Cards Against T.S. Eliot

Cards Against Humanity (CAH) is an incredibly popular card game self-marketed as a “party game for horrible people”. Essentially, you play with a deck consisting of two types of cards, black and white. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card. It’s like bite sized MadLibs.

 

Anyway, CAH is so popular that people are marketing their own versions. As it is the original has a variety of add-ons and alternative packs but people have leapt onto that winning formula to make Cards Against Muggles/Potter and Cards Against Disney.

 

And, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money or anything like that. Actually, I’m making it for my year 12s. I’ve blogged before that I invent and play games in the classroom and that I’ll do things that are designed to make learning memorable and this is no different. My students are studying Eliot’s poetry and I want them to be able to remember quotes from the poems as well as contextual information so it helps them with their exams. More importantly, I want them to have fun with his words and enjoy his poetry.

I’m hoping this helps.

 

Anyway, in the link below you’ll find the cards (apologies in advance if you’re fixated on the colour and shape of the original – I’ve taken some liberties). Feel free to download it, try it, and/or offer suggestions for additional cards.

 

Cards Against Eliot – link

 

 

The Magic of Teaching

Everyone acknowledges that teaching is not what it used to be. There’s a lot more pressure on educators today than there has ever been. We all know the comic strip:

parents-yelling-at-teachers

 

Back in the day, teachers were respected by students (at least to their face) or the student faced the consequences – corporal punishment kept kids in line. Nowadays, teachers are meant to be engaging and innovative. Punishments appear to have limited impact and the only way to prevent behavioural issues is by providing an environment where students are actively involved in whatever activities the teacher is running. 

 

So, how do you do this? Teaching is often likened to acting. To quote (out of context) T.S. Eliot, we “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. However, it is probably more accurate to say teachers are like magicians. Not sold? Check out the following list of terminology associated with magic and how these terms apply to the classroom. 

 

  • Ditch – to secretly get rid of an object or gimmick.

Teachers have to be flexible. You can have the best lesson preparation in the world but if you are determined to follow that plan regardless of the students’ mindset then you are going to struggle. Things happen. Students might have issues going on at home, they may have just run a 3k time trial in Phys Ed, there might’ve been a fight at recess, they might be tired, they might be hyperactive, etc. 

If you can’t recognise the mood of your students and modify your plans to suit then you’re not going to have success. It doesn’t matter how finely tuned your lesson plan is, if the kids aren’t receptive to it (for whatever reason) you’ll be ice-skating up hill for the whole period. You need to be able to change things up on the fly in order to have the most success. 

 

  • Force – where a card or other object is made to be selected by the spectator, despite the appearance of a free choice.

Modern students like to be involved in the lesson design. It’s why PBL is so successful, because students get to make a choice about what they do in a system that is generally too rigid to allow that to happen. Sometimes in the classroom you get the ability to incorporate choices in to the lesson, other times you fake it. 

You might hold votes on when assignments are due or what text you analyse. You might get groups to choose their presentation topic. You might even get students to choose what happens in a period. However, often you will modify the conditions so the choice they make is what you intended from the get go BUT, because they were involved in the decision, they feel more invested in the outcome. 

 

  • Impromptu – a trick that can be performed at a moment’s notice, usually with everyday objects and little or no preparation.

Be flexible! Remember? Sometimes you’ll find yourself with 10 minutes of unplanned class time. You might finish an activity early or you might have to wait in your classroom until it’s time to go to an assembly. Whatever the case might be, sometimes you have time to kill. 

I like to have a few activities up my sleeve that I pull out in these instances. My go-to, and one I often use at the start of a lesson to keep students occupied while I take the roll, is the 9 letter word puzzle. I’ll choose a word connected to our current topic and have the students see how many words they can come up with using those letters. I’ll award some sort of prize for the kid/s who finish with the most words. 

9

Having these sorts of things handy, that only need a whiteboard marker and/or pen and paper, can be the difference between calm and chaos. 

 

  • Misdirection – psychological techniques for controlling attention.

This! In any given classroom there are a thousand distractions. Being able to redirect students’ attention from potential distraction is an art form. 

 

  • Patter – The dialogue used in the performance of an effect. Patter styles may differ from magicians to magicians – some prefer a serious patter, while others opt for a light hearted humorous patter to relax the audience and try to catch them off guard.

Some teachers are super serious, others are lighthearted larrikins. Whatever persona people adopt in the classroom, they do so because it suits their character and they’ve determined it works for them. For some teachers, their demeanour depends on the class’ age and academic ability. 

 

  • Sleight – a secret move or technique.

Despite the fact that classrooms are public spaces, not everything that happens needs to be public knowledge. Confronting a student about their misbehaviour can often occur as a private conversation, preventing it from escalating into something much larger than it needs to be. Printing materials on coloured paper for the class can allow you to cater for a dyslexic student without drawing attention to their disability. And… education doesn’t have to be overt. Games and interactive activities can be used to teach concepts without bogging students down in book learning or ‘chalk and talk’. 

hogwarts staff

^ these aren’t the teachers I was meaning when I said that educators are magic but you see it now, right?

Professional Poet

They say ‘write what you know’. Well, what I know is teaching.

