Hanging Out With Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood

It’s not every week you get a chance to chat with two megastar authors but that’s exactly what I did this week. Well, they chatted. I listened… from my place in the audience at their Perth shows.

Just 3 authors chilling out at a cafe 😅

The two events shared similarities, as you’d expect from two people in the same field of work talking about what they do, but there were notable differences too.

Gaiman, in his 4pm cozy, late afternoon slot was a sell-out. The line for signed copies of his books snaked around the foyer. The bar area was bustling. People shuffled up and down the stairs, and in and out of the building. When the time came, we made our way to our seats and filled them all. Each level of the Perth Concert Hall was filled with family, friends and strangers eagerly anticipating the start of the show.

There was a mosh pit of sorts. Between the stage and the first row of traditional seating was an area for the super-fans. There they had circular tables and angled seats so the people sat in them could imagine they were at some intimate, cafe reading – like what you might see of the beatnik poets in movies and on tv. Above them was a large chandelier and several individually hung lights that changed colours at various points to indicate a tone shift in Gaiman’s words.

Gaiman himself was treated to a rockstar welcome, a round of applause that seemed as though it may never stop – until he gestured for us to do so, and we obeyed.

My seat in the nosebleed section was labeled as ‘restricted viewing’ and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. Fortunately, the part of the stage I couldn’t see was empty. I could see the podium at which Gaiman stood and I could see to his left where two ladies worked in shifts to translate his words into sign language.

He read to us, answered questions that people had written on cards in the foyer, and opened up to us about the illnesses and loss of life that have taken his friends and fellow writers. In particular, he spoke of Terry Pratchett who I adore. It was incredibly touching.

I wrote notes: things to look up, observations and inspirations for written pieces of my own, poignant statements.

And, when it was done, I rushed out of the door to join the queue for books before it grew too long. I bought one, American Gods, but I could have easily bought them all.

Oh, what a night…

One week later, and I found myself on the train to the city again. My initial observations were similar. The books on sale weren’t signed so the line was significantly smaller but the bar area was full and the line for drinks was long. The Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre has a larger waiting space and, on the surface, it looked like a similar sized crowd might have gathered.

I was wrong. The first indication that it was a smaller crowd was when I got to the door and was told by the usher that I was eligible for an upgraded seat. Suddenly, I went from Row X to Row A. When we were all seated those back rows remained empty. It was a disappointing sight. Here you have a woman whose list of awards and accolades is enormous, who has inspired protests, is active on social media, and is the brainchild behind a tv show that is immensely popular. I don’t know what kept people away – whether it was the ticket price or the assumption that she’d just be promoting/discussing her new book, I can’t say – but they missed out.

Atwood also walked on to a round of applause that appeared to gather momentum each time you might expect it to die off. Her whole ‘performance’ was an on-stage interview. I apologise, I didn’t catch the name of the woman who questioned her. At intermission, we were invited to pose questions via Twitter and Atwood answered some of these. A few of the audience generated prompts were a bit naff, and I’m not just saying that because mine wasn’t picked.

Again, I took notes: phrases I can use when teaching her novel, things that surprised me (like the fact she was published in Playboy), things that made me laugh out loud.

Atwood walked onto stage, an 80 year old woman with a handbag that she never went into during the show but that she carried, I assume, because she’s used to having it with her. Her curly, grey hair sat neatly on her head and there was a delicateness about her. I knew that demure look belied a fiery passion that lurked beneath it. However, I didn’t expect her to be so funny. She joked about cats and toilets, about politicians and cervixes, about having “too many fucks” in her book, and everything in between.

Ask and you will receive

One thing both Gaiman and Atwood said, in their different ways, was the importance of Literature from the perspective of both reader and writer. They said that books allow us to experience the lives of others and become more empathetic, that writers allow us a safe space to see the hardships that people go through and some of the directions in which the world can head. From a creative standpoint they also said that Art and Literature allow us to outlive our bodies, that a part of us exists within our work and future generations will have the opportunity to know us through our creations.

A Poem a Day

Having already undertaken a poem-per-day challenge this year (with February’s Post-It Note Poetry) I was somewhat anxious about completing a second.

It’s not like inspiration is something you can schedule in. There’s always the possibility that you’ll have a day where no poem enters your mind, where you cannot craft something complete no matter how hard you work it.

But, recently joining Instagram has given me a taste for writing short form poetry. With that in mind, I undertook NaPoWriMo (or GloPoWriMo as it has become). I once described NaPoWriMo as…

It is the brainchild of Maureen Thorson who, inspired by NaNoWriMo – aka National Novel Writing Month, started writing a poem a day for the month of April back in 2003. She shared her poetry through her blog and, when other people started following suit, she shared links to their works.

Since then it’s taken off, hence the change from Na to Glo (for global).

