little mountain readings

The little mountain readings is in its 6th year. I’m so glad to be able to support local poets and poetry appreciation with the help of the South Coast Writers Center, Sturt and the Wollongong Writers Festival.
Featured poets in the past included Peter Bakowski, Monica Donoso, Philip Hall, Lorne Johnson, Kerry Miller, Peter Lach-Newinsky, Ron Pretty, Jessica Raschke, Michele Seminara, Greg Tome, Mark Tredinnick. We’ve also had local high school students attend as guest performers.

We’ve had local musicians and high school students perform original songs and covers.

This year, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson will be our featured poet. Her four collections of poetry are The Bundanon Cantos (2003), What was Lost (2007), Possession (2010) and Everyday Epic (2015). In 2010, Possession won the Victorian Premier’s Prize and the Wesley Michel Wright Prize and in 2011 was shortlisted for the ACT and the NSW Premiers’ Prizes. A song cycle and orchestral pieces written on Anna’s poetry are in performance in Europe. For many years she served on the boards of the Poets Union and its national successor, Australian Poetry and she co-edited the literary journal, Five Bells. Born in Yorkshire, she now lives in the NSW Southern Highlands.

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Books I’ve Read – A Place Like This

Herrick, S 1998, A place like this, University of Queensland Press, Queensland.

This book is the sequel to love, ghosts & nose hairs. It tells the story of Jack and Annabel who have just finished school and aren’t ready for university yet, so they decide to go traveling for a year. They end up picking apples on George’s farm.

The exploration of Jack and Annabel, two young people making time for themselves, working out who they are and learning more about what they want out of their relationship is well-developed.

The character of Emma is also interesting for me. She is George’s daughter. She’s 16 and pregnant. She got drunk at a party and was raped and is now having a baby. The poems about Emma and how she feels about school and the poems about the party and what she vaguely remembers of the rape feel honest.

Herrick’s verse novels have a cohesion to them that I like. It’s not just that the poems all tell a single narrative. What I mean by cohesion is that they all have a similar form and pace, and yet Herrick is able to capture the different voices and experiences of a range of characters.

Books I’ve Read – love, ghosts & nose hair

Herrick, S 1996, love, ghosts & nose hair, University of Queensland Press, Queensland.

love, ghosts & nose hair is the first verse novel that I read when I was in high school. It is one of those novels that I read in school which really stuck with me. We read it in English and I remember enjoying the sexiness of this verse novel. I had to do a music assignment which involved students selecting a book and choosing songs that would be ideal as the soundtrack for a movie adaptation of the chosen book. I thoroughly enjoyed imagining this novel as a movie and choosing angsty songs as the soundtrack.

Being a verse novel, love, ghosts & nose hair follows a linear narrative, exploring the story of the main character, Jack, and providing a glimpse into the lives of those who are closest to Jack. The novel begins with Jack trying to establish a sense of self. He’s “…a normal guy. An average sixteen-year-old. [He] think[s] about sex, sport, & nose hair. Sex mostly” (Sex, sport, & nose hair). Early in the novel, Jack decides, “I’m going to be a writer / beat the typewriter / not my mates / no more change-room jokes on muscles / or competitions for the smelliest socks. I’m retiring / joining the guys on the outer. / I’m going to wear dark clothes / and an intense expression” (A Writer).

Body hair is used to explore gender and develop characters in this novel. Jack describes his sister as, “tall, dark eyes, long black hair, and this faint trace of soft light hair on her top lip!” (My family [the truth]). He goes on to say, “that’s what I like about her she’s upfront other girls might wax it but not Des” (My family [the truth]). However, just as Jack is self-conscious about his nose hair: “nose hair is my destiny. Nose hair will prevent me from having sex until I’m too old to care. Nose hair is the first thing I check in the morning… Nose hair keeps my mind off girls, maths, and the adventure of sleeping” (Another poem on sex, sport, & nose hair); Desiree also goes through stages of being self-conscious: “It’s Jack who’s to blame his obsession with facial hair has got me looking at my moustache… I’m keeping mine despite my hairdresser mentioning it every time I see her” (Desiree on facial hair).

The rhyme and repetition in:

I’m going to be a writer
beat the typewriter
not my mates (A Writer).

draws attention to the socialisation of young boys that teaches that boys are meant to be rough. Boys are taught to play sport, to wrestle each other, etc, and yet Jack is challenging this.

