the end of the second term... Will I end up a better poet at the end of two, laughably called part time, years? Only time, and my tutors, will tell.

Anyway, here I am, having the time of my later life. It's a joy to immerse myself in poetry which is intriguing, challenging, occasionally awful but mostly brilliant. (Although I do concur with a comment quoted in one of the essays I had to read: 'Life's too short for a sestina' - in my opinion it's too short even to read one, let alone write one.) My life, if not my poems, can only improve as a result.

In the meantime, here is my 15 minute ballad offering, not as an example of a good poem (it isn't) but purely as evidence of how much fun you can have in 15 minutes:

The Ballad of Mike Hookem

Would you buy a used political party from this man?
Mike Hookem was the member's name
and Hook'em was his nature:
he took a swing at Stephen Wolfe
and got in all the papers;
for Wolfe, unWolfelike, fell straight down

unconscious in the chamber.

Now Hookem's on the TV screen
to speak for his behaviour:
'I didn't punch, I only breathed,
the man was in no danger.'
Was it a hook his right hand took
or did he shove his neighbour?

A sorry tale, the whole affair,
for those who represent us;
we are the ones who put them there
but scandal's all they've dealt us.
Should we put Mike in't witness chair
would he sing like a linnet?
Those UKIP MEPs, I swear
are in it just to bin it.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at reversedstandard.com


  1. All the bey best with your endeavours. Great poem

  2. Love it! I would say v good for 15 mins writing time max!


Post a comment