St. PATRICK’S COLLEGE #
Skrzynecki again reflectively attempts to distil past experience to make sense of the present. Using subtle language but ironic imagery, Skrzynecki paints a rather bleak portrait of his school life.
Motivated by false social climbing (status conscious) values, his mother has made sacrifices in order for him to get ahead – ‘What was best’. At the end of the poem he questions whether it was “for the best” due to the darkness he endured. This raises the eternal question about the effects of childhood; does a traumatic childhood provide grist mill (material) for writers that a trouble free childhood fails to do?
Uniforms are designed to make students fit in and identify proudly with the ethos of a school yet there is no indication that Skrzynecki feels he belongs to the school. The tone of the poem is unenthusiastic - rather lack lustre, with a chilling atmosphere reinforced by the repetition (3 times) of “For eight years” as if it were a trial of endurance, as well as the anonymity of the people even though the streets and buses are named.
The ironic imagery in “Our Lady watched/ With outstretched arms,/Her face covered by clouds” and later *“Our Lady still watching/Above, unchanged by eight years’ weather.” * questions the ability of concrete statues to provide warmth and comfort let alone protection. This is further questioned by the School Motto: Luceat (Clear) Lux (illumination) Vestra (without compare) Latin for incomparable Clear light or Let your light shine. The fact that he vandalises the motto by sticking pine needles into it and later concludes “That the darkness around me/wasn’t for the best” undercuts the symbolism of both the statue and the platitude of the motto as well as his mother’s motives.
While he concedes that he learned a lot, much of it was rote learning in a cold cheerless environment. Even the play consisting of “*chasings up and down the station’s ten ramps” * is followed by the simile of “*Like a foreign tourist/Uncertain of my destination” * revealing his lack of connection with going to a school where he had a long distance to travel. “Taking the right hand turn/Out of Edgar Street for good” seems a relief to escape with no lingering feelings of loss compounding the negative associations he appears to have with the school.
About the only vaguely positive inclusive elements in the poem are the uniforms, *“I carried the blue, black and gold/I’d been privileged to wear” and the Latin he proudly shows off in this poem.
This is an excerpt of a review of some of his work:
*Peter Skrzynecki recalls the last day of school, when ‘mass was offered up for our departing intentions’, after which the young Peter makes his way home, ‘taking the right-hand turn out of Edgar Street for good’. It is characteristic of Skrzynecki that he should locate such a crucial turning point in his life so precisely, naming the very street that led him to it. It is this impulse to map, to plot the coordinates of a life, that lies behind much of Skrzynecki’s work, forming a grid by which he reads the past and makes sense of it. *
‘The streets of Regents Park,’ he says elsewhere, ‘run through my blood / even though I don’t live there anymore’. The poems distil past experience, which the prose re-examines with a more forensic eye. ‘Strangely,’ he says, pondering both his life and his poetry, ‘the names of streets have stayed with me, stayed alive’, and their aliveness is captured, too, in that characteristically Australian fondness for streets with first rather than second names. Not just Edgar, which could perhaps be either, but streets called ‘Elaine … Barbara or Helen’. ¹
¹ Staying Alive in Mary Street by Richard Johnstone AUSTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW MAY 2004