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Working in the student café March 17, 2010

Posted by Fiona in Literature, Look what I did, Lovely people, Small things, University.

The commonest student working in the café
without a doubt studies English.
Byron and Shelley and Keats and conversation
over cups of coffee (decaffeinated, sweetened
with fair-trade Demerara sugar or skim milk)
and reams of paper in navy ink.
Discoloured books simulate ageing,
and the biro moustache on Jane Austen’s disapproving face
seems somehow fitting,
somehow natural.

The other linguists are rare, and when you see them,
they are often entirely engrossed;
only occasionally looking up,
their accents subtly changing when they pause
to answer a question or steal a continental crisp
from the person with their speakers on two seats away.
Europe is closer than you think
(only a few miles, Dover’s just up the motorway, yeah?)
and I know where I’d rather be.
Perhaps they’ll stare at the mountains of worksheets so hard
that they see maps, like I’d see stars.

Mathematicians and physicists argue over hundreds and thousands
and the icing on buns,
with a disapproving glance at the wordy subjects.
Creativity, says the sniff behind their eyes.  Creativity
is for those who don’t know the answer.
Beauty is in the universe, the computer chip and the atom.
Meaningless acronyms fly on the wind,
intended to confuse passers by,
a gesture of solidarity gone wrong.

Artists don’t work in public.
(You’d watch.)
They have their own hideaway,
filled with sawdust and brushes stiff with dried acrylic
and, unlike the drama students,
(Oscar Wilde once said that “from the point of view of feeling,
the actor’s craft is the type”)
perhaps they are content with their own company.
Paper cups, metal tables, plastic bins.
There is something ugly in the student café,
something not right somehow for catching the beauty.
Introspection, perhaps.
Perhaps introspection is what is missing.

Business students, on the other hand, do not work at all
and will not even admit to it in private.
And with orange juice and Smarties and smiles
you will wonder – why bother? Why try?
And blagging is the order of the day
– and exams are weeks away yet –
and after all what can it really hurt just this one time go on please?

Everybody else uses the library
for real work in real time,
or maybe they can think as fast as they type?
or maybe they’ve found somewhere better.

When exams come round, we will see.
All that is left is the wait, and the tea and discussion.
Multicoloured folders embroidered with ballpoint stars,
the evidence of a wasted afternoon.

(c) stitchthisdarling 2010



1. Martin - March 17, 2010

Massively unimpressed at the ‘Mathematicians…’ verse. :-p

Firstly, Mathematicians (unlike Physicists) left those weird things called ‘numbers’ behind a long time ago; we really only manipulate letters now.
Secondly, creativity is the essence of mathematics! While at school it may be about learning various methods to get the answer to the question your teacher has given you, Mathematics as a field *is* problem solving, requiring different ways of thinking, new angles of attack and a genuinely creative approach.

Just thought I’d set things straight. 🙂

2. Fiona - March 17, 2010

In my defence, I wrote it during my A2s, when that was more representative and besides I wanted to be a mathematician! You can probably tell I’d have been crap at it. Creativity is for those who don’t know the answer *yet*?

3. Flix - March 17, 2010

I like this.

4. gflawrence - March 26, 2010

This is really good 🙂

5. annadegenhardt - March 26, 2010

I miss fi-the-poet. Or rather, getting to be a regular audience of fi-the-poet.

Also, the first poem of yours I heard (“I am not a poet”) is starting to feel like my life story.


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