Meet a teacher who sets himself lines - of poetry

9th January 2015 at 00:00
Costa award winner draws on `manic energy' of the classroom

An English teacher from South Wales has won the prestigious Costa Poetry Award with his debut collection, which features comedic verse about daredevil Evel Knievel, footballer Ian Rush and a bicycling nun.

Jonathan Edwards, who teaches at Haberdashers' Monmouth School for Girls, won pound;5,000 this week for his book My Family and Other Superheroes. Speaking to TES, Mr Edwards praised his own teachers and said the energy he drew from his classes inspired him to write.

"In primary school I was fascinated by writing," Mr Edwards said. "I remember my mother reading Roald Dahl to me as a kid - his surrealism seeps into what I write. And I had an inspirational teacher at Waunfawr Primary School who taught us all about the history of the Valleys.

"We dressed up and re-enacted the Chartist march and, although you don't understand it fully at the time, it was important in giving us a sense of identity."

Mr Edwards also had a "brilliant" English teacher at Cwmcarn High School, who introduced him to the Gerald Durrell book My Family and Other Animals when he was in Year 7. "The title of my book is really a silent homage to him," he said.

Mr Edwards wrote plays in his spare time while studying English and American literature at the University of Warwick. He was determined to continue at Warwick and study for an MA in playwriting, but when the option was cancelled he plumped for poetry.

"Within a few weeks on the course, I was so inspired that it seemed I had really found something," he said. After working for the Welsh Assembly for a year as a civil servant, he decided to train as a teacher.

"I'm lucky, because at Warwick I had this experience that made writing fun. The experience of being taught writing seemed an incredible game.

"When I did my teacher training we learned these great exercises - getting pupils moving around, playing with words. Obviously you have to do the spelling and the grammar, but English has got to be fun more than anything."

Mr Edwards is not the first teacher to be lauded for his poetry. Daljit Nagra was working as an English teacher in London when he won the Forward Prize in 2007 for Look We Have Coming to Dover!

"Nagra's writing is incredible," Mr Edwards said. "The vernacular energy in his writing is something I strive towards. Maybe that is something that comes out of teaching - that manic colloquial energy. It is something in my poetry that comes from my daily experience of life as a teacher."

My Family and Other Superheroes is described by publisher Seren as "a post-industrial Valleys upbringing reimagined through the prism of pop culture and surrealism". The Costa Poetry Award judges simply stated: "We haven't had as much fun reading a poetry collection in ages."

Mr Edwards' book is now in the running for the pound;30,000 overall Costa Book of the Year Award. The shortlist also includes: Ali Smith's novel How to be Both; Emma Healey's debut novel Elizabeth is Missing; Helen Macdonald's memoir H is for Hawk; and Kate Saunders' children's book Five Children on the Western Front. The winner will be announced on 27 January.

Poet's corner

Colliery Row

That's it, with the bloke at number five,

Whose days are driving buses, nights The Crown.

To watch him walking down the street at nights,

To forecast how his bus will be next day:

If he's wobbling, then you'd best stay in the house,

But if he's walking straight, you'll be okay.

The first of seven verses, written by Jonathan Edwards

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