Herrick uses imagery to establish the characters, for example, “…her Baxter boots flung over the lounge with the rest of her attached” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door). He also uses a conversational tone, “the lock on the bathroom door… when I want to write and the TV’s on / where I’m sitting now / in the bath, writing this, / thinking on day, to please Dad / I’m going to have to wear / those bloody Batman socks!” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door).

In Catherine Bateson’s verse novels Jinx and His name in fire, as well as in love, ghosts, & nose hair the teenagers are explored by comparing them with or writing about them alongside adult characters, for example, “Dad’s golf shoes on the washing machine / Desiree’s work shoes on her wardrobe … Dad’s socks, as he walks to the bathroom / Dad’s socks, soaking in the sink / Desiree’s stockings hanging from the shower rail / the run in her black ones. / My football boots, shiny, worn once / in the garbage…” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door). A poem that perhaps even better explores the complex relationships that are established between adults and young people in these texts, and the idea that we never stop trying to figure out who we are or what we want from life is, ‘Dad didn’t come home last night’. In this poem, Jack says “I thought I was the one / supposed to be out all Saturday night / not my fifty-year-old father! / why am I alone in bed / with my sensible pyjamas / and a good book? / why is Desiree snoring / when our father’s out on the town / and we’re home by midnight”.

Advertising, social media and year 8

I created this unit about advertising and social media for year 8. The focus is on how young people are persuaded to purchase products and buy into franchises, such as The Hunger Games through social media marketing campaigns.

Unit: year_8_-_like_me_2015-01-22

Some of the resources:

Books I’ve Read – Sad Giraffe Cafe

Gwyn, R 2010, Sad Giraffe Café, Arc Publications, United Kingdom.

I was so excited that my mum found this collection for me. Not only are giraffes my favourite animals, but the collection is dedicated to a Rhiannon. This book was meant to be read by me.

The second poem in this collection, ‘Spartans’, compares children in the school playground with Ancient Spartans, “I heard them in the schoolyard, the would-be Spartan warriors. Even their swearwords were thoroughbred, while my mouth was full of marbles”. I love the image of intimidation in the schoolyard, where even the poet is unable to form the words he wants.

The poems in this collection have repeating characters. All the poems are prose poems and many of them include surreal imagery, blending dream with reality. Not only are there recurring characters, but some of the settings also recur. Finally, many of the poems are linked by the theme of gender, exploring sexism, misogyny and the strength and independence of the young female character, Alice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book that seems to have been written for me. 🙂

Books I’ve Read – Failed Love Poems

Joan Fleming’s collection includes a range of different poetic styles. She has a suite of erasure poems where she has redacted (has blacked out) sections of the poems. A particular poem that stood out is ‘Twenty questions’ (p 20). This poem is addressing a past lover and there is a line, “Did the entire……………………………………………..feel intolerably / like school        Was it the careful seepage in the car                   a scent I hate / Was it the you of you…”. The idea of the relationship feeling like school is amusing and suggesting that the relationship is juvenile and finicky.

‘The brief life of the love poem’ (p27) is another poem that stood out to me. This poem personifies the poem itself, exploring the anxieties and desires of the poem as it struggles with the emotion of love. Fleming uses very little punctuation, instead using tab spaces to signifying pauses. Sometimes she is using the end of the line to emphasise a word or idea and sometimes it is the beginning of the line that seems more significant, eg “…What there are, are / wolves!           Turn back, little love poem!”. In this line the word ‘wolves’ is emphasised through the use of the exclamation mark and by being placed at the start of the line, having the gap after the word so that it is isolated on the page.

Fleming also has a series of prose poems in this collection. One of these that stood out was ‘6. Translations’ (p49). This poem alternates between the internal thoughts of the speaker, which are italicised, and a conversation with a therapist, which is written in parentheses.

The poem ‘House-sit in spring’ (p55) uses line scattering. There are some words hanging out on their own, which include ‘so’ and ‘yes’. The poem is capturing a moment in a relationship that isn’t perfect, as the man won’t / can’t drive the woman to the doctor’s when she has something in her eye. Maybe the jarred feeling of the words is meant to capture the issues in this relationship. The ‘so’ and ‘yes’ being placed on their own do mean that these words are stressed as they might be in an informal conversation where the speaker is trying to build suspense.