 

In a poetry workshop on Thursday I was talking about T.S. Eliot and how his life, and changes therein, are clearly evident in his verse. As part of that conversation I mentioned that when I look back on my poetry there is a clear motif: teaching.

 

Poems about teachers, students and classrooms are also among my most popular (if Facebook likes are anything to go by) so I thought I’d collate some of them here. Where possible, I also thought I’d share some bits and pieces about when/if these poems were published and what inspired them.

 

The Teacher

 

He sits and surveys his environment;

An empty classroom with messy desk and

messier floor. He takes some chalk in hand,

breathes in, and releases some of his pent

 

up anger on an unsuspecting door.

For every hour in which he looks

up teaching tools in scholar’s books

he spends another hour, maybe more,

 

questioning why some students seem as though

they don’t care about their education.

He was never short of motivation and drive,

whether teacher or parent stood as his foe.

But now, when asked of his vocation

he whispers, “They have eaten me alive.”

 

This poem is the first one I wrote about the profession. It was inspired by Gwen Harwood’s “In The Park” and is a reflection of the feelings that sometimes plague teachers of apathetic adolescents. Like the next three poems presented here, it was first published in my collection, If God is a Poet.

 

Chalkie

 

Oh, I’m sorry. Was it not clear enough? Did you not hear enough to know what to do? Where does the blame fall; is it on me or you?

 

Cause I’m standing up here at the front of the class, busting my arse to get you to pass but, then, you don’t do the work.

And, you might think I’m a jerk, because I shout once in a while and I refuse to smile on the day an assignment’s due. Well, that’s bloody hard to do when I’m disappointed in what I get back because you’re too slack to do it. You say, ‘screw it’.

 

But I’ve sat too many hours working at home; telling my wife and kid to leave me alone because I’m thinking of you and what you want to be.

Well, what about me? Can’t you see things from my point of view?

This is not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to sculpt minds like an artist does with clay.

I chose this career to make a difference every day,

Not to baby-sit some little shit who’d rather spit on me than listen to what I say.

 

Yet, I wake every morn just after dawn;

Shower and dress for school,

Because I’m desperate to find that jewel,

That’s inside each kid,

That pearl of wisdom that’s hid deep down inside –

Trying to hide from the taunts of peers.

Because, its all between our ears,

These fears that hurt out chest,

As we hide the best of us from the rest of us,

And as each day goes by,

All I can do is try,

Because I know,

That when these kids grow,

They’ll look back and say,

‘He made a difference that day’.

 

This is the first poem I ever performed at a poetry slam. It was written in two sittings with the first being at the end of a long and frustrating day and the second being the next morning when I had had an opportunity to calm down.

 

Ch!ld K!ller

 

Armed to the teeth I stand,

a sea of students before me.

Some chatter,

Some stand,

Others throw projectiles across the room.

 

I strike!

But no holy water

nor silver bullet

will work against these beasts.

 

Cornered, a light bulb springs from the top of my head…

 

I cage one like a canary.

In the mine that is society,

I hang Him.

His death, barely noticed,

is mourned by few

whose white masks muffle their warnings.

 

The End is broadcast on TV news,

missed by the comatose on the couch.

 

This poem is a bit Roger McGough in tone and has a title that, in hindsight, is probably not what a teacher wants associated with them.

 

A Lesson

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves…”

 

What’s a fucking brillig?

 

I said when we started that all you need to do

is listen;

and that sort of language has no place here.

 

Now…

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.”

 

They’re not real words.

You’re making this shit up.

 

Just listen, please.

I am reading it

Exactly as it is on the page.

 

“All mimsy were…”

 

This is gay.

 

I can only assume you mean ‘fun’

As inanimate objects cannot be homosexual.

Now, I apologise.

I chose this poem as it is one of my favourites

but perhaps I aimed too high.

Here’s one that might be more appropriate…

 

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

 

 

Again, teenagers can be frustrating. But, it was an ex-student who exposed me to the poem alluded to in the last line.

 

These Kids

 

I know these girls who wouldn’t recognise themselves if they looked at their body through my eyes.

This isn’t limited to body image and the constant corrosion of natural beauty, this is an acknowledgment of the limitations of their self-worth.

I know these girls who are so caught up in their own imperfections they don’t know how perfect they are. These are the girls who apologise for having emotions; girls who apologise to inanimate objects; girls who apologise for needing help. These are the same girls who display extraordinary skill, girls whose compassion is like hot cocoa on rainy days, girls who light up a room just by being there.

I know these girls that are so down on themselves they can’t fathom how I hold them in high esteem. I know these girls I wish my daughter could grow to be like and yet they don’t like themselves.

I know these girls.

 

I know these boys who think the only way they’ll be accepted is if they’re tough. These boys who beat down on each other; boys who punch and push, cheat and steal; boys who find fault in others to mask their own flaws.

I know these boys who sandpaper their sensitivities. These boys who resort to attacking because they don’t want to be seen as lacking in any way, shape or form.

I see these boys who are confused. They are tethered to the horses of society that are dragging them this way and that, threatening to pull them apart. They are told to let it all out, to talk, to cry. They are told to hold it all in, keep quiet, bottle it all up. They are told to write, paint, sing. They are told to work, run, fight.

I know these boys I don’t want my son to become but it’s the world that needs to change, faster than it already is. When the world becomes tolerant and accepting, so too will our boys – my boy among them.

