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.

 

 

 

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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

 

Harry Potter teaching kids in the forest

This year I started attending a poetry group. We meet once a month and generally discuss a form that we’ve played around with in the last few weeks. This month the form was prose poetry, a bizarre hybrid of two contrasting writing styles that means you avoid typical poetic structures in favour of paragraphs but keep the figurative language associated with poetry.

 

Here’s what I managed to put together. First, one on Harry Potter:

Then one day she asked me, “Is Harry Potter real?”

So I got down on my knees, felt my muscles resist every movement, and looked her in the eyes. “Yes,” I said, and she knew instantly that I was telling the truth. I never meant that some youthful young man, bespectacled and scarred, ever existed in a way that is exactly like the book, simply that everywhere you look there are people just like those on the page. Bullies exist, teachers can be compassionate and cruel, and magic… Magic is real. I’ve never seen the breeze but I can tell you how it feels to have the cool wind kiss your face on a balmy Spring day. I can’t tell you how love looks but my body reacts to every act of adoration it experiences. God has never spoken to me but there are too many wonders in this world for there not to be intelligent design. Magic, therefore, must be real.

We stared at each other a little longer, soaking in the silence between us, the patterns of her eyes mirrored perfectly in mine.

 

And another on teaching:

What I teach in my classrooms, what I want to teach in my classrooms and what I’m told I should teach in my classrooms are three vastly different things connected only by the word ‘teach’. Even then, teaching in a high school context often feels less like reality and more like a figure of speech. I can lecture and preach until I’m blue in the face but modern teens don’t learn from chalk and talk, so it’s all a waste. Books and worksheets, no. Group work, too risky. Technology, unreliable. And the kids themselves? The kids are raised on apathy, spoon fed “she’ll be right” from a young age. They’re sung “we don’t need no education” and have taken it as sage advice. Pen? Lost it. Book? Don’t have one. Bag? Left it at home. I’m up shit creek without a paddle and they’re just going with the flow. But still I struggle against the stream; hoping that one day they’ll tire of indifference and mediocrity, that one day they’ll dare to dream.

 

Then, when I was flicking through one of my journals I came across this one:

These woods swallow you whole, gobble you up. Once you are inside the thicket all hope is lost; you find yourself further in when all you wanted was out. Seemingly endless, each line of trees begets another, like Russian dolls of forestry. Here the trees don’t fall – they lunge, and the sound of your screams are muffled by the hum of nature in all its glory. Crows flit and fight through the branches, each one of them full of voice. Foxes ferret through the bramble foraging for food. In these woods there is a palimpsest of noise as animals join the chorus. Silence is not welcome here.

 

All of these are first drafts. If you’ve got any feedback I welcome it with open arms.

🙂

My first attempt at a list poem

5 reasons I don’t want to go to school/work

 
1. It’s raining outside and all I want to do is hide in bed, wrapped up in the warmth of my blankets.

 

2. It’s beautiful outside and all I want to do is feel the sun’s kiss on my skin.

 

3. I’ve planned a perfect lesson but you haven’t brought a pen, the Internet is down and…

I kind of lied.

There are no perfect lessons.

The very notion that I have any idea what I’m doing

when the system changes every few years

when I’m preparing students for a future we can’t predict

when my class consists of kids so different from each other

when initiatives and curriculum are best of enemies

when I’m dealing with people

is ludicrous.

 

4. I’m human. My fatigued mind is buried in my tired body; my heavy heart distracted by issues outside of class.

 

5. I’ve lost faith.

The fingers of blame point clearly in my direction,

not necessarily individually

but collectively teachers carry a lot of guilt.

Results from standardised tests fail to impress the powers that be,

society sees only what it wants to see,

and parents pass on their responsibilities.

The papers report another teacher has been bashed

and I haven’t experienced anything that rash but I’ve felt the brunt of disrespect.

 

5 reasons I want to go to school/work

 

1. To write relief, a lesson that someone else will deliver, requires effort I just don’t have.

Besides, the students misbehave when I’m away

and there’s a chance the teacher will ignore what I wrote

which simply results in more work for me when I return.

 

2. I’ve got mouths to feed and bills to pay.

 

3. I like the people I work with.

They’re cute and quirky,

smart and strong,

not afraid to do something wrong to get the right result

and, most importantly, they tolerate me and my eccentricities.

