The love song of the empty red marking pen

I didn’t think I’d be writing anything this week, because I have all the end of semester marking to do and very limited time. But I couldn’t resist having a quick look to see what Eugi’s prompt was when I knocked off for the night – and then couldn’t resist when I saw it was “everlasting“. So here is my response; a homage to Eliot and a cry for help… well, marking support anyway…

Let us go then, you and I,
when the exams and essays are piled high,
– all those plagiarised or incompetent –
and with no tutor to whom they can be sent.

The red ink curved once around the mark,
and, seeing that it was a clear pass,
drew a smiley face, and moved on.

In the exam hall the students come and go,
showing just how little they know.

And what if yet another one should show
that they have not understood –
– not understood what I meant at all?
Do I dare to give a zero?
But in a week there is no time
for decisions and revisions –
when a hundred portfolios need grading,
and once grades are uploaded,
any edit is a crime…

And would it have been worth it after all?
To squeeze the paper into a ball,
toss it in the bin and enter
an F into the sreadsheet?
For that one will come again, next year
back again into my class – another repeat.

And I have known all these solutions already,
all these ill-formulated phrases –
the “negation of friction” and “proven hypothesis”
noted grammar, content and calculation errors –
I have pinned them all,
to the rubric.

I grow old, I grow old,
my head between my hands I hold…

I have wept and binged, wept and raved,
The office smells of coffee,
and with chocolate wrappers it is paved.
I have measured out my life with lab reports…
I will spread out on the floor,
like one etherised upon a table.
Have I remembered to lock the door?
My colleagues already suspect I am unstable.

Through my window I see students wander by,
their voices, almost human, calling each to each –
but they do not call to me,
and if they did I would not answer,
for here, in piles of their portfolios,
this everlasting grading,
I am already drowned.


Filed under poem, rants

20 responses to “The love song of the empty red marking pen

  1. Oh I remember exam week – former English teacher – still have nightmares. Well written.

    • Thank you. 🙂 I think it would be very difficult to mark English essays. A lot of what I was marking was quantitative, and with a clear rubric. So time consuming and at times infuriating – I hate it when students give clearly un-physical answers. But still probably easier to mark than essays. Although I did require about 700 words of reflective writing as well. That was fun to read.

  2. Seems there is a lot of work with little appreciation, Kate. Excellent piece and thank you for joining in.

  3. Aww. Take care! Sending hugs and appreciation for teachers like you who actually struggle to grade sincerely unlike some others who would indifferently give everyone an average grade and move on with their lives. Also, I almost screamed Prufrock as I read the lines where you describe the body lying etherized on the table! Such a nice homage to Eliot indeed. Loved reading this one 🖤🖤

    • Thanks Shruba. 🙂 ❤ Although I think some of my students would have preferred I just skim-read and gave them an average mark… 😀
      Prufrock is my favourite poem, it has been since I was in high school. Many years ago when I was a PhD student I went to a conference in Poland, and took an overnight train afterwards from Warsaw to somewhere, Berlin I think or maybe Frankfurt. The carriage had sleeper benches on either side, three high, like shelves. It was just myself and one man in the carriage, which made me a little nervous. His English wasn't great and my German was terrible, but we managed to have a conversation. It turned out he taught German literature, poetry in particular. He read Der Handschuh to me, and gave a rough translation, and I had Prufrock with me and read it to him. Then we went to sleep on opposite sides of the carriage, and in the morning got off the train without exchanging contact details or anything. It was a precious encounter, and Prufrock always reminds me of it.

      • Omg that’s so beautiful. I love such unexpected encounters. It’s almost perfect how it didn’t end up with more, leaves a lot to the imagination of possibilities. Thanks for sharing this anecdote with me. Ah this makes me wish I could travel.
        Also, no matter what the students wish or say, you’re doing a great job for being so sincere about grading. It’s underrated but here is my appreciation for you. Trust me, there are some souls who mentally thank you for those precious feedbacks. Hugs ☺💜

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  6. You convey the emotion compellingly, and in pleasant narrative. I normally do not care for rhyming poetry because the poems are designed around the rhyme, rather than the rhyme facilitating the poem. In a good rhyming poem, the rhyme is nearly unnoticeable, certainly not the focus. And you pull it off nicely. Summary: a very nice poem.

    • Thank you Roger. 🙂
      I agree that rhymes often force a poem into a particular shape, and can lead them into triteness. But I do enjoy the challenge of fitting a poem into a particular rhyming form – like doing a puzzle. My more strongly felt poems don’t tend to rhyme. This one was strongly felt – but still tongue in cheek. Next year it’s exams all the way, no more 100 page portfolios! 😀

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