I know these boys who don’t yet know themselves.

I know these boys.

 

This poem was not, as you might expect, inspired by students. One of the “girls” referenced is actually a friend of mine at work who has been merged here into a bigger observation that encompasses a number of people I have had the pleasure of teaching and working with. Neither this one nor the next three have been sent off for possible publication.

 

Hello everyone,

Welcome to English.

I know you want to pass

and in order to get there you’ll want feedback but this is how it works in my class:

see three, then me.

This isn’t some sort of work avoidance policy on my part,

it is simply something put in place to help you recognise that education is a privilege not a right.

You can – and will – have my help,

but ‘work’ in my classroom is a two way street and you have to meet me in the middle.

I will not spoon-feed you.

I will not coddle you.

I will not strap you to a chair and forcibly move your hand until your pencil draws recognisable letters on your page – even though for some of you it feels like that’s what it would take.

No, if you choose to be academically inactive,

that’s a choice you make.

It’s a choice you have the ability to make and you do so, ignorant of the number of people worldwide for whom education is denied.

You; (predominantly) white, middle class male.

This world is yours yet you pollute it with bad decisions.

Poor choice after poor choice – I walked in your shoes for a while before finding a better path.

At least for me, as it is for you, there is a path.

Be thankful for that, there are many who would die for the opportunities afforded you.

So, before we move on,

are there any questions?

 

This as yet untitled poem continues that theme of teenage apathy but gives reference to two personal situations. The first is an acknowledgement of my own misdeeds as a student, the second is an allusion to my school’s (forcibly) cancelled attempt at supporting the “Do It In A Dress” charity to raise money for girls in Africa to get an education.

 

Lit 2016

I wrote a poem for last year’s class and so I’ve set myself the task of writing one for you, but I suck at goodbyes and I’ve already had three tries at writing this and nothing feels quite right. I guess what I want to say is you’ve got this but the trick is to maintain your grip because the last thing you want is to let slip the opportunity you’ve spent years working towards. You see, the future is yours but it doesn’t come for free – work smart, study hard. Not that exam results are an indicator for later success, just that there’s little point putting yourself through all this stress only to stumble and fall when it matters most. T.S. Eliot said “there will be time” but that time is better spent on revision rather than indecision – that can come later, you have your whole life ahead of you. Most importantly, before you leave, I just want to say that I believe in you. You are each far more capable than you give yourself credit for and one day, when you’re thinking about who you are and what you want to be, I hope you see in yourself what I see when I’m looking at you: endless possibility.

 

FAITH (Lit 2015)

Some of you haven’t always liked me. Some of you might not like me now. Some of you don’t “get” poetry and you might be asking how or why I would ever want to write a poem about us. But, then, that’s not what this poem will do because every time I mention me it’ll be more as a reflection of you. You make me, distort me, reshape me to be the person you need me to be. At times, for some of you, all you’ve needed is an ear – someone to hear the rumble of your world shaking or the crack of your heart breaking or something far less severe. Perhaps it is my calm demeanour that encourages you to open up to me but there have been plenty of times I’ve been meaner than I need to be because that’s what you’ve required. It’s not me, it’s you. And the reversal of that tired old cliché seems like the most honest thing I can say in a situation that feels a lot like we’re breaking up.* We’re heading in different directions and you’ve outgrown me. Some of you will probably disown me while others will insist “we can still be friends” on Facebook as long as I don’t make you face another book you’d rather burn than analyse. God, I suck at goodbyes. I guess all I really want to say is… in Chapter 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale Offred sat at the window seat and imagined throwing something at the Commander and we, as readers, understand this to be an act of passive rebellion brought about by a cushion in her room that has writing on it despite the fact it is illegal for her to read. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, in the time I have taught you, I have rebelled (passively and aggressively) for much the same reason as Offred. You see, FAITH is what the cushion read and both in my heart and in my head I have faith. Success will come, perhaps earlier for some, but I have faith in all of you. Timbuktu; kangaroo; yabbadabbadoo.

 

These two poems, not necessarily presented here as they were initially intended, were written for students. They were, in a way, a thank you gift for their hard work and dedication throughout their final year of high school. Both reference texts we studied during the year.

 

This is not a test

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Row by row they sit,

minute by minute the clock ticks

their life away.

 

Shade in the bubble –

A

C

B

A

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

A round peg will fit

in a square hole

if you plane down the edges.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

The uniformity of boys

grown into men in suits,

pleated girls who’ve become

pencil-skirted women –

all clad in 2B or HB grey.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

You make love

with military precision,

timetabled

according to ovulation.

In, out, in, out –

a seed is sown,

a child begins to sprout

and in nine months

it makes its scheduled appearance.

Crying controlled,

toilet trained,

bred to fit the mould.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Clock in

for your accepted activities,

normalised notions

of right and wrong.

You drive between the lines

you once strived to colour inside.

Clock out.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

 

Finally, this poem began as criticism of standardised testing but developed into a critique of society in general. It was published recently by Other Terrain Journal.

 

Anyway, that’s enough. I won’t burden you any further.

 

 

 

Drowning at work

The problem with people is that we are human. Humanity has one great design flaw that makes us as equally capable of destruction as we are of creation. That is, we are driven by our emotions.

