Books I’ve Read – Soap

Charlotte Guest’s collection, Soap, explores the transition from childhood to adulthood, with many of the poems also exploring gender identity and sexism. I connected with many of the poems in this collection, being able to relate to the feelings and ideas being evoked.

‘Autobiographical Fragment’ is a poem that explores growing up. There is a beautiful moment in the poem where notes are being passed in class and the speaker is retrospective of this kind of child-like social interaction. The girls felt so grown up and clever at the time, “she passed cryptic notes in chemistry: Everyone who loves should spend time with the periodic table”. The poem ends, “Who are we in the places we occupy? … The air makes a sound as I suck it through my teeth.” The speaker has grown and changed from that nearly-18-year-old passing notes in the classroom, but she is still discovering herself. Do we ever stop changing, growing, discovering ourselves?

My favourite poems in this collection are the second and third poems. ‘Networking Drinks’ is a poem that is about gender and race and explores how privileged people (white men) can be oblivious to inequalities and can feel that conversations around race and gender are no longer necessary. The poem ends, “we are talking underwater, sacks over our heads, like dipped witches”. What an evocative ending to explore the frustration of these kinds of conversations. The image of the ‘dipped witches’ not only captures this emotion of futileness, but also the enduring inequalities that position someone who speaks out against naivety / ignorance as ‘other’, an outsider, a witch.

My other favourite poem is ‘Egg Tempera’. This is a poem about body image, the female speaker in the poem is unhappy with her body and the sexual relationship she has with her partner is uncomfortable because of the self loathing of her body. The poem contains a rape, as the speaker is not comfortable with the sexual interaction, she cries because of her dislike of her body and the fact that this sexual interaction is not enjoyable for her. The male character does not seem to notice that his partner is unhappy, in fact is crying during sex. This poem moves beyond the personal experience of being uncomfortable with one’s weight and experiencing this kind of ‘marital rape’, to the historical and artistic representations of female beauty that have and continue to pressure women to look a particular way:

He hitches your wool skirt and ignores

the tears that tour your face and make you

think of your Renaissance sisters,

stroked into existence.


As my dad bought this collection for me and suggested that I read Guest, knowing that I would connect with her poetry, I thought I should finish by discussing Guest’s poem, ‘Daddies’. This poem is a gorgeous conversation between a dad and daughter, where the daughter questions, “Who were you before me?”. The dad responds by saying, “something about skin cells and every ten years, meaning I’ve had four fathers and am a very lucky girl.”

I am very lucky to have a dad who buys me poetry, knowing what form and content will appeal to me. Charlotte Guest is certainly writing the kind of poetry that I enjoy. She writes imagery with skill. Her poems are not complicated experimentations with language, and I enjoy the simpleness of her style. She is writing about complex ideas and emotions, which makes her poetry necessary and worth reading and rereading.


Books I’ve Read – His Name in Fire

Catherine Bateson’s his name in fire is a verse novel that follows a linear narrative, entwining the stories of a few different characters through the single event of the circus coming to town.

The verse novel combines poetry and song. Bateson writes from different perspectives and uses various poetic devices to capture the different voices of the characters.

This verse novel explores the struggles of growing up in a rural/small town, monocultural, high unemployment, teen pregnancy and low educational aspirations, for example in the poem ‘Mozza’s Goodbye’ Mozza finally finds purpose through his role in the circus, “…next cheque I’m getting a penguin suit – Ringmaster Mozza”. Prior to the circus arriving in town, both Mozza and his partner Shazza struggle to find purpose in their lives, “I’ve got a missus – practically – we’ve got a kid no jobs no money no way out”. Near the end of the book, Shazza comes to realise how much she loves the small town that she lives in stating, “…I tell you where hell is, it’s in those city streets no one saying good day no one stopping if your baby spits the dummy…”.

Bateson uses idioms and a range of characters of different ages to explore the community. In the poem ‘Mozza’s Goodbye’, the language that Bateson uses to capture Mozza’s character is genuine, as she writes, “so I hotfooted down to the caravan park head pounding like a heavy metal song”.

