Friday, April 10, 2015


There is a memorable poem by Martin Kratz in most recent but one issue of The Rialto called 'Curriculum'. I say it is memorable because I remembered it, after skimming through the issue when it arrived, before mislaying it. Interestingly I had misremembered the title as being 'Testudo' which is a key word in the culminating final stanza of the poem.

The poem describes schoolchildren's growing enthusiasm for all things Roman, an early sign of which occurs when "a girl brings in cardboard scutum".  I like the inclusion of these talismanic Latin words, which are both accurate flecks of colour in the verbal texture, and centrally material to the narrative of the piece. This isn't early modernism's arch macaronics (a word which seems to come from the word for a type of pasta, macaroni, which is possible from the Byzantine Greek word μακαρία which refers to barley-broth).

We go to fetch them in, someone shouts: Testudo!
We can't fault them. Each plate overlaps the next
perfectly. Spears bristle out of darkness.
In silence, they wait for instruction. 

 I cannot put my finger on what is so resonant and right in these lines. It relieson what has been built up in preceding lines, and it captures something about the nature of childhood, about power in the setting of the schoolyard ... I had also misremembered that the word "cower" was in here somewhere .. it isn't.  The verb 'bristle' carries much in these lines.  Yes, the spears protruding from the tortoise of shields will look like a hedgehog or some spiny animal, but the verb bristle brings with it the idea of "showing fight" (see meaning 2b in the OED) or being an animal's sign of "anger or excitement" (meaning 2a).  But what the OED does not mention directly is the strong connotation of the threat that causes an animal to bristle.  So here in the image of small children enacting an ancient Roman military drill, some emblem of the threat of adult teachers and the cowering of the pupils.

Maybe this taps in to my reservations about some aspects of 'schooling'. Nietzsche describes the child as "ein aus sich rollendes Rad", a self-propelling wheel ... 'Unschuld ist das Kind und Vergessen, ein Neubeginnen, ein Spiel, ein aus sich rollendes Rad, eine erste Bewegung, ein heiliges Ja-sagen.'  ... 'The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first movement, a sacred "Yes."' But so much of the schooling process seems to eat away so early at this innate self-busying Will-To-Do of the child. I guess this is leading to what Paulo Freire in Pedagogía del oprimido characterised as "la educación como práctica de la dominación" ..  "education as a practice of domination."