Our thoughts and feelings drive our actions but we are, unfortunately, affected by a negativity bias.

When thinking of metaphors to explain this I first thought of an anchor but it’s not an accurate symbol for what negativity does. Negative thoughts and comments don’t just weigh down an individual, they have an impact on those around them. Negative people have their own gravitational pull, sucking others into their conversations and behaviours. It has a snowballing effect, where the negativity grows with each new comment and complaint.

 
I hate my office at the moment. I love the people but the vibe between those four walls is cancerous and black. When your job is teaching teenagers, the office is often an oasis – a paradise amidst the harsh desert of the classroom. When the ‘perfect’ lesson doesn’t go to plan, when the apathy is insurmountable, when ‘that’ kid is in a mood, you take solace in the company of your colleagues who are all in the same boat. But it’s hard to enjoy the ride when people are drilling holes in the hull.

 
I’m tired of trying to keep us all afloat. Each effort made to raise morale seems to be undercut – the negative undercurrent is too strong. So I’m going to don a life jacket and float away for a while.

Mandurah Makos miss the Mail

I play football – not very well but I give it a red hot go. I also write. Fortunately, considering my profession, my skills with a pen or a keyboard are far better than my skills with a boot and a ball.

Anyway, because of my writing nous, the club has asked me to put some articles together for the local newspaper. It’s an interesting prospect and a challenge I’m happy to undertake – a challenge because it’s a writing style I’m not practiced in. 

The Mandurah Mail has been good so far; they published this piece. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the space for this one:

Makos March to 2017 Season

 

On Sunday the 26th of March, the Mandurah Makos finished up their preseason preparations with an impressive showing against the Rockingham Rams.

The scratch-match, played across six ‘quarters’, allowed the players the opportunity to shake off some of the cobwebs that had appeared over the off-season. Despite being played in blustery conditions, the players worked their way into the game and showcased why, despite their age, Masters footballers are still an exhibition worth watching.

Integral to the Makos’ success on the day were the midfield contributions of Matt Dunn, Brendon King and Steve Thomson who provided ample supply to 5-goal forward, Michael Griffifths. Tod Holderhead was at his bullocking best while Kieran Eiffler recovered from a head knock to kick an important goal. The Pattinson brothers, Grant and Brett, were constructive at half forward and half back respectively but play of the day came from Ronnie Barton who kicked the impossible goal – a checkside banana from the boundary line. More importantly, the coaches were buoyed by an even performance described by club president, Tony Wilkey, as an “encouraging team effort throughout from all grades in preparation for the season opener”. 

The Makos didn’t have it all their own way; however, as Rockingham were well represented by Pieter Wilson, Shane Parry and Geoff Adams who were the best players in their age group.

If you are interested in playing Masters footy or joining the Mandurah Makos as a social member, you can contact Tony Wilkey on 0421 708 764.

So, I thought I’d give it the Titus O’Reily treatment. Here goes:

Mandurah Makos vs Rockingham Rams

 

This was Mandurah’s second competitive hit out of the preseason. Their first was against the Thunderbirds. The blokes always look forward to competing against the ladies. The women come out firing, hunting the ball with ferocity, while the men just go out there looking for a touch. The sexist banter in the change rooms afterwards is also pretty solid; cracks about hardball gets and so on. The game against Rockingham was against other men though, so the post-match banter was exactly the same. Boys will be boys after all. 

This annual fixture between friendly rivals is always an odd one. The game itself goes for six quarters, which goes to show why footballers aren’t exactly known for their intellect, and three age groups roll through as the teams see fit. That is, the blokes run out on the ground and see just how unfit they’ve become in the off season and are replaced one-by-one with players who have remembered that training has started for the year. 

The wind was really cranking that day which was a blessing for the players who blamed their poor skills on the blustery conditions and not their own preparation. Not that all of the fellas on the field struggled. Dunny showed everyone that his nickname is ironic by not being shit, Thommo played the game like someone who teaches other people how to play footy for a living, and G kicked a bag of goals. 

The Patto brothers did little to help people remember which one’s Grant and which one’s Brett but they did well on the field. Kieran took a big knock to the head and came out of the game making more sense than he normally does while Kingy undid his work with the ball as a player by trying to take a mark while he was wearing the umpire vest, and Toddy proved that a ginger ninja covered in sun cream is a hard beast to tackle.

Highlight of the day was a checkside banana by Neville Bartos if he does say so himself. And he does. Nev is one of my nicknames and probably the most used one behind Dickhead. It was an Eddie Betts like goal and, just like Eddie, I lack confidence with my set shots. Unlike Eddie, my shorts actually fit me and don’t look like a small circus tent. Another thing that separates me from the Crows’ superstar is that my goal was a fluke and probably won’t stop me from being relegated to my usual spot of back pocket. 

Anyway, the Makos won this game even though we don’t keep score. Even if we lost I’d probably say we won, it’s not like it matters. Most importantly, no one got injured. No, the most important thing was that the post match snags were hot and the beer was cold. If that had been the other way around, it would have been the worst possible outcome for all involved. 

Stay classy, Mandurah.