 

4. I’m mental.

Honestly, what person in their right mind

would choose to spend their time with thirty teenagers?

 

5. I have faith – in me, in my colleagues and my students.

I’m a person working with people

and I hope my humanity, my humility and my humour

provide an example worth replicating.

If all the world’s indeed a stage,

then I’m the one running rehearsals

and I see first-hand what the media doesn’t show;

it gives me hope.

Anatomy of a Poem

There are two types of writers, planners and pantsers. I’m a pantser normally, writing semi-stream of consciousness seat-of-the-pants stuff that’s spews onto the page. Even within this space there is a form of planning and editing that occurs as I play with words inside my head as I’m putting pen to paper.

 

On other, rarer, occasions I’m a planner. In these instances I will brainstorm, research, draft, redraft, share and rewrite. These poems are painful, rarely recreating the quality I’d imagined. I am critical, cynical. A humble, pessimist at heart, I rarely place much value on what I write… which is why being a pantser suits me; I can claim any perceived lack of quality is a symptom of the lack of effort.

 

The poem below is the product of planning AND its recently been published – so it can’t be terrible.

 

Themis and her fortune

 

Themis and her daughter

splash and swim

in the crisp, clear water at Bondi

while the white sand

blows over their scales,

partially burying them.

Australia, the lucky country:

provided your particulars

reflect party policy.

Uncle Sam

might have declared

that all men are created equal

but the Little Boy from Manly

has borrowed Fortuna’s blindfold,

not in an effort to remain impartial

but to blind himself

from our misdeeds.

Our boundless plains

are ours alone –

turn back the boats,

incarcerate the indigenous –

while a UN investigation

reveals how un-Australian

we really are.

 

So, the poem was created to submit to a themed anthology on social justice. I like when opportunities like this arise because they promote creativity. Don’t win the competition/don’t get published; it doesn’t matter, you still come out of it with a new poem and that’s more than you had before (or, at least, that’s how I’ve been told to see it in the past).

 

Anyway… here’s a few bits and pieces that went into the creation of this piece.

 

Allusions

For those not familiar with the term, an allusion is a reference to a person/place/thing – it’s not when you pull a rabbit out of your hat, that’s an illusion. If you get the two mixed up, Run DMC would tell you ‘you be illin’ (that’s an allusion and a deplorable attempt at humour).

 

Many of the allusions stemmed from my research into social justice and weren’t part of my existing knowledge.

 

Themis – a Titan from Greek mythology. She is the personification of divine order, law and custom. Her daughter is Natura (nature).

Uncle Sam – the personification of America, Uncle Sam share his initials with the country he represents (U.S. – United States).

Little Boy from Manly – the national personification of New South Wales and later Australia, the Little Boy represents Australia as a young country.

Fortuna – was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman mythology. She is often represented as veiled and blind (Fortuna and Themis are often linked to the Roman goddess, Justitia, who is more widely known in modern circles as Lady Justice and is depicted in statue form holding a sword in one hand and scales in another).

 

Aside from these characters, there are also the following allusions:

The ‘lucky country’ – The Lucky Country is a 1964 book by Donald Horne. The title has become a nickname for Australia.

“all men are created equal” – is from the United States Declaration of Independence.

“Our boundless plains” – is from the Australian national anthem.

There’s also historical references to Australian policy and events.

 

Alliteration

This is the repetition of consonant sounds at the start of words close together; think tongue twisters, these rely on heavy alliteration.

 

In my poem, the opening sentence uses alliteration to enhance the aesthetic beauty of the setting. This is juxtaposed with the repeated ‘p’ sound of the following sentence which would come across as unappealing if someone read it aloud, making a sort of spitting sound.

 

There are other examples of alliteration in the piece, most of which are just designed to highlight the aural qualities of those lines and encourage the reader to focus more on them.

 

Other

The only other ‘technique’ worth mentioning is the quasi-repetition of ‘un’ as the poem ends. Whereas the alliteration enhanced the aural aspects of the poem, this was a deliberate decision to link themes visually.

 

The first use of ‘un’ was in reference to the United Nations and their unfortunate investigation into Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. The second usage was as a prefix as part of a despised cultural label. By connecting them visually, I was trying to highlight their literal connection – that Australia’s historical treatment of its indigenous population and those who seek asylum on our shores contrasts with the ideals referenced in our national anthem and the notion of ‘a fair go for all’.