Another prose poem, ‘Still in it’ (p65), briefly mentions the assigning and assessing of student work as the speaker goes on a surrealist exploration of herself. This reflects that you can never escape teaching. It is a job that haunts your thoughts all the time, “I found three secateurs on a lawn, called them a family. I asked my students to write fictions of projections. Marked their poems with a B or a C. What you have to do. Small room. Weird heat of the printer, white chocolate wrapper. You call me and you have just cycled a great distance. You have the best blacks, the best dark blues. I paid for my ticket. I paid for a backpack. I walked a small distance and flew.” I could relate to this poem!

Books I’ve Read – On Western Sydney

Ahmad, M M and Castagna, F (eds.) 2012, On Western Sydney, Westside, New Serie, vol. 2, Bankstown Youth Development Service, Bankstown.

This anthology consists of poems and short stories that are written by writers who were mostly living in Western Sydney at the time of the publication and many of these texts are about Western Sydney. Some of my favourites from the anthology include:

The excerpt from Felicity Castagna’s The Incredible Here and Now reminded me of my own youth, being in the car with a friend’s older brother who was driving recklessly.

I enjoyed the uncomfortable dialogue between two strangers on a train in Amanda Yeo’s ‘Nine Minutes’. A young man from Camden hits on the young woman who narrates the story.  I liked that Camden and Campbelltown were mentioned in this short story, as sometimes I feel like South West Sydney isn’t part of Sydney, or of Western Sydney, it is pushed to the side and forgotten.

George Toseski’s short story ‘Green Tea’ is a dialogue between a young woman, her mother and her mother’s friend.

Tamar Chnorhokian’s short story ‘Flashbacks of Leon’ explores the mutual conflict and prejudice between private and public schools.

Kavita Bedford’s short story ‘The Bath’ explores a child’s realisation of domestic violence through the imagery of the squealing sound the drain makes when you pull the plug in the bath.

Lina Jabbir’s poem ‘Walk next door’ brings the suburb of Bankstown into the houses of these two neighbours, “Bankstown ‘City of Progress’ / It overflows in the backyard / Inside our house / Through the kitchen window / The sunset bright / In between construction beams / Where frosted glass stands alone…” (p80). This poem moves from describing the suburb to the small and everyday-ness of “Sipping coffee” and “Pondering your cactus” which “cut her hands  / When she reaches for the mail” (pp80-81).

Peter Polites’ ‘Passing of the Eye II’ is a coming of age story that explores the sexuality of a young gay man through the friendship of three boys.

Rebecca Landon’s poem ‘Bankstown2 (Square in the Heart)’ describes driving around Bankstown and Fiona Wright’s poem ‘The Streets I Have Loved’ describes driving home.

Frances Panopoulos’ poem ‘Puss Puss’ is another Bankstown poem.

Phillip Hall’s poem ‘Waiting in Penrith South’ captures the sounds of Penrith as Hall describes the peaceful moments of a stay-at-home-dad’s day before the school bell rings.

Fiona Wright’s short story ‘Writing about Violence’ captures the persona teaching a poetry workshop to teenagers. It explores the intimidation of the size of the boys through the repetition of “The boys are big”. The story captures the different kinds of kids that a teacher is faced with, the quiet one who struggles to know how to start, the boy who is drawing a comic instead of writing a poem and the girls who won’t let you see their work until they have built a relationship with you. The story doesn’t end with any special breakthrough where the teacher feels that they’ve had some kind of life-altering impact on one or more of the students. Instead, the story ends with doubt. The teacher feels that they are bullying students with poetry and words as they show off their intelligence and demand that the students write about their traumas.

Mariam Chehab’s poem ‘Career’ describes the pressures that young people can feel as they try to decide what they want to do with their lives. Everyone around them has an opinion.

Line Breaks

I’ve been thinking a lot about line breaks recently. Here are some of the ideas that have been influencing my experimentation with the line in my writing:

Denise Levertov has claimed that “yet there is at our disposal no tool of the poetic craft more important, none that yield more subtle and precise effects, than the line-break if it is properly understood” (265). She goes on to explain that “…read naturally but with respect for the line-break’s fractional pause, a pitch pattern change does occur with each variation of lineation” (268) and, therefore, she believes that it is important to consider what word is best placed at the end and start of a line, as these words are emphasised by the “…melos of the poem” (267).

