I’ve mentioned before that when I was in high school I had a wonderful English teacher, Mr. Collier. We had two years to plod through literature exams with him, and rather than devote the entire time to the prescribed works, he decided to spend the first year stimulating our love of the written word, with a series of challenging and involving books. Apart from introducing me to some of my favourite novels, such as The French Lieutenant's Woman and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and recommending his class of bright, eager 14 year olds to go and watch Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, But were Afraid to Ask, he brought poetry to life.

He had an unerring instinct for what concerned the hormonal adolescent and what engaged their interest. This meant, of course, that we were served a diet of drama, love, sex and death. Strawberries, by Edwin Morgan, qualifies as on three counts; it’s dramatic, loving and sexual – it was my first exposure to poetry that was both openly erotic, and written in modern English which didn’t mask the eroticism in unfamiliar language, as Donne and the other metaphysical poets tended to, until you cracked their code.

It still makes me shiver, now.

Strawberries


There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air

in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

Edwin Morgan

As an aside, I heard from Mr. Collier recently – he took early retirement from teaching and now works as a librarian. I envy any reader who asks him for recommendations.

Poem noded with permission

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