 

Anyway, there’s some of the thought processes behind the piece. If you’d like to read the poems published alongside it, check out First Refuge by Ginninderra Press.

Once cherubic

I’ve just written a post on mental health. It’s a touchy subject and I’m saddened by the fact that at least two of the younger people in my extended family have self-harmed and attempted suicide. I’m saddened too about the number of young males in my local area who have taken their own lives this year. This, then, is a poem I wrote when my cousin first went down this path…

 

“Once Cherubic”

 

In such a sanitary world

I should be wiped from the face of the Earth.

I’ve caused little but trouble since birth

and I tire of the slaps on the wrist;

perhaps it would be better for all

if I simply ceased to exist.

 

This isn’t a new train of thought

(this engine has seen its fair share of use)

but it’s a busier line than I remembered.

I look around at the other passengers

– so many of us

– so many, so young

when I see a familiar face among the fray.

To gaze upon her soft skin

and eager eyes

hurts more than any blade.

I numb my pain with alcohol;

she number her with drugs

until her liver failed.

Doctors spent days

bringing her back

but she’ll never be the same.

Once cherubic,

she will forever be known now

for her darkness;

nothing will be innocent or easy again.

 

An invisible tattoo

labels her as a suicide risk.

It has become an unshakable

part of her history,

its shadow cast over her future.

 

In my darkest days

a black hole dwelled in the pit of my stomach.

It would drain me,

destroy me –

an emotional void that caused physical pain.

I would plan my demise.

Occasionally I would make my death bed,

set up what I needed,

but I could never follow through.

 

She has taken the first step,

I hope she never takes another.

How to write a sonnet in 3 easy steps

My year 12s have been studying Gwen Harwood’s sonnets where she bitches and moans about the trials and tribulations of motherhood. I know, I just cheapened the role of the stay at home parent. It’s not my true feelings, I really respect people who have the patience to do it, but it’s a true reflection of the tone in Harwood’s verse – even she admits it in a follow up poem she wrote in 1995.

Anyway, as a part of their task I’ve asked them to write a sonnet that mirrors Harwood’s style in some way or another. I like sonnets, their rigidity can be quite confronting for some but I find it comforting. Poetry is subjective but you can walk away from a sonnet knowing whether you’ve ticked the boxes or not. 14 lines? Tick. 10 syllables per line? Tick. Strict rhyme scheme? Tick. Iambic pentameter? Um… maybe.
Obviously you can still tick all these boxes and produce rubbish (as I’ve probably done on numerous occasions) but a terrible sonnet is still a sonnet. So, here’s the steps:
1. Read, re-read and repeat

Taking the adage, ‘write what you know’, how are you meant to know how to write a sonnet if you’re not familiar with them? Read some. Read a lot.
Once you’ve done this, take some of the lines and structures you like in your favourite sonnets and keep a list of them. T.S. Eliot alluded to plenty of texts (sometimes stealing lines from them wholesale) and he’s regarded as aliteracy genius. Why not do the same? Throw an homage to your favourite poets inside your own verse.

2. Storm your brain

Pick something that you want to write about and make a list of words associated with that topic. Try not to think about it too much; the more spontaneous your planning, the more honest your writing.

Once you’ve got this list together (aim for 10 words, do more if you want but don’t fret if you end up with less) try to come up with rhymes for some of your words. There’s plenty of rhyming dictionaries online if this proves to be a difficult task.


3. Write right now

This is the hard part. What, you thought there was some simple solution? There kinda is. You can always break the poem down into three quatrains (4 lines) and a couplet (2 lines). This can be less stressful as you’re only writing a maximum of 4 lines at a time as opposed to the thought of writing 14 lines in one hit.


My drafts don’t always feature a lot of editing but that’s because I do a lot of syllable counting and reworking lines before I put them on paper.


Anyway, that’s all there is to it. Happy writing!

Killer lines – poetry in the classroom

My most recent blog made mention of the Said Poets Society and their visit to my school. I can’t thank them enough for their efforts in engaging with the students and providing them with a voice. I’ve been teaching for over 11 years now and I am still surprised by what students can produce; I think if that surprise ever dissipates then I will leave the profession.