I listened to Peter Boyle talking at Western Sydney Univesity about line breaks. He quoted Nigel Fabb, describing line breaks as units of sound. Boyle said that “poetry is tied up with language the way speak it”. He said that there are regional and national ways of speaking that are evoked in poetry. Line breaks are used to create sound in poetry as well as for surprise.

Anton Vander Zee’s introduction to Broken Things explores many different theories and discussions that have been had about the line break, including the political beginnings of blank verse, through to free verse. Zee asserts that some of the best poetry is aware of its form and is “…both critical and self-critical, holding its own elaborate fictions of form at a skeptical, questioning distance” (p6). Zee also asserts that “the line, in its many ulterior projections, might be an engine for certain ideals of progress – political, ethical, or otherwise. For some, it touches upon the most fundamental epistemological and ontological questions. One finds it caught up in theories of language, and in the very beginnings and endings of things. Remarkably, the line has become an aesthetic, sociopolitical, and, at times, metaphysical variable even as it remains deeply invested in the formal minutiae of rhythm and metrics, rhyme and sound. More than ever, the line is poetry, the radical against which even alternate and emerging poetic forms that foreground the visual or the auditory, the page or the screen, can be distinguished and understood.” (p6)

In a poetry workshop with Judith Beveridge, Beveridge spoke of “line art”. She encouraged us to think of the line not as a unit of meaning but as a unit of time. She reminded us to think about the first and last words of lines as the emphasis falls on these words because that’s where the eye falls. Beveridge said that we should use a mix of end stop and enjambed lines because one kine of line ending only becomes powerful in relation to other line endings. She claimed that only poetry deploys the line as a crucial agent of meaning as well as pacing.

Poetry with year 7

I’ve just taught a unit on perspectives through poetry to year 7. Some of my favourite poems to read with year 7 include:

William Carlos Williams’ ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ – I always begin year 7 by reading this poem with the class. I ask the students what they think the poem is about and usually I am told that it is about thirsty chickens who have luckily been able to get a drink from the rainwater that has collected in the red wheelbarrow. The students often talk about drought and sometimes about water restrictions. After we discuss the poem for a while and I ask them how many of them have chickens and a wheelbarrow in their backyards we go for a walk around the school so that students can write a poem to celebrate this new place that they are about to spend the next six years of their lives learning in. We walk through the out of bounds places and the year 7s love exploring different parts of the school, feeling like they are really getting to know this place.

Chris Wallace Crabbe’s ‘Other People’ – this poem explores the impact of war on families. The perspective on war is clear to readers of all levels. The language and sounds in the poem have left readers of varying abilities saying ‘wow’ after I read the poem to them. Students have a strong emotional response to this poem. Year 7s enjoy this poem because they understand it and at the same time it is a clever text that is using language in interesting ways. All students are able to identify language features in this poem and explore the effects of devices such as metaphor.

I also love looking at haiku with year 7 and if you are going to read haiku you have to read Basho Matsuo’s

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

I also really enjoy Mike Ladd’s Tram Stop 6 poems.

The tram departs
she grabs her phone
deletes his number

The above haiku by Mike Ladd always gets some giggles from the students who are happy to laugh at the expense of the poor man whose number has just been deleted.

Books I’ve Read – The Incredible Here and Now

the-incredible-here-and-nowFelicity Castagna’s The Incredible Here and Now captures teenage angst in a visceral way. The complication involves the death of an older brother and the tragedy of the loss of this young person has an immense impact on the other characters in the book. Castagna’s writing captures the places, cars and people that she is writing about vividly. This book is grounded in Western Sydney and captures how closed off the suburbs can feel with the only entertainment being a McDonald’s car park and the swimming pool.

I’m currently reading this book to my year 9 class and they are loving it. They frequently interrupt me to comment on the characters and places that are described in the book as they are places and characters that are familiar to the students. They have been sharing their stories about the places in the book with the class.

I recommend that all high school teachers, particularly those working in Western and South West Sydney have a read of this book and share it with their students.