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Wake Forest
University Press

Wake Forest University Press

Dedicated to Irish Poetry

Wake: Up to Poetry

"The act of poetry is a rebel act."

Poem of the Week: “A Few Helpful Hints” by Peter Sirr

a few helpful hints

This week’s poem is dedicated to teachers and educators in their classrooms filled with faces of eager students. Throughout this poem, the poet employs a lighthearted, witty tone in which he offers advice to those who have the responsibility of teaching others.

A Few Helpful Hints

Tell them what you like. Tell them
the world is flat and when you get to the edge you fall
into the usual darkness, hell if you like
but anywhere will do, any storied space
mythical returners have whined of, salty
and smelling of loss. Tell them the rain falls
and steals slyly up and falls, and falls—
tell them everything twice for emphasis
and then again the next day for revision.
Set them tests on the same thing time and time again.
Tell them most of life is repetitive
and this will stand them in good stead.
Tell them about gravity and love,
drop the whole world on their heads
if you have to, the broad curriculum
of hatred and desire and the need for money
and love, tell them some things are permissible
and some less so, though ideally we’d prefer it
if you left that to us. Above all
don’t be heavyhanded, keep a light tone,
encourage them to laugh, encourage them to believe
they are getting away with something when they do.
Encourage them to see you as a fragile,
merely human being. Forget things, mix up names
and be occasionally unfair in the allotment of marks.
Tell them about yourself if it helps.
Break down if you have to.
Tell them we could all be blown out of it
or the sun might go out or too much get through.
Tell them not to use aerosols, organize a project
on it. Projects are good. We like to stress
the need to work together. Harmony
is the oil in the machinery, or something
like that. Tell them about the men who came to save us
with beautiful voices and a poetry
we would like to have found time for, we may yet
retire to. Tell them about those
who have still to come, shuffling in awkwardness and anger
from the cardboard slums that tremble even now
on the outskirts, whose poems
may already be struggling in our blood
or hurtling through the dark cathedral spaces,
achieved and pure, unsettling the stars. 

Peter Sirr, from Selected Poems (2005)


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