My 2018 efforts are all visible on Instagram and I’m pretty happy with them – two of them got featured by other accounts. Many of them are serious so I’m ending the month tomorrow with something silly.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of my favourites:

Flash Fiction: Fridge Folly

Somehow, I’ve locked myself in the fridge. Again. I don’t know how or why this keeps happening to me. I know, it sounds stupid, but it’s not quite what you’re thinking. I’m not talking about a normal fridge. I’m not stuck in between the butter and a cucumber with milk dripping down my legs. It’s not that sort of fridge. Well, it was, but my dad retrofitted it. You see, he saw this documentary on The History Channel once and it said that you could survive a bomb blast inside an ordinary household refrigerator. So, the first thing the next day, my dad went down to the second-hand store and came back with three fridges on the back of his ute – one for him, one for mum and one for me.

He worked on them for weeks. He reckons there’s no point being uncomfortable while we’re waiting for the after effects of the bomb to dissipate so he started trying to make the insides more homely. The first thing he did was attach cushions to the inside walls. Then he put a tube in the side filled with snack foods and protein drinks. What stumped him was how to provide adequate facilities for us to go to the toilet. He didn’t want to drill a drainage hole through the wall because he thought it might weaken its defences, so he put some sort of container in the fruit and veg drawer at the bottom and rigged it up to a funnel that was at waist height. It’s kind of gross.

Anyway, today he wants to install an oxygen tank inside each one. I don’t know how long he expects us to stay in these fridges, but I do know it’s pointless to try to argue with him. Once his mind is set on something it’s not changing.

So, there we were in the basement. I’d climbed into my fridge so dad could measure where the tank would sit and work out what length of tube would be needed to get the oxygen down to my mouth. It turns out he didn’t have the right materials, or something like that, so he went to the hardware store. The problem is, he didn’t check to see if I was still inside the fridge when he shut and locked the door. I told him the locks were a stupid idea the first time he locked me in here but he wouldn’t listen; he just kept nattering on about protecting his ideas. I think he’s hoping to go on Shark Tank or something like that. Not that it helps me. Things aren’t going to be great for him soon either, though. If he’s not home in the next five minutes or so, these toilets might get their first test run.

Writing With Joanne Fedler

Recently I stumbled across a 7-day writing course run by Joanne. I’m on school holidays, it was free; it was meant to be.

The 7 days were titled:

1. Dream writing

2. Keep random lists

3. Change places

4. The fire of feeling

5. The power of AND

6. Reflection, connecting the dots, finding my voice

7. Everyone is a winner

Each day, Joanne would post a video introducing the concept and then there would be a downloadable prompt designed to get the creative machine in gear. Once completed, many people would share their pieces in a private Facebook group.

But people shared more than their scribblings. They shared their stories – stories of time spent ignoring their memories and feelings, stories of accomplishment and achievement, stories of struggles and of great joy.

For me, I started on Day 1 writing a nightmare scenario that was clearly influenced by the book I’d most recently read (The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor). Day 2, I wrote this:

On the third day I wrote a letter to my mouth and wrote a reply from its perspective.

On Day 4 I wrote about the guilt that I felt when I accidentally hurt my son – we were in a car park and a car was coming, I yanked him in to my arms and the buttons on my shirt scratched his face. It was an accident but I was angry and I cannot shake the shame. On Day 5 I wrote about how I read and respond to other people’s emotions better than I do my own. These two days then influenced Day 6 when I wrote this:

Day 7 is interesting because, depending on how you look at it, it either has the least amount of work to do or the most. Technically there is no prompt specific to this day so there is absolutely no required writing BUT the completion of a form provides a link to an extensive bank of prompts which will keep any writer going for a long time. Here’s one of them:

Anyway, in the Facebook group many people are writing their praise for Joanne, her support crew and the other writers who have engaged in the process. Me, I’m writing this. It’s a review of sorts or simply an explanation of what I’ve been doing this past week.

Jo actually messaged me during the course. She’d seen one of my posts included above and a little cyber stalking revealed that I’m an established poet. She asked, as is natural, what interest I had in her course which is geared more at people closer to the start of their creative journey. I replied that I’m interested in branching into other forms of writing but also that I’m just happy to be engaged in something that has me writing every day (I think what I really need is a personal trainer of sorts, one that is focussed on keeping my pen moving). Beyond that, I really like the two poems that I wrote and have included here. I honestly believe that I would never have written them if I hadn’t taken part in this writing challenge.

If you’re a writer, beginning or otherwise, I’d definitely encourage finding Jo on Facebook and keeping an eye out for when she runs something like this again.

Kickstarting my Creativity

Throughout November, Kickstarter is encouraging people to start projects that require input from others in order to be completed. When I saw their video I knew I had to take part.

I’ve often spoken about the need for community spirit in creative endeavours. Being part of sporting clubs now and in the past, I’ve often been in awe of the support offered on and off the field. It seems everyone attaches to a club wants the other members to be better. It makes sense because it’s a team environment but creative pursuits are often individual. This means that artists are often removed from situations where they can be provided with feedback and direction.

