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Entries in Dumb Insolence (1)


Standby Poems: Dumb Insolence by Adrian Mitchell


Welcome to my Standby Poems selection. I've been meaning to start this for ages - so many times either I wish I had a poem with me or I have to go in search of it (and usually can't find the book, because I've left it out somewhere safe the last time I was looking for that poem). Why not just have them all handily online? So, here they are safely posted on my blog where I hope they might even provide someone else some pleasure (especially if you're coming across the poem for the first time).

Let me start at the beginning... I wasn't very good at school. I don't mean I misbehaved, I mean I just wasn't very motivated. I quite liked English and Games and a bit of history but mostly, it was anything for a quiet life. I can remember particularly liking my English teachers, who were mainly aging hippies from the 1960s, complete with wild knitwear and bushy beards. Bless those men for staving off the boredom - Mr Lawes, Mr Walsh, Mr Radburn, Mr Hackett, all of them who seemed to love shocking us with some poems usually written by Roger McGough, Brian Patten or Adrian Mitchell. Enough so that I always pricked up my ears when those poets were mentioned (I knew their names!) or sat up when poems were read out (and was disappointed when it turned out NOT to be them).

And I particularly remember this Adrian Mitchell poem being read by Mr Radburn at the Sir John Leman High School (when I was 14). By then I realised that most poems that we were being read were DULL but this one got me listening again. I remember being surprised, again, reminded that poems could be about any subject - this time the sullen misbehaviour of a school boy. Not that I was like that but I do remember thinking 'I do know kids like that' and it felt exactly right. Wrapped up in a delicious poem.

It's one of my great pleasures that I got to meet those three poets - McGough, Patten and Mitchell - and interview them as part of my work for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and to thank them personally. With Adrian Henri, they really did blaze the trail. And 'Dumb Insolence' still shoots straight from the lip, is written in ordinary everyday English, no fancy stuff, and writes about us, the thoughts in our head and what we do. I can still feel it and it's one of the earliest poems that did that to me. So it has to be my first Standby Poem. Thank you again Adrian - he's a poet of impeccable spirit and still worth reading or going back to.