Banksy: the people’s protestor

My year 10 students are studying texts as vehicles of protest and I’m trying to expose them to a wide variety of visual, written and aural works but we’ve hit a wall. This isn’t a bad thing because Banksy has hit the same wall and we’re finding his art to be rich media for discussion. We’ve unpacked pictures of stuffed animals being transported to their eventual slaughter, lovers fixated with their mobile phones, kissing coppers, children interacting with or acting as soldiers, people (including Jesus) reluctant to let go of their shopping, heart-shaped balloons, bouquets of flowers, and a number of other powerful protests that critique aspects of our political, social, and economic zeitgeist.

 

Currently I’m asking them to write Short Answer Responses – a bizarre new text type that has been born out of a perceived need to have students analyse more without increasing the marking load of teachers and examiners. Each of the samples I’m providing below are individual pieces, so ignore the fact that I’ve rehashed the same topic sentence/thesis statement across all three. Next week I’m going to show them how, with a little bit of tweaking, we can turn these responses into a comprehensive 5 paragraph essay.

 

Why am I sharing this here? In studying/teaching Banksy’s art I have come to really appreciate the technique, aesthetic and depth of his work. Why wouldn’t I share this with that in mind? So, here you go. Below are three pieces and the sample responses I’ve written as exemplars for my students to follow.

Happy reading!

 

banksy-trouble

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages anarchism through its symbolism, composition and epigram. The salient part of the image is the familial relationship depicted on the right hand side. Here we see a young man in stereotypical punk garb being doted on by his mother, a conventional housewife. The man’s costuming includes a Mohawk styled as liberty spikes. This particular hair style alludes to the Statue of Liberty which is a famous symbol of freedom and acceptance suggesting these are the ideals the man is fighting for. Furthermore, the pole for the anarchist flag he carries points at the lunch his mother has prepared for him (which consists of a flask, bag and green apple). It is a lunch one might take to work and it is this connotation, and the symbolism of the apple, that suggests rebellion is not only natural but is our responsibility. Reinforcing this is the epigram on the left hand side. The black and red colour scheme connects the young man to this message and is used to signify both power and danger. These words belong to the mother and express her maternal instincts with the instruction to “Eat Your Lunch” as well as the encouragement to “Make Some Trouble” in his fight for his rights and freedom. Most prominent in this text is the message to rebel as the bright red stands out against the dull colours and provides a connection with the man’s bandana. This, then, guides the viewers’ gaze back to the mother who straightens this mask the way she might fix a tie, thus reinforcing the theme of the image – that it is our responsibility to stand up against governmental oppression.

 

banksy_cctv

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages passers-by to question the nature of surveillance through its composition, epigram and symbolism. People walking along the footpath might first notice the policeman and his canine companion who are at street level, they will then follow their gaze (and the angle of the dog’s body) which point to the large white writing and the child ‘painting’ it. This message written here states “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV” which is an allusion to the Pledge of Allegiance but with references to God replaced with CCTV. One reading of this is that people used to modify their own behaviours because they were trying to please an omnipotent deity but now they do so because they fear that they are being watched by a government that uses surveillance cameras to monitor their every move. This is reinforced with the stencilled policeman holding a camera and the strategic placement of this graffiti next to a surveillance camera. Furthermore, despite his apparent criminal activity, the child in the image maintains their innocence. This is, in part, because they are youthful (young age being synonymous with innocence and naivety) but also by interpreting their red hoodie as an intertextual nod to Red Riding Hood – a tale that includes a naïve child stalked by a murderous wolf. This, then, puts the government in the position of the antagonist. By combining these elements, audiences can determine that Banksy’s artwork is an homage to the themes in George Orwell’s 1984 and, as such, is critical of the government’s access to information about its citizens.

 

bansky-smiley-face-police-angels

The provided image is a photograph of a gallery piece by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that uses symbolism, juxtaposition and irony to warn viewers of governmental oppression. Foregrounded in this image is a figure in riot gear hanging from the rafters of a building with an indeterminable number of similar figures hanging around them. The costuming immediately identifies these characters as representative of law and order with the dull colours and assault rifle connoting blind uniformity and violence. This is juxtaposed against the bright colours of the angel wings and smiley faces that have been superimposed onto the stencilled figures. Both of these additions signify ‘goodness’ through the associations developed from their use in popular culture and social media. One reading of this piece, then, is that police and armed forces do God’s work for the benefit of society. However, as Banksy is known to criticize the government and law enforcement in his other works this depiction is most likely satirical. The more cartoony elements are then presumed to be used ironically, and therefore assume greater importance in producing meaning. This is reinforced through the vectors in the composition as the butt of the gun points to the wings and the curve of these wings, as well as the figures’ shoulders, point to the smiley faces. An alternate reading, then, regards these smiley faces in a similar vein to how it has been subverted in Punk music iconography and the comic, Watchmen, where it is worn by a corrupt and violent superhero. As such, it can be assumed that Banksy has used symbolism, juxtaposition and irony in this piece to suggest that police and other authority figures hide their corruption and oppression behind a facade of wholesomeness and protection.

 

Ru (//) Cercle -a magical night around a campfire

Sometimes life throws up these little idiosyncrasies, these serendipitous moments that suggest there is more to this world than what we can see, that we are all performers on God’s stage.