This Kickstarter initiative plays in the same space.

As it’s my first attempt at running a crowdsourcing project, I’m very nervous. It’s only three days in and I’m already freaking out. There are so many doubts.

Have I set my target too high?

Are my reward prices too high?

Does the project page read well?

Does my title stand out enough?

Should I have made the project duration longer?

Fortunately, Kickstarter put me on to a Facebook group where I’ve already received some feedback. I’ve put some of this in place but other things can’t be changed once the project is launched.

Even if it doesn’t get off the ground, participating in this event has proven beneficial. When setting up the page I listed my creative achievements and it’s the first time I’ve collated this into a list. So now, as much as I’m nervous about the project, I’m quietly confident in my own abilities as an artist because I’ve realised that my creative cv is something I should be proud of.

It’s technically not even up to date too. The following image is from Realistic Poetry International’s “Poets are Heroes” magazine and I’ve received an email stating four poems of mine are going to appear in a new anthology – both bits of news coming after I set up my project page.

So, what is my Kickstarter idea? I’m writing poems for people. Basically, people pick the size poem they want and, if the project reaches its goal, I’ll ask them for information that will inform the writing of the poem. If you want to find out more, here’s the link – http://kck.st/2hzSYl1

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.

🙂

Othello – the untold story

My year 10s are tasked with transforming an act or scene from Othello into another text type and, as I was explaining the assignment to them today, I mentioned that you could play around with genre as well as form. So, in preparation for tomorrow’s lesson I thought I’d provide a brief example of what they are expected to do – it’s rushed and imperfect but it’ll do.

Here it is, a twisted take on Act 5, Scene 2 re-imagined as part hard boiled detective story, part satire:

_________________________________________________________________

 

She was dead. That much was obvious. In fact, those present at the scene of the crime swear that she came back to life briefly just to say “A guiltless death I die” before passing away again. That raised a few eyebrows but what mattered most to Emilia Watson was finding the guilty party before they could kill again.

Certain that the immediate surroundings were bound to contain clues, Emilia searched the bedroom. The bed itself was draped in silken sheets generally reserved for weddings and other special occasions. Tangled in the linen was the victim herself, a wad of fabric stuffed into her mouth. The exact cause of death was unknown; there was no bloodshed so it wasn’t a stabbing, and the foul stench associated with common poisons was nowhere to be smelled.

‘Perhaps,’ thought Emilia, ‘I should have had some training before opening up my own detective agency.’

Not one to give up at the slightest sign of trouble, she continued her search. Not far from the bed Emilia found a dark skinned man hunched in a ball on the floor.

‘Strange. Why didn’t I notice him before?’ She pondered this as she inspected his appearance.

She followed the tears from his eyes, down his cheeks and onto his neck. Nothing unusual there, that’s the direction tears normally take. Further down she noticed scratch marks on his arms – that was unusual. Most strange, however, were the words spewing from his mouth. Emilia knelt down to listen closely.

“O, she was foul! Whose breath, indeed, these hands have newly stopp’d: I know this act shows horrible and grim.”

The man was clearly upset but, as Emilia didn’t speak Shakespearean, nothing he said made sense. As he continued to mumble away, the only words she understood were handkerchief and whore which she doubted were useful in helping her crack this case. No, this man would only sidetrack her from the task at hand.

Emilia continued to search the room but the interior decorator was clearly a minimalist. Fortunately, the lack of clues was offset by the arrival of her husband and some other men. For the most part, Emilia decided that most of these men weren’t worthy of her attention (although one was a bit of a spunk). That said, the smile on her husband’s face was a bit disconcerting.

“Iago,” she questioned. “Why do you smirk?”

“Smirk? I do not smirk.”

“You do, and you are.”

“Perhaps I am just happy to see you,” he replied.

“Unlikely,” she retorted but checked his crotch anyway. Indeed, he was not happy to see her. As she eyed him off further she noticed characteristics she hadn’t paid attention to before; among these were his elongated chin, pencil moustache and penchant for black clothing.

“Why do you look at me so, woman?”

“I’m starting to think you are not what you are.”

“Are you saying, then, I am the villain?”

Iago seemed quite shocked at this accusation but Emilia was certain he was up to no good. It was then she found her biggest clue:

“What is that bag you are holding, husband? Why is it marked with a large dollar sign?”

Iago neared. “It is Roderigo’s fortune. I have acquired it from him.”

“Really? Well then, if we are now rich I don’t need to work anymore.” And, with that, Emilia threw her empty notepad aside and strolled from the room dragging her husband behind her. “Come,” she said. “We have shopping to do.”

“What about the murder you were trying to solve?”

“Oh, I’ve got no idea who did it. I’m as confused about it now as I was when I started.”

Iago smiled.

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.

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.