A final voice from a classroom of the past. Fifteen or sixteen years old, fifty-three years ago, lost like all the others, but as with a number of them, present to me in my own unseen movement between the rungs of time. In two poems Karen Briggs moves – for no more than a moment yet it stays – from child to adult; and for a moment too as I write I see what I have taken from a lifetime of teaching. Change has taken me on board. I have been refreshed.

In a word-work of art a change in perception is always on the cards. Hidden till the end or near it, at the same time concealed and revealed, in some way finally it takes over; and an aesthetic sense is harmonised and a mystery lingers. The economy of a poem takes us perhaps as close as we may come to what change can mean in the human dimension. Here two pieces individually and (fortuitously) together show us, in a simple but touching way, what art can get up to.

She was just a person at school. I was surprised when a report came round about her: all her teachers had to comment and virtually everyone saw no more than a silly creature. I had been aware of a quiet person with a certain sureness; and may have seen no more than that but for what she wrote.   


Why does this feeling suddenly sink into my soul?
Why am I sad?
I sit and look at the ceiling.
     ‘Today we’ll go over the four-stroke engine.’
The voice drones on.
Suddenly I think, People are dying in Viet Nam.’

Why do I think of these things?
I must concentrate: Intake, compression . . .

Soon the yellow rose will bloom.
What’s wrong with me?
I feel unhappy, I can’t talk to anyone;
That’s it! I want to communicate!
To be free! I don’t care about the four-stroke engine!
I just want someone to say,
‘What do you think?’ and mean it.
‘Intake, compression, ignition, exhaust.’
I am listening now, trying to learn;
But somewhere inside me I can’t help thinking,
‘Intake, depression, rejection, death.’


I have loved as no man has loved.
I have felt as no man has felt;
I have life and I give life.
I am life.

I was born and I have borne.
I will die and I am death.

I hold within me the thin
     gold-thread that is life.
I can make or break.

I am thistledown as it glides
     across the wind,
I am the devil rolling potatoes
     down a hill.

I have given and I must give
All that is in me:
Such is my lot.

I was created,
I have created.
I am hated and I am loved.
     I am needed.

     I am woman.

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