Tonight I went to a fringe show. The last time I saw tonight’s performer was roughly a fortnight ago when he and I were in the audience of a poet who was, in turn, in the audience tonight. I’m a big fan of both of these people but I never expected to see the other when I arrived at each venue – I only expected to see (or even know) the performer.

There’s more to this. Tonight’s performer was Zal, an ex-student of mine, operating under the pseudonym Ru (his musical moniker). When I arrived at the show I bumped into another ex-student who had also come to see him. This ex-student was Chloe, the girl (young lady) who designed the cover of my poetry anthology. It was at the launch of this book that the three of us were last in the same place at the same time – I read some verse, Chloe explained her design and process, and Zal performed during the intermission. It’s like we’ve come full circle (or Cercle in this case).

Zal went by his own name then. He was part of a close knit trio named Kids With Wolves and their music was phenomenal; each time I heard them play I would walk away uplifted and inspired to write. Creative differences saw the band split and two of them formed The Woods but they eventually dissolved too and Zal reinvented himself under the stage name Ru.

I think I’ve been to seven of his gigs now, tonight’s fringe show included. I wasn’t sure, initially, if I would be able to see him perform this time around but I’m so glad that I managed to go because tonight’s performance was vastly different to all I’ve seen him do before. I’m hoping, in my description of what I witnessed tonight, my lack of musical knowledge doesn’t take away from the quality of the event.

Prior to the final song, Zal imparted some of his world view on the audience. He reminded us that while we are chasing our dreams all those around us are also chasing theirs and we should not seek to better ourselves at their expense, rather we should bring them up with us. Whether he did it intentionally or not (and I’m thinking he did), his stage design reflected his ideals. Traditional band set ups involve the musicians standing at the front of the venue with the audience before them while on stage the band members form a visible hierarchy with those deemed more important (e.g. the lead singer) closest to the front of stage.  Tonight’s set-up was far more intimate and far more equitable. In the middle of the room was a fake fire and the four performers stood around this with the audience circling them. No one had a prominent position; it was Zal’s show but all of the musicians had equal footing in the eyes of those in attendance.

With regards to those musicians, Wayan “Billy” Biliondana played the double bass. Alongside Zal’s guitar, this was the main source of music for the evening (with shakers coming out late in the set). Billy also added his vocals to a couple of songs and, when he did so, it added another dimension to them that wasn’t present in the other pieces. This isn’t a slant on those songs (or the vocalists), merely an observation and a comment on his deep voice. Speaking of vocalists, Anikka Moses seemed to be loving life and was a joy to watch. Anikka looked genuinely excited not just to be there but to sing each line, even for the occasions where she had no lyrics, per se, and was just crooning. She would also channel the other musicians, often staring at them intently as she was harmonising with their voice or instrument. Laura Strobech, the other vocalist, was equally amazing. At times her singing reminded me of Kate Miller-Heidke, at other times she was so much like a Disney princess I wouldn’t have been surprised if cartoon birds landed on her shoulders, then there were other times when her voice was unlike anything I’d heard before.

Then there was Zal: guitar-playing, song-singing, story-telling, soul-sharing Zal. The songs we heard were his babies, brought to life by a variety of experiences that we are blessed to experience a fragment of. Musically he is part Newton Faulkner, part Paul Simon and all Zal.

Tonight’s gig was the end of a journey but Zal is a man of the earth and there are many more roads to walk – I look forward to seeing where his music takes him next.

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PS – there was a weird part during the performance tonight where the fire alarm started sounding for no reason and we had to wait for the State Theatre staff to confirm it was a false alarm before the show could go on. Anyway, while we were waiting Laura gave us this classic joke:

  1. How do you titillate and ocelot?
  2. Oscillate its titalot.

I hate Harry Potter

LOL jk (rowling)

 

But I did. When I first read The Philosopher’s Stone I couldn’t suspend reality enough to enjoy it. Specifically, I couldn’t suspend the reality that I was an adult reading a book that was written for children. The first Harry Potter book was written for adolescents and, as such, is a little simplistic. I was also late to the party. I was reading it based on the numerous recommendations that had come from kids and adults alike and, to me, it failed to live up to the hype. I thought the concept was cool and I liked the inclusion of mythological creatures but I was bored by the writing style.

I wish now that I’d listened to people’s suggestions to read The Chamber of Secrets despite my first impressions. If I had picked up the second book then I would have realised my hesitations were unfounded earlier and I could have been swept up in the euphoria of each new book/movie release. Instead, I waited until I was in my late 30s and have had to settle for the diminished fanfare that escorted the release of the scripts of The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Ultimately, it was daughter who got me to give Harry Potter a second chance. She’s an avid reader but, at seven years of age, most of the books written for her year level don’t offer enough of a challenge so I gave her my old copy of The Philosopher’s Stone. I’d ask questions after each chapter to see if she was grasping what was happening (while I skim read chapter summaries online to remind myself what happened). When she finished the book we watched the movie – which got her younger brother hooked. Well, that and the Lego Harry Potter games on the Playstation. From there our house became a second Hogwarts with witches and wizards becoming key characters of their role playing games.

