It's often difficult to keep it there, but there's always a song in my head.Maybe it's true for most people, I don't know. It's especially hard on train journeys when there can be a cacophony of conflicting noises, from crying babies, youths swearing loud for effect and, worst of all, to that truly appalling moo-sick which gets spewed from mobiles : the 'singer' has  overdosed on helium and the drum-beat is the product of a very unimaginative computer ( some computers do have imaginations, one of mine kept springing Arabic phrases on me from nowhere!).
   So why not simply get an i-pod? The answer is, I do like listening to people, like the elderly couple visiting the Valleys for the first time and enthusing about the River Taf as they moved from one side of the carriage to the other, following the course of the river. You appreciate things all the more through others' eyes. And I would never have missed the announcer who said as we were approaching Merthyr - ' Please fasten your safety belts, we are now landing in sunny Merthyr.'
   My present song-in-the-head is 'The '59 Sound' by New Jersey band The Gaslight Anthem. Having vowed to avoid the boring predictability of male guitar groups, I couldn't help falling for their passionate intensity and lyrics which actually describe scenes and tell stories which don't sound trite. Okay, they borrow from Springsteen and Tom Petty, but who cares? Last week the song was Glasvegas and their plaintive version of the Ronettes' 'Bye,Bye Baby', complete with Alex Ferguson vowel-movements!
   In future, I'll be singing much less to the tracks' rhythm. But I shall always be a train-traveller , as I am one of many non-driving poets, including the likes of John Barnie, Sheenagh Pugh and Samantha Wynne Rhydderch. With the spare time I've now got I could even write a thesis on the correlation between not driving and poetry. Even driving poets are non-drivers, I would argue. One professor and poet  dubbed me 'half a man' for my inability, but having been a passenger in his car, I'd say it's preferable to being 'half a driver'!
   The great poet Seamus Heaney recently de-mystified the creation of poetry by saying that it all comes from the great tradition of verse. I wouldn't go so far as to agree, but must acknowledge the influence of Auden's powerful 'Night Mail' on the following poem, even if I've managed to ignore the scansion and regular rhyme.........

                                                ONE LAST TIME
Home from work one last time
taking the train on the Valley line.
No more standing in the rain
or the shelter with its piss-stains.

No more dozing through station-stops
after finding a place for my head to prop.
Office-workers, labourers in boots and jeans,
shoppers,students, youths acting obscene.

Past the weir and out-of-place vines,
the heron pool on the flood-plain,
the river Taf with plastic bags
hanging from the trees in rags.

Past the industrial estate, the Uni,
a sight of the park at Ponty,
past the woods and disused signal box,
workings like discarded,rusted clocks.

Contouring mountains,clinging to sides,
under precarious rocks held by wire ;
towards those green fields, looking across
at the place where the colliery once was.

Further upwards there's Giant's Bite,
a run of hens in mud close by ;
distant white arches are memorials
to victims of a coal-created battle.

The rugby pitches and hang-gliders,
cartoon graffiti in praise if 'DRAW'
and on to Hoovers, buildings and buildings
like casualties at A. and E. always waiting.

Strata of new estates and terraces,
the supermarket now a terminus.
Home from work one last time
over sleepers of the Valley line.

 
 

   I can't believe that after thirty years I can no longer call myself a teacher. I shall now be able to describe myself as a 'writer' on my passport and be refused entry to obscure countries with dubious regimes, such as Blogistan. Many of my pupils ( I must say ex-pupils ) spotted the irony of an interactive whiteboard being installed in my classroom the very week I was leaving. When the IT technician blustered into one of my classes wanting to measure up the place, it was like being measured for my coffin!
Bring back the slate, I say.
   Many staff and students wanted to know what I was going to do with all my time.
   'You're gonna be a poet person, are you sir?' one girl enquired.
   Once a rumour got round that my book was being turned into a film, I had demands for parts , with some just happy to be extras.
   'Where are you going?' one boy asked.
   'Home!' I answered. And it did seem like a metaphorical reply.
   Kind staff gave me pens and a notebook as presents, very useful for someone who always uses long-hand first. The most emotional parting was with my own form, who I have taken since they joined the school. I had come equipped with extra tissues and needed them. I left the staff with a parting poem ( of course ), which imagined my fellow Bluebirds' fan, Del the caretaker, commenting - ' Yer Mike, I yer they're givin you a free transfer back to Merthyr!'
   I really do like writing for occasions and if the Poet Laureate had nothing at all to do with the anachronistic and extortionate monarchy and I was actually in with a remote chance of it, I 'd be delighted to respond to all kinds of contemporary questions like 'quantative easing' ( actually, I have written a poem about this economic theory). I have written for weddings and funerals in the past ,even my own (funeral, that is.........in preparation). If there was any demand, I could be employed as a 'Hire a Poet'. 'Dragon's Den' here I come!!!!!!!!!
    So, on to the latest one, written this morning and perhaps a bit rough rough the edges and in the middle, but trying to express the clearing away and the change.......... 
                                   Shedding paper skin
Day after day I shed my skin,
paper I bag and bin,
the print, the markings.
It has served me well
as survival and camouflage,
or to attract and entertain.