Bateson has constructed the ‘world’ of this small community, exploring gender, broken homes, employment/unemployment, and education and how these things impact the relationships between the characters and their self-perceptions. It is interesting how she has threaded the narratives of Shazza and Mozza, Mollie and Seb, Matthew and Emma, as well as some of the adults (namely, Emma’s dad and Matthew’s parents) to explore small-town life and the benefit that a creative outlet can have for a community that is not highly educated and do not have a lot of job opportunities.

Representations of Resistant Voices

My students really enjoyed this unit last year. We explored resistant voices in literature, examining poetry by First Nations Australians, feminist poetry, and poetry that is critical of the lives lost in the Vietnam War.

I used a strategy that I learned at university to develop my students’ analytical writing. The first step is for students to conduct a question that begins with why and to write a 500 word what in the text lead them to ask this question.

The next step is for the students to write another question beginning with why and this time their 500 words need to address why it is important that this question is asked. This is the stage that literary theory could be applied to their readings of texts.

The final step is to compose an essay. Hopefully, by this step students have a clear idea of hope they wish to approach the texts and why and are able to construct strong thesis statements.

Why Question demo

So what example

R Hall Essay Prep 2017

Extension English – Dante’s Inferno

I am so excited to be teaching Extension English this year! My year 11 class are really starting to get into the unit I’ve written that explores gender and sexuality in Dante’s Inferno and contemporary manifestations of Inferno.

We had a heated debate earlier in the term inspired by the 2016 Lionel Shriver controversy at the Brisbane Writers Festival. I asked the students to explore the question: should there be limits to who represents the experience of minority individuals/groups and how they do it? They had lots of strong opinions on the matter.

You can view the full unit of work here:

yr-11-extension-english-unit-gender-representation final

Read to Write with Maxine Beneba Clarke

Another Read to Write resource 🙂 I have a year 11 Standard English class this year and they have enjoyed this text. It’s been challenging, engaging and inspiring for them. They are eagerly writing their own stories after reading part of Clarke’s story. They are enjoying it so much that I was held back after class the other day to hear what one of the students is working on. #itdoesn’tgetbetterthanthat


TEXT: Maxine Beneba Clarke, an extract (Chpt 4) from The Hate Race, Hachette, 2016.

Text outline: An autobiography about racism in Western Sydney. The excerpt that I have selected is about the racism that Clarke experienced in primary school. Particularly striking, is the racism of the teacher.

WINNER of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award Multicultural NSW Award 2017

Shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction 2017

Shortlisted for the ABIA Biography Book of the Year 2017

‘Maxine Beneba Clarke is a powerful and fearless storyteller’ Dave Eggers, international bestselling author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Against anything I had ever been told was possible, I was turning white. On the surface of my skin, a miracle was quietly brewing . . .

Suburban Australia. Sweltering heat. Three bedroom blonde-brick. Family of five. Beat-up Ford Falcon. Vegemite on toast. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street. Except for this one, glaring, inescapably obvious thing.

From one of Australia’s most exciting writers, and the author of the multi-award-winning Foreign Soil, comes The Hate Race: a powerful, funny, and at times devastating memoir about growing up black in white middle-class Australia.

‘There is a tendency to talk about a young author such as Clarke as a ‘writer to watch’ with the expectation that she may, one day, achieve the extraordinary. With The Hate Race, she already has; don’t watch, watch out.’ Beejay Silcox The Australian

‘The Hate Race has a heft to it that is at once steeped in history, and also exquisitely and playfully modern; it is lyrical, sincere and ironic, but above all, it is fierce.’ – Books + Publishing

Shortlisted for the Indie Award for Non-Fiction 2017

Shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2017

Shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2017

Focus Question: How do our personal, social and cultural contexts shape the stories that we tell, as well as the way we might communicate our stories?