I knew that my daughter would want to continue reading the series so I picked up The Chamber of Secrets and began reading so we could continue to bond over the events therein. Then, when I finished that book I went out and bought the next one and the next one and the next one and so on. I was hooked. More than that, I am overjoyed by the fact my daughter is hooked too. Thus far she’s read the first four books but we’ve asked her to hold off on the next one until the next school holidays. As a family, we’ve also watched the first five films – I’m sure we’ll see the others soon.

What makes the books so engaging? Why am I excited to have my kids engaged in that world? There are a number of reasons. Here are three of them:

 

  1. Girl power

The protagonist, his best mate, the headmaster, the tormenting teacher, the nurturing gameskeeper, the villain and a slew of other important characters are all male but it is the supporting cast of females that steal the show.

  • Minerva McGonagall is a sass queen and a total bad-ass while also being a fair and nurturing mentor for the students at Hogwarts.
  • Hermione Granger is intelligent, fierce compassionate, independent yet loyal, and is possibly the only reason Harry and Ron ever lived long enough to graduate.
  • Luna Lovegood is kooky and off-beat but she is one of the most observant and empathetic characters in the whole series. Yes, she can often be tactless, but she is a loyal and true friend to Harry and his crew.
  • Bellatrix Lestrange is cruel and unpredictable. She is supremely talented, amazingly powerful and downright scary.
  • Ginny Weasley is a force to be reckoned with despite her age and stature. Like many women who grew up in a house full of brothers, she definitely knows how to take care of herself.
  • Nymphadora Tonks brings light and laughter into dark and dire situations. She is unconventional and damn proud of it.

In each of these women is something for my daughter to aspire to (yes, even in Bellatrix) and something for my son to respect, admire and love.

hermione

 

  1. Oh… What a world, what a world!

In Harry Potter’s London, both the muggle and the magical world are incredibly detailed. Such is the beauty of Rowling’s descriptions that it is easy to imagine what each setting looks like. But when I talk about ‘the world’ in the books I mean more than just the locations. The planning that has gone in to each book and the hidden details that hint at later events that you don’t notice until you return to the ones you’ve already read make the series that much more enjoyable. Here are some of my favourite foreshadowed moments and subtle clues:

  • Remus Lupin’s name is a dead giveaway. “Remus” comes from the Roman tale of Romulus and Remus who were raised by a wolf and “Lupin” comes from the Latin word for wolf. Other characters also have names that hint at their nature.
  • When Arthur Weasley takes Harry to the Ministry of Magic the secret entrance is a phone-booth in which Arthur dials 62442. If you were ‘lucky’ enough to grow up in a time when letters and numbers shared the same keys on your phone, you’d realise this spells out the word “MAGIC.”
  • The Vanishing Cabinet (so important late in the series) first appeared in The Chamber of Secrets, Sirius Black is first mentioned at the start of The Philosopher’s Stone, in the same book Snape’s mind-reading abilities (revealed in Book 5) are alluded to, and the relationships between Bill and Fleur, Hermione and Ron, and Harry and Ginny are all hinted at much earlier than you might first think.
  • The Marauder’s Map is signed by Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs who die in the exact reverse order of when their name is listed.
  • Shaun of the Dead fans know that the whole plot of the film is encapsulated in a conversation at the start of the movie. Well… The Goblet of Fire does this too. Harry’s made up prediction that “on Monday I will be in danger of, er,  burns… Tuesday, I’ll… erm… lose a treasured possession” coupled with Ron’s addition of “Why don’t you get stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a friend?” mirrors the events of the Tri-Wizard tournament.
  • 3s – 3 Deathly Hallows, 3 Unforgiveable Curses, 3 friends (Ron, Harry, Hermione), 3 bullies (Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle).
  • Harry is a horcux – hinted at by Dumbledore in The Chamber of Secrets and Trelawny in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • In The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Trelawney refused to sit at the table where she would be the thirteenth person sitting as she believed that the first person to stand up from that table would be cursed and die which eventually happens to both Sirius and Lupin.

But enough of the spoilers. The point is, Peter Pettigrew sized plot holes aside, J.K. Rowling is a genius.

snape

 

  1. Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

I have always loved Greek, Roman and Norse mythologies; the tales of their heroes and the fantastic beasts they fought. As such, the Harry Potter universe is an absolute delight with all the allusions to these myths and creatures. There are a number of other parallels that can be drawn too – Voldemort is Hitler, Dementors are depression and the effect mental illness has on a person, Hermione and S.P.E.W. represent various human rights movements, muggles/wizards/goblins/house-elves/giants and so on represent different races, Hogwarts (with its bullies, exams, homework, tormenting teachers, nurturing teachers, relationships, etc.) represents the typical school experience.

Naturally, with all of this real-world reference, there is also real-world relevance. The Harry Potter series teaches us so much about what it means to be a good person and about what it takes to survive in this cruel world of ours. Don’t believe me? Check out this link.

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Maddie Godfrey’s body IS a poem

and her fringe show is a body of work that is definitely worth seeing. I first met Maddie on the 18th of March, 2015 – I know because I blogged about it and I’m only really mentioning that this is when we met because I want it known that I knew Maddie before she became an internationally acclaimed, kick-ass poet. And kick-ass she does. She’s won slams in Australia and the UK, performed at the Sydney Opera House, competed in New York and featured in multiple festivals.

