Poetry Power!

Posted: 7th October 2016

Mr Elder and ‘Codes of Conduct’

Following hot on the heels of National Poetry Day yesterday, Thursday 6th October, Neil Elder, member of the English Department and author of the prize-winning collection of poetry, ‘Codes of Conduct’, features in the October edition of Optima Magazine.  Established in 1990 Optima Magazine is delivered free fortnightly to homes in South West Hertfordshire and North West Middlesex.

In addition, Mr Elder will be reading from his work (together with poet Caroline Smith) as part of the Chorleywood LitFest on Saturday 15th October at 12.00 noon in The Junction, Christ Church.  Tickets cost £8.00 and include a Ploughman’s Lunch.  See www.chilternbookshops.co.uk or call Chorleywood Bookshop on 01923 283566.


Mr Elder is part of a department at St Augustine’s Priory which encourages pupils to explore, analyse and create poetry, being responsible for initiating the Tom Warner Workshops where pupils in the Senior School are able to discover their own poetic voice, resulting in our yearly publication, ‘Poems from the Priory’.

We here reproduce the article which appears in Optima Magazine, a short study of Mr Elder, teacher and poet.


‘Many school teachers, when faced with the challenge of getting teenagers interested in poetry, prefer to avoid the serious stuff and opt instead for poems that are overly sentimental or which are guaranteed to get a laugh.

Not so for father of two and award-winning poet Neil Elder, 45, from Harrow, who used to teach English at St Helen’s in Northwood and now teaches at St Augustine’s Priory school in Ealing. “Poetry is not all hearts and flowers, often it’s about the anxieties of modern life and reflects ideas that students are familiar with,” he says.

One poem that always goes down well with Elder’s pupils is the 1966 poem Death of A Naturalist by Irish Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, which recalls the days Heaney spent hunting for frogspawn as a child – until one day he feels the frogs have turned on him, and life changes shape. “There’s a richness of language that children can really enjoy,” says Elder.

Two other works he often uses in class are Upon Westminster Bridge, written by Wordsworth in 1802 and Blake’s poem London, published in 1794. “Blake is dark and cynical, while Wordsworth is rapturous about London,” Elder explains. “You put the two poems next to each other and because they are so radically different in their approach to the city, it gets students talking about what London means for them.”

Elder’s own poetry collection, Codes of Conduct (which won the 2015 Cinnamon Press Poetry Pamphlet prize) includes a series of poems that Elder says “examine what we think we know about one another, versus what we do know.”

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he sets these explorations of contemporary life in an office, where “the ridiculousness of the modern world” is seen through the eyes of an employee called Henderson, whose assumptions and conclusions Elder says owe much to the jaded pen-pusher Reginald Perrin (of the eponymous 1970s TV series).

For Elder, “good poetry is about communicating thoughts and ideas to people in a way that makes them recognise them with new eyes. [My pupils] can recognise thoughts and feelings that are untapped because they haven’t risen to the surface. Poetry brings these thoughts and feelings to the surface.”’

Alongside their article on Mr Elder, Optima also printed one of the poems from ‘Codes of Conduct’:

Open Plan

The firm Henderson works for has a new office:

open-plan chrome, riverside views towards the city.

But not one person in the office knows

that Henderson keeps a panther in his

spare room at home.


At weekends he spends time in the garden

walking and grooming the animal;

he brushes Sable’s coarse black coat

until it shines like tar.


In cold or wet weather Henderson

puts her on a treadmill

and she walks for miles.


What Henderson does not know

is that newly appointed Amy Bridges (Accounts)

who sits at the next desk of the open-plan office,

spends her spare time guerrilla gardening.

Tonight she’s digging in some daffodils

along the central reservation

of the road that takes her home.


If you would like to purchase a copy of ‘Codes of Conduct’ by Neil Elder it is available from the Cinnamon Press (www.cinnamonpress.com) at a cost of £4.99 per copy.


Categories: Senior Sixth Form Whole School