Jess Green and the Mischief Thieves: Burning Books
13th October 2015
The stage was bare except for a microphone, a cajon (sitting drum) and
a standing guitar. The lighting was subdued, and there was an edgy unease
in the auditorium.
At 'The Bell' it still looked like most of the audience were playing
truant, but not chancing a big 'A' in the Register, a coach load turned
up just in time for a 65 minute lesson on what life is like in the lower
echelons of a secondary school, courtesy of poet Jess Green.
Enter then the 26-year-old, operating out of Leicester on her first national
tour with The Mischief Thieves backing duo. After a short explanation
of how she gravitated from a school Reading Champion to self employed
beat poet, Green laid out her stall on teachers, staff rooms and kids
affected by ever -tightening budget cuts and unremitting performance targets.
She was not talking public school speak at this gig.
Launching into a poem on identity she rapped out the disparity between
Government and right wing press views on behaviour and attitudes to what
pupils are actually thinking and talking about during a regimented and
structured day of lessons.
For kids aged 13 it's belly button piercing, false eyelashes or growing
beards and false hangovers, or imitating a science teacher's dress sense
to look cool, only to be sent home by the headmaster for throwing text
books; Nathaniel, Dylan, Gaz and Trix mouthed into life at a tremendous
She doesn't pull her punches when confronting the views of present and
past Education Secretaries, lambasting Nicky Morgan for saying that interest
in the Humanities will lead to a failed career; as if poetry or art or
music are not 'real jobs'!
'At 14 you are what you are inside - don't belittle
your horizons' Green rattles out to staccato back beat and uncomplicated
Michael Gove comes in for particular opprobrium for discounting the value
of course time work at the expense of stressful end of term exams and
also for straitjacketing the curriculum to English kings and queens, Shakespeare
and Dickens at the expense of wider world literature and events. Fahrenheit
451 it is not, but the vitriol behind Burning Books comes out in 'Dear
However the poems carried much more.
The reasons behind teachers having to strike over performance-based pay
rises; the likes of the Daily Mail berating, as feckless attempts to protect
terms and conditions while scabs cross picket lines.
How about expectant dewy eyed and unqualified graduates back from Bali
gap years and 'involving everyone' Professional Team Builders telling
seasoned and dedicated teachers how to do it right, while the mascara
is still wet on their own eyelids?
Meanwhile, a stressed mother constantly rings an harassed teacher marking
35 classwork books asking, yet again, if Jason can bring her kitchen knife
back home and a despairing Reading Champion sits alone in the Library;
it's easier that way.
Green likes Liverpool humour, having studied here, and was pleased to
see an appreciative crowd laughing along, or frowning, and sometimes nervously
tittering at more taboo areas of content, while she never broke into a
sweat delivering this word perfect performance.
All in all it was a well received and challenging night's work.