 

Anyway, today is the first day since our first meeting that I’ve seen her perform live. If My Body Was a Poem is 45 mins of intimacy. Yes, she performs in short shorts and a bra and does these little sexy dances between poems but that’s not the sort of intimacy I’m talking about. Maddie invites you into her life, tells you the details of her birth, shares (with nostalgic reverie) aspects of her childhood and spills the secrets only her body knows.

 

She opens with some provocative dancing before welcoming the audience into her show, telling the story of how it came to be a seamlessly blending into the titular poem. If you’re happy to have this spoiled for you, a video of this particular poem can be found on her Facebook page. We clap at the end of this piece but it’s one of the few times we do. Often tonight I found myself so awestruck by the power of Maddie’s words that I literally forgot to applaud; I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor that by the time it was back in place it was no longer the right time to clap. At other times, clapping was just not appropriate. When I said earlier that Maddie spills the secrets only her body knows, she spills all the secrets and some of them are pretty dark.

 

Not that it’s all doom and gloom. There were genuine laughs from the audience. My favourite one of these (SPOILERS) was when the words “my dad” were uttered directly after some sultry dance moves and the juxtaposition of these two ideas brought nervous laughter out of everyone in attendance.

 

Beyond the words themselves, Maddie is an expert performer. Her shadow is deliberately cast onto the wall behind her in such a way that it becomes a persona of its own. It is a powerful image. She also uses silence in a manner that makes the absence of sound carry its own meaning and its own weight. As for the words themselves, they’re beautiful. I said after the show that you would hear an image so striking you wanted to commit it to memory but before you could do so there’s another line equally as poignant. I wanted to keep so much of what was said so I could share it with people but there was too much gold to try to hold on to.

 

When I caught up with Maddie afterwards I said I chose to come to opening night so I could see the hiccups. There were some, apparently, but I didn’t see them – only those involved in the production and rehearsal would’ve noticed the missing pieces or muddled parts. Honestly, even if Maddie did mess up, how could you be upset by it when one of the messages you’re meant to walk away with is the notion that we should embrace our imperfections? And not just our own. Maddie encourages her audience to acknowledge people’s body shapes as being like various flavours of ice cream; we all have different tastes. Likewise, she expresses ideas about sexuality and feminist ideologies and the need for encouragement beyond acceptance.

 

Anyway… this isn’t even what I wanted to write. I feel like I’ve undersold it. Maddie’s show was phenomenal and I don’t feel as if I’ve given it justice. What I want to say is you should see it. I don’t know what I paid for my ticket but I would’ve gladly paid double. It was worth it. I don’t care that the carpark’s sign said there were 500+ bays available and when I drove down to the boomgates they wouldn’t open because it was full. I don’t care that I walked past the venue and continued walking for several hundred metres before realising my mistake. I don’t care that the two main roads I use to exit Northbridge were closed and I struggled to find my way back to the freeway. I had a bloody good night and I wouldn’t change a thing because I got to see the magic that is Maddie.

 

Bravo, Miss Godfrey!

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Rogue One: a belated review

Growing up, one of the jobs I dreamed about having as an adult was a sports reporter because it combined two of my favourite things – sport and writing. Following close behind was the idea of being a video game or movie reviewer. Obviously that didn’t eventuate but it appears it may not be too late. Sanity is looking for reviewers.

 

If this fits into your interests, the link is HERE. Meanwhile, here’s the review I’m sending in – I’ll let you know their response when I get it.

 

swro

Rogue Wonderful

 

A long time ago in cinemas pretty much everywhere George Lucas introduced the world to a galaxy full of royalty, space knights, aliens and loveable rogues. In 2015, J.J. Abrams took us back to this world with (essentially) an updated version of the original Star Wars film. The success of The Force Awakens erased the memories of the much maligned prequels and paved the way for a slew of new Jedi movies. The first of these is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s marketed as a stand-alone film but there’s a ton of Easter eggs for the hardcore fans. If that’s not you, don’t worry – you could have zero knowledge of this universe and still have an enjoyable time.

 

Is it perfect? No.

 

The exposition is really busy. Honestly, you don’t want to arrive late to this movie. The opening sequences have you planet hopping at an incredible pace meeting all the key players so you’ll need to be concentrating. Comparatively, the middle of the film is quite slow (perfect for a toilet break).

 

Is it great? Yes.

 

Our protagonist, Jyn Erso, is an independent woman who don’t need no man. She follows a tradition that began with Ripley in Alien and has found a home in YA dystopias. In doing so, she also mirrors the role Daisy Ridley played in The Force Awakens. As the father of a daughter, I’m hoping powerful women that kick ass will continue to light up our screens. Anyway… back to the review. The action sequences are phenomenal. Air and land battles are brilliantly shot, really putting the audience in the moment, but it is the smaller scale fights featuring Darth Vader and Donnie Yen’s blind ninja that steal the show.

 

Obviously, because it’s set just before A New Hope, people who love the original films know how it’s going to end but that shouldn’t dampen your enthusiasm. In fact, the denouement is the best part.

 

To borrow from Marvel, this is the “All New, All Different” Star Wars. It’s a war movie, it’s a heist movie; it’s space opera on a grand scale. Rogue One sets lofty targets but, unlike stormtroopers, it doesn’t miss.

 

By Ron Barton