What is "Remember Me?" about?
The poem was written in 1986 for a school assembly on bullying and was first published in “ANOTHER FIFTH POETRY BOOK” edited by John Foster OUP (UK) 1988. It was not founded on personal experience - I was lucky enough to be neither bullied nor a bully.
I had noticed as a teacher that some boys who were big for their age in the first year of secondary school, and were able to throw their weight around, were often outstripped in growth over the subsequent years and may have later come to regret their actions. So, oddly enough, it started out as a poem about getting revenge on the bully.
I’m sure that we’ve all experienced some form of humiliation at someone else’s hands and the resentment that this causes stems from an inability to deal with the situation at the time. If this happens it can continue to eat away at our self-image, therefore I felt if the narrator of the poem could feel forgiveness my letting go of the resentment it would stop the anger from damaging him more than the original bullying had done; otherwise, the bully would continue to exercise control.
As a former drama teacher in which I frequently explored issues such as this with my groups, it had become clear to me that ironically bullies are usually victims themselves passing on learnt behaviours and trying to exorcise the anger, resentment and a need for some kind of power that they feel from experiencing their own past humiliations.
As far as the structure is concerned the form is a single verse poem with short lines in which, apart from the opening question, is driven by an alternate line rhyme scheme, with a pivotal line -“But how strange is the change” - breaking the poem into two halves. The internal rhyme of that line slows the beat and was meant to provide a pause for reflection. The tone is conversational and is a first person retrospective narrative in which the victim confronts his tormentor and regains his self-respect.
What is "Two Boys Crying" about?
I don't recall a single inspiration for this poem which I wrote in the late 1980s. It was probably the result of some "composting" of two or three connecting threads. The Ethiopian famine was still big news and I remember being shocked at the way some of the broadsheets carelessly juxtaposed adverts for famine aid, depicting those sadly familiar images of starving children with stories of celebrity excess. I also remember images depicting education as a privilege in "Third World Countries" (sic) - smiling faces, happy to be there - in stark contrast with the general reluctance I experienced from my pupils as an english teacher. It wasn't easy to explain how lucky they were to be able to go to school every day and I was irritated by the way that they took so many things for granted and wanted so many material things. My son, William, was about 6 or 7 at the time and he, too, couldn't understand why he couldn't just have whatever he wanted and cried for what we wouldn't give him.
By writing this poem I suppose I was trying to add some sort of perspective for our privileged children, no matter how deprived they may feel they are. One of my favourite proverbs is a chinese one, I believe, "I used to cry because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet". I'm not sure how helpful this will be to you but sometimes there is no crisp and clear explanation.