Anyway, one of the slides the Said Poets showed my students suggested that they should try to identify 2 fast parts and 2 slow parts, 2 soft points and 2 loud points, as well as 2 ‘killer lines’ as part of their editing process.

Below are some of the killer lines from my students and, without a doubt, one of the strongest pieces of poetry I have ever had the pleasure of seeing performed.

DH –
“Was I just a puppet to be exploited? A puppy just for your enjoyment?”

“Played a man’s heart like a baby with a rattle;
Shaking it, loving it, breaking it.”

ED –
“The claws of death came and pulled them under.”

“These kids are like lambs ready for the slaughter…”

EB –
“Stole her mother from her
And never gave her back.”

“The joy recently brought by the faded ‘positive’ double line
Was washed away with crimson blood, staining her sheets.”

JD –
“You wait, you board, you wait, you exit, you wait, rinse, repeat, start over, keep waiting for the next destination.”

MD –
Wrote of trees and their “emerald umbrellas”.

RM –
“The ominous, dark sky is black ink spilt
on the parchment of the heavens,
a purpling bruise on the skin of the universe.”

“The earth bares scars, pits and puddles,
healed by the sun, a shy child peeking out
from its mother’s skirt.”

RW –
“… I smiled
until we got Home and I dropped the facade as soon as you were asleep”

And finally, the entire poem by Bec Weldon (whose permission I asked before publishing this and who is, justifiably, proud of her work:

5 Ways to Cure the World

It’s become a sentimental cliché of sort,

That’s through wars we’ve fought and thoughts we’ve thought

That when asked how we can change, we resort,

To the same tired answers

World Peace, Equality,

These words, to me, hold little meaning

Through their overuse in every situation

Let me change that, every wrong situation,

A petty drunken fight and the media calls for peace on the streets,

Yet we seldom hear of the thousands slain in cold blood over political unease,

A mother cannot afford to feed her starving child but we hear tales of celebrities running wild,

Men read carefully constructed speeches from carefully decorated podiums,

Calling for society to change,

And it should, though are their intentions so equally directed,

When victims suffer and the guilty are protected

From a woman’s view I see no more than political babble

And bullshit to gain the affections of the gullible.

With this in mind, I disregard the changes that old men sitting at circular tables have decided we need to make,

Through their fondness for the good old days, when their own actions are far too late

Instead turning to my attention to what I believe,

As a young person who will live in this world after such men have passed,

Regardless of whether their worlds brought change,

Or whether peace has been achieved at last,

And so I give you my own list,

Of changes I believe we missed

I must insist, that this pessimistic approach to curing the world,

Should be dismissed.

5 ways to cure the world.

Number 1- Acceptance

I’m not talking about equality, that’s out of the question

When at every mention, the privileged groan in contemption

I’m not just targeting race, gender, sexuality, or financial splendour

I’m talking about loving thy neighbour like a God told us we should

Accepting that your colour, genitals and religion doesn’t determine whether you’re bad or good

Should your kids grow up in a world where we clutch our purse, when a coloured man walks past us, or threaten godly curses onto girls who love girls or men who choose guys

Shall a transgender teen be beaten to death, Muslims despised or refugees oppressed,

When you look into a child’s eyes, would you rather see unconditional love or heartless despise?

Fuck the other 4, this is my solution, acceptance, is not an outdated institution.

Can I ask a question, please, I just want to know,

Does having a cock mean that you can shame? Or grab ass and pass it off as a
compliment?

Does having a vagina mean we just have to put up with it, does it make us weak or
dependent?

Does having a job make you better, than those who don’t?

Does the size of your bank account determine your worth?
Does the colour of your skin determine your criminal record?

No, no, no, no and no

For hours we can listen to scripted phrases,

Read by celebrities,

Written by employees on minimum wages,

About how we can change,

Here buy a t-shirt, a quote about peace,

Thank you for supporting the cause

Acceptance isn’t agreeing to something someone said one time

Or opening a door for a Asian person and thinking ’Wow I’m so ethnically concerned’

Acceptance is recognition of women and theirs rights

Recognising that no one should live in poverty, without a place to stay the night

Understanding that people might be attracted to someone of the same gender

Or want to identify as something other than what they’ve been told they should be

People wanting to believe in their gods

People working the system against all odds

Us accepting that they are different and loving them even so.