Suggested Activities

  1. What language devices does Maxine Beneba Clarke use to orient the reader, providing them information about the setting?
  2. Why do you think it is important for Clarke to provide details about Kellyville?
  3. How do the descriptions of the students and the physical setting of the primary school help to make Clarke’s story more emotive?
  4. How is Clarke using the technique foreshadowing to develop the story?
  5. Closely look at the sentence structure of paragraph two on page two, what types of sentences are used? How does Clarke make connections between her sentences, building her story?
  6. How is dialogue and tone being used to construct the characters and illustrate their attitudes?
  7. How is Clarke constructing her voice through her word choice and sentence structure?
  8. Would you describe this chapter as nonfiction autobiography, memoir, fictionalized autobiography or autobiographical fiction? Why?
  9. Who do you think is the target audience of Clarke’s story and why? Consider the final paragraphs of this chapter.
  10. Write a short story about a memorable day when you were in primary school.

 Task: You are to write a reflection title, ‘the writer I am’.

After reading and discussing the extract from The Hate Race you should have a good understanding of how the personal, social, and cultural contexts that Maxine Beneba Clarke was writing out of impact the meaning that she is communicating in this autobiography.

You are to write a one page reflection of how your own context impacts on the kind of writer that you are. You may choose to use the following points as subheadings:

  • What are the stories that I have to tell?
  • How do I tell my stories (are there key phrases or images that I use to tell my stories)?
  • Purpose and audience: Who do I write for and why do I write?

Your reflection should demonstrate your understanding of how our personal, social and cultural contexts shape the stories that we tell, as well as the way we might communicate our stories. (Outcomes: EN11-1, EN11-9)

Your response should clearly demonstrate the following writing targets:

  • analyse how texts are created in and for a variety of contexts, audiences and purposes
  • recognise the effects of your own contexts on your composing and responding
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of your own compositional style

Read to Write with Fiona Wright

Another resource for the new NSW stage 6 syllabus, Preliminary course, Read to Write module:


TEXT: Fiona Wright, ‘Page Three Girls’, Knuckled, Giramondo Publishing Company 2011, pp24-28.


Text outline: Each poem in this suit of five poems takes its title, and some lines, from an article that appeared on page three of a newspaper, as follows:

‘Despite Court Order, Bird’s Agent Sees Girlfriend’, SMH, 27/8/08. The italicised lines, quoted in the article, from a text message sent by NRL footballer Greg Bird to his housemate, after his arrest for assaulting his girlfriend Katie, with a broken glass.

Lithgow Panther a Premier Concern’, SMH, 20/09/08

‘Itsy Bitsy Yellow Bikini Helps Stunner Shine’, The Territorian, 23/11/08

‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’, SMH, 11/11/08

Husband wanted to end it all, Court told’, SMH, 12/09/08

Since February 1970, The Sun’s (a British newspaper) page 3 girls have been a national institution, as British as soggy fish and chips or not turning the central heating up enough. In this paper the page three girls were sexualised images of women. The title of Wright’s suit of poems is clearly a reference to The Sun’s page 3 girls. She is exploring representations of women in Australian newspapers, primarily the Sydney Morning Herald.

This suit of poems was published in her collection, Knuckled, in the first section of the collection, called ‘West’. Why has Wright chosen to include these poems in the section of her collection that explores / describes life in Western Sydney? Is it about what kind of stories people in Western Sydney are reading?

Focus Question

How do Wright’s poems use form and language to explore how gender stereotypes affect the stories that are told in Australian newspapers?


Suggested Activities

  1. Highlight all of the adjectives and verbs that are used to describe the appearance and actions of men and women in the poems. What do you notice about these words?
  2. Read three recent articles published in the Sydney Morning Herald and write a list of the verbs and adjectives that are being used to describe men and women.
  3. In 200 words, explain the gender stereotypes that are being represented in Wright’s poems, with references to the poems to support your discussion.
  4. As a class, discuss what you think that Wright is saying about these stereotypes, does she agree with them?
  5. Write a mini essay to answer the following question: Is Fiona Wright critical of the way that newspapers represent men and women?
  6. Why do you think that Wright has included this poem series in the section entitled ‘West’? How do you think men and women are usually portrayed in stories that you hear in Western Sydney?
  7. Write two class poems to experiment with figurative language in order to describe what it is to be male and what it is to be female in Western Sydney, in 2018.


Task: You are to compose a short text (short story, poem, prose poem) that challenges or accepts a stereotype.

After reading these poems you are to compose a short piece of creative writing that responds to a news article of your choosing and the stereotypes that they challenge ore reinforce.

