School of Hard Knocks. "The Learning Curve", by John Foulcher and "Life Given", by Graeme Hetherington and "History: Selected Poems, 1978-2000", by Michael Sharkey. [review]
John Foulcher’s "The Learning Curve" is a sequence of poems set in a fictional school called Saint Joseph’s. Using mainly dramatic monologues, Foulcher paints a depressing picture of a school where professional disappointments, an inept and religion-infested staff, and a general air of mutual loathing combine to produce what amounts to a psychological tragedy (with some physical tragedies thrown in for good measure). Like "The Learning Curve", Graeme Hetherington’s "Life Given" is effectively a sequence and deals at length with the traumas of childhood. Unlike "The Learning Curve", however, "Life Given" gives it to the reader straight, in traditional lyric form. So explicit, indeed, is Hetherington about his own unpleasant childhood and general state of mind that a reference to ‘confessional’ poetry is almost unavoidable. Many of the poems in Michael Sharkey's "History: Selected Poems 1978–2000" would have benefited from a bit of smartening up. This is a shame, because Sharkey can write attractively. His best poems are those about love, which have a distracted, outsiderish quality.