Piles and piles of it :
I'm wriggling free gradually,
I'm loosening its grip.
I am sad to abandon it :
stacked memories of faces, voices.

I know it no longer fits :
the shiny surface where
I cannot even write
is a shell I don't wish to wear,
its single eye preying red.

Some skin I leave, I fold
for others to try and wrap
(though it may be buried to rot).
The cupboard's a hollow cocoon,
corridors dark and subterranean,
the door opens into daylight :
now I am ready for flight.

  

 
 

This week will be my last in teaching. After 30 years on the chalkface
(now an interactive whiteboard face), I'm taking voluntary redundancy. Not, as one scurrilous boy rumoured 'being sacked for writing naughty scenes in that book 'The Fugitive Three'!

After almost a decade teaching at Radyr Comp., I shall definitely miss the good humour, energy and creativity of many pupils. I won't miss the negatives, like rude behaviour and arrogance however. Above all, I feel that creativity (and especially the writing of poetry) has been increasingly marginalised over the years. Pupils do not need to write a single poem for GCSE or 'A' levels. I used to teach 'A' level Lang. & Lit. where they could submit a whole collection of verse: that too, has been cut. Most pupils of all abilities can express themselves imaginatively through poetry. Not so with stories, which require the grammatical strictures and too often borrow plots from recent movies.

Nothing has given me more pleasure than to help the so-called 'less able' to create. In fact, it is often the more recalcitrant pupils who relish poetry and its raw emotions ( not to mention that it can be very short ). I recall one boy who wrote a poem in half an hour in the library about life on the streets. I entered it for the then Miners' Eisteddfod in Porthcawl and he won. When his name was read out in Assembly, it was greeted with stunned silence, followed by bewildered applause.

I've based many stories and poems around my teaching experiences, often embellishing events quite considerably. The story 'Scott Guru' from my book 'Child of Dust' is based on a boy at Radyr who, quite remarkably, came out with the same word as a nonsense one from a song by one of my musical heroes Robert Wyatt. The crazy teacher in that fiction isn't me (I hope!). One poem I wrote about a mad pupil in Merthyr was called 'Flasher' and based on a true incident where a boy chased younger girls with a cucumber attached to his 'plonker'. The offender came looking for me, but I managed to fob him off with some excuse about it being all made up.

Perhaps because I'm leaving, I've recently been writing more about Radyr: a poem about a fox racing down the drive towards the entrance and a boy who ate his planner (in reality, he didn't scoff the lot). The one I've chosen is on a theme I have covered before, in a poem called 'Down Town Writer':
                                       

                                           MC LEON
He gave me his mobile
and said 'Listen sir!'
It was time of the Mock Exams
and he wasn't taking many.
He was one of the hoodies
back of the Sports Hall
after school every day fags
late for every lesson stinking
like the old pub smell.

He said - 'See if you can tell
who this is, sir!'
I listened to the rap
the angry, beating hip-hop
the gangster accent
and occasional Kaairdiff twang.
He mouthed every word, every rhyme.

'It's Leon. Him and his mate in his room!'
As the lines shot and stabbed
street-talk of gangs from Ely, Pentrebane,
as if it was ghettos of LA.
Leon, who'd missed every exam,
suspended for swearing at staff,
once squared up to me
and now flinging that poetry :
words he'd sometimes scrawled in his book
between the angry graffiti.