Through depression, desperation, revolution, recession

It’s not about putting people onto pedestals

Or making less fortunate workers polish them for minimum wage

It’s about flattening the grounds, removing the signs prohibiting change

Understanding that though there may never be equality between race, rank or gender

We should treat all as family, with respect as a friend

Or at least acknowledge their right to their earth

Because let’s face it, we all were no different at birth

And so I’ve completed my list, that of just one idea

Acceptance, of all, for all, now and here.

Said Poets Society

So, by now you should know that I’m a teacher and a poet. As such, it probably seems a little weird that I invited four poets into my classroom today to teach my students for me, because, of all the things I teach, surely poetry should be something I’m fairly comfortable in working with. It’s coin like though. On one side, some students find the excitement and enjoyment I derive from poetry to be infectious but on the flip side, it can also be a reason students switch off – prompting responses of “of course you like this, you write the stuff” or “you make it look so easy but when I try to write nothing comes out”.

The Said Poets Society care about telling good stories. Stories change the way people think about the world, and we believe that to inspire positive action, we first have to inspire positive thinking. We run performance poetry workshops in Perth high schools to equip young people to make positive change in their lives and communities through the power of stories.

If you look at their website, I didn’t have the ‘traditional’ line-up for the Said Poets. In a way I won out because I had four poets (Matt and Ben were joined by Sam Needs and Jakob Boyd) when I was expecting three but it was slightly disappointing that Athena couldn’t attend; I’m always looking for new poets to follow and her absence meant I still haven’t had a chance to hear her work – plus, it would have been good to have a female voice in the room. Ben might have made up for this somewhat when he explained that feminism is a topic he resonates with, a point he made through a pun filled PowerPoint. His take on equality and toxic masculinity would have sat well with much of the class, especially with some of the boys who share similar interests and have faced similar situations to those Ben described.

It was Matt who opened proceedings, explaining the group’s ethos and sharing some verse. His opening poem is listed on YouTube but it was his poem about mental health that had the room captivated. At its core this poem told the story of Matt’s high school friend who suicided but it was eased in with such finesse that, at poem’s end, it’s hard to believe you were laughing at fedora-wearing men only minutes before. The word STORY was an important factor. Matt stressed the importance of the narrative but the group’s mission statement is to give students the opportunity to voice their own story (and not just the story society tells them).

I’m actually struggling to decide what my highlight was. It could be any of the following:

  • Ben’s private comment to me that “you were right, they are a good group”
  • that the Said Poets worked to my schedule and were happy to run their four week program over two weeks instead.
  • that Jakob remembered the name of the poem I recited at a mini-slam back in March.
  • Matt and Ben mouthing along to a video of Harry Baker performing “Paper People”.
  • the sight of my students writing. ALL of my students. Even the slackers and those low in confidence.
  • that the students were praised for their honesty in their writing.
  • that I walk away from today with a new writing prompt, a game to play when teaching metaphor and four approaches to writing slam poetry.
  • that one of my students currently on a D for English spent an hour in the library after school reading poetry; or
  • that I have four or five ideas for new poems that I now feel compelled to write.

I can’t wait until next week when the students refine and perform what they’ve written.

Superhero Sonnets

As a writer, there’s always a couple of ideas floating around in my head. These jostle for supremacy and the victor enjoys the benefits of being written into completion (unless there’s a coup, in which case the battle begins anew). The latest victor was a series of sonnets written about superheroes.

I’ve always had a fascination with myths and legends which developed into a love of superheroes when I was a teen. Since becoming a writer (and teacher) the sonnet is a form I find myself drawn to; combining these interests seemed like a logical course to follow.

I started by listing some of the heroes I thought I might encapsulate in this way:

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You’ll have to excuse the terrible hand writing and photo quality.

Anyway, then I brainstormed my first hero; Spider-man.

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The next pic will show my first draft. What it can’t show is the amount of lines I rehearsed on my fingers, counting syllables as I went, before they hit the paper.

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This is pretty much how most of my poetry begins. Some of it is simply stream-of-consciousness but the more ‘important’ poems are planned first and often spoken before they are put on the page.

I’ve written two superhero sonnets now (one last night – Spider-Man, one tonight – Batman) and I’ve thrown these two on images even though I haven’t finalised them yet. Mostly I’ve done this because sometimes I like to share things before I refine them so I get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

If you want to find them, these two images can be found on my new Facebook page or on Twitter.

Happy reading!