At school, everyone stretched upwards, ambition
a pair of silent claws. These boys all knew one another,
fraternised in the holidays, took one another’s sisters
to parties in Sussex, to hunt balls in Gloucestershire,
dressed like their fathers.
The boys who inherited the school like an old watch
didn’t have to use their brains, even if they had them.
What security: to have always been well-off.
The future would look comfortingly like the past.
Scholarship boys had to live on their wits, set apart,
herded, marked off, their world a social laboratory,
clever animals in an alien habitat. Their labour of inclusion,
like a journey of immigration, was a matter of barely visible laws:
certain areas of London, prep schools, London shops
certain sports, clothes, brands of aftershave,
distinguished surnames: all signified.
If they were posh, scholars were interestingly so,
came from bohemian and eccentric families,
like Boris, a familiar sight as he charged his way around:
The bigfoot stoop, the bumbling confidence,
the skimmed-milk pallor, the berserk hair, the impression
he’d been freshly released from some institution.
All, already in place.
A ‘verbatim’ poem,, for consideration. The source material is taken from an article by James Wood, originally published in LRB. I have altered words only for consistency of tense or for grammatical sense, and have re-ordered stanzas for flow.