Isaac and I: A Life in Poetry

ISBN: 9781910170434

Format: Paperback, 276 pages,

Available (Published: May 2017)

£11.99

Book details

Isaac and I is the autobiography of Chris Searle, who braces his own story with the life of his greatest influence, East London poet Isaac Rosenberg. The book tells of East London during the 1970s through the poetry of many of its people, in the spirit of their great predecessors such as Blake and Rosenberg. It is a praisesong to the poetical spirit and talent of people born in ordinary circumstances who, like Rosenberg, through their words create a militant and compassionate beauty from the most unpromising of settings.

"At his best Searle's compassion, anger and sense of historical morality as a storyteller are reminiscent of the early Gorki. I can see no other writer in Britain with whom to compare him." John Berger

About the Author

Chris Searle began his life of teaching in the Caribbean. He returned to work in Stepney, East London, on the very street where Rosenberg had lived. In 1971 Searle was dismissed when he published a book of his students' poems, Stepney Words, in defiance of the school governing body. The resulting schoolchildren's strikes and protests, including a march to Trafalgar Square, made national headlines and propelled children's poetry into the curriculum of many schools in London and beyond. After a two-year battle the dismissal was overturned. During that time he set up a community publishing initiative and a long- lasting inter-generational poetry project in Cable Street. Searle writes on cricket, language, jazz, race and social justice. The Forsaken Lover: White Words and Black People won the Martin Luther King Prize. He has been associated with the Institute of Race Relations since the 1970s and writes a weekly column on jazz for the Morning Star.

1 review for Isaac and I: A Life in Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chris Searle’s vivid autobiography evokes the spirit of creative ferment in English schools that culminated in the 1970s. This runs in paralleled with the inspiration Chris drew for his pedagogic activities from the young Jewish working-class poet, Isaac Rosenberg, tragically slain at the end of the first world war.

    As a member of the same generation as Chris emerging from the expanded higher education that we were the first in our families to benefit from, I shared some of the excitements of the times if not all of Chris’s remarkable energy and commitment that is so inspirational. People nowadays would hardly credit that poetry could mean so much to so many school students that they would come out on strike in defence of the teacher who had published their work.

    Why though has so much since then been lost? Especially if, as Chris quotes the Black Panther, George Jackson, ‘There is no turning back from awareness’ p.81 (repeated on p.88) because there plainly is and how this happened is not explored. Nor are Chris’s experiences as a headteacher in Sheffield and as a professor at Goldsmiths. What were the inevitable contradictions and conflicts that he ran into there? This calls for another book; or perhaps a continuation of this one.

    Obviously, after Thatcher it was ‘downhill all the way’, as the great historian of English education, Brian Simon records. But how did this end in today’s stultifyingly academic National Curriculum, where more is taught but less is learnt by students who study harder but learn less in the vast social sorting machine that is now what education to all levels amounts to today? Where social progress has been reversed towards privatising state education instead of a progressive state subsuming private education? Where knowledge debased to information and skill to competence is for sale in the marketplace now extended from schools to further and higher education.

    I would like to see Chris address this question of what went wrong in a subsequent volume as vividly written as this wonderful account of what may hopefully come to be seen as a first or preliminary phase that we can return to but this time go forward from, not slide backwards for reasons that are unclear.

    (Great book though! ‘I’ll give it 5’ if that is high as I take it it is!)

    • Thanks for this!

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