You may choose to write a poem, as Fiona Wright has, to critique the article.

The text you compose should reflect your understanding of how stereotypes affect the stories that are told in the Western Sydney region and how form and language can be used to reflect these stories. (Outcomes: EN11-3, EN11-7)

Your response should clearly demonstrate the following writing targets:

  • Use stylistic features to craft and communicate a point of view on the stereotype you are addressing.
  • Use language forms, features and structures to shape meaning and influence a response.
  • Compose a creative text that reflects your perspective on the stereotype that is being challenged in the news article that you have selected.

Young writers’ column: Rhiannon Hall

It was an honour to be asked to be a young writer for the Southern Highland News’s new Young Writers’ Column! Here is the beginning of the article and a link to the full article:

I wrote this poem while I was doing a residency at Moss Vale High School in 2016. I asked the students to pick a place that was familiar and special to them.

We did a range of writing activities to encourage them to think about how they were using language (word choice, similes and metaphors) and line breaks to craft their poems about their places. The most popular activity was Lego poetry. I took a pile of Lego to the workshop with different words written on the pieces. Each student was given 14 pieces which they had to stack together to create a poem.

This is a poem I wrote about Highlands Gourmet Meats in the Mittagong Market Place, where I worked while I was studying at university. I used found lines from poems by Phillip Hall (my dad) out of his collection Sweetened in Coals in this poem.

We did a range of writing activities to encourage them to think about how they were using language.

Rhiannon Hall

Read the rest of this article and my poem here.

Read to Write – Poetry

I created this activity to introduce the ideas of read to write, one of the new year 11 modules in NSW schools. In this module students explore how reading informs, shapes, develops, improves their writing.

I attended a poetry workshop a few years ago, run by Ron Pretty, and one of the activities he had us do was to complete the poem, ‘Madonna and Child’ by Craig Powell. We were then asked to reflect on what we look for in poetry – rhyme, rhythm, imagery, etc. This activity was really valuable for me. It forced me to think about what I value most in a poem, in terms of poetic features.

intro activity what kind of reader and writer are you

Teaching Poetry

There is sometimes a misconception that teenagers will struggle to read and understand poetry that may use abstract imagery, complex language and that may reference events, people and ideas that are not familiar to the majority of young readers. As an English teacher, I have witnessed teenagers grappling with complex poetry and ideas, and feeling empowered when they are able to come up with a reading that is valid and that may be different from the teacher’s.

In the foreword to Michaels’ books Maxine Greene states, “Judith Michaels… chooses herself as a friend of her students’ minds” (Greene 1999, pX). This idea of developing a relationship with students’ minds, by encouraging them to embrace challenging texts and not be afraid of ‘intense’ reading and writing experiences, reflects my teaching pedagogy.

Earlier this year I studied the poem ‘Epilogue‘ by Ania Walwicz. This poem was complex as it critiqued the different ways that femininity has been constructed by people such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. Not all of my students were familiar with these individuals or their theories, so we had to do some research. The structure of this poem was also confronting to my students at first, as was the length of the text. However, the students enjoyed the pace of the poem. As with most of Walwicz’s poetry, it is written for performance.

We read this poem as part of a ‘Representation of Resistant Voices’ module for Advanced Preliminary English.

The students felt empowered after reading this text, which was very different from the kinds of poetry that they are usually exposed to. They were able to read this text and discuss the features and themes of the text in a sophisticated way. They were proud of themselves for managing to take on the challenge of this poem.

Many of my students, particularly the girls, were also felt empowered by the final message of the poem:

 … I take what I want.
What I want. I select. I differentiate. I choose and pick me. I accept my
story. I can live. I am in charge. I am the writer, actor and director now.
I am the supervisor. I am the doctor.

They enjoyed the idea that a woman can determine what femininity means for her.

Disclaimer: I explored this text with a gifted class of year 11 students. It does explore ideas of gender and sex that are most suitable for a senior class.

Here is a word document that provides a rubric and some ideas that I and my colleagues generated in response to this module, as well as a PowerPoint that I created to introduce some of the individuals and ideas that Walwicz references in her poem.

R Hall Essay Prep 2017