Image credit: Blane Aitchison

Creative Writing: An Ode to Oxford Exams

You sit in the tedious summer gloom, 

The light from your window polluted  

With the dust from your room 

Exams are looming soon 

So you pick up your pen 

For which time? – tenth 

To toil through  

What proves to be a tomb 

Of abstract, flippant pages 

As you flip through, 

The moon rises. 

What if you let loose – for a moment or two? 

Pour what is bottled up inside, 

Throttled you, by the fireside. 

Out on the streets is a beating drum 

Here comes the carnival – innocent fun 

The moon is a mystery, life has begun 

You have a chance to outrun the sun. 

Of candy floss and fire eaters, kaleidoscopes and hand readers, sweet treats and horse riders 

Magic remains, until it decays 

Bite into the cloud candy, 

Fight through the crowds 

Howling for more –  

More food, more drink, more want, no think 

The ink from your pen shines on the cobblestones. 

From inside, fire singed eater 

Misfortunes from the reader, 

Sweet turns sickly sweeter 

Colour mourns to monochrome-  

Black, white, grey,  

But red stays – 

Deep in the fire, sunk in the streets, the thrum as you weep 

You write in the red; shed wine – carnival – carnevale, carnelevamen 

Sounds of screams, of chaos combusting, your soul contorting – sounds like: 

Carnivore – carne – levare: 

Put away flesh. 

Let us revel in this last moment, our last breaths,  

Before our blood is shed, 

Sucked up by carnations lest nations forget 

What we lost, what came next. 

Your life depends on this paper page. 

Red ink to drown you – a wave. 

Editor’s commentary:

In this poem Malak weaves together a world of intensity and relaxation to match the feeling of a gruelling exam schedule – the quick movement of the clock during the paper and the seemingly endless limbo as you recover from one exam and prepare for another. The colour theory implemented in the second half of the piece really stands out to me, in particular the multiple characterisations of red, as the colour of wine, of carnivals, of carnations, of fire, of ink, of blood. I love the contrast between the belief that the world outside will remain the same before and after exam season and the realisation that it won’t: “magic remains, until it decays”. That’s part of the emotional confusion of Oxford examinations, where everyone is at a different place in their stressful journeys and once that stress is lifted, there’s limited time for celebration before everyone has to disappear. “An Ode to Oxford Exams” captures that spirit with a haunting, unknowable beauty.

Charlie Bowden