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:

Post-It Note Poetry 2018

Post-It Note Poetry apparently began as a dare back in 2103 that saw Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt write brief poems for the entire month of February. I don’t know the full details but Sean Wright also appears heavily involved in this poetic movement and it is through his Twitter updates that I became aware of #pinp last year and invested in it this year.

Writing each day for a month was a challenge. Most of the poetry I write tells a story and does so over several lines, sometimes over the page. As such, forcing myself to be brief impacted on my ability to come up with new ideas. At various times, I swore my creative well was dry.

Nevertheless, I pushed through and managed to produce something each day. The quality varies but I’m happy with what I managed to achieve. Below is all of my #pinp18 work collated into the one place.

1/2

Under the weight

of other people’s opinions,

my back is bent

but it is not broken.

I will learn to stand again.

 

2/2

So often

am I cast as the villain,

now I can’t even

save myself.

 

3/2

When death comes,

I will board the mourning train

and ride the rails

to the other side.

 

4/2

If you looked

from the inside

OUT,

all of the muggles

would appear magical.

 

5/2

Although it long ago

lost its shine,

I still don my armour

for you.

 

6/2

What if all

is not as it seems

and I’m not the man

you see in your dreams?

 

7/2

She kept her heart

in a jar beside the bed

with a note that read,

“nothing good can come of this.”

 

8/2

I am the moon

and all its cycles –

sometimes seen in full,

other times barely

a slither of myself.

 

9/2

The radio plays

their favourite song

but his dance partner’s

long gone.

 

10/2

She made his life sweeter

but, in return,

he devoured her.

 

11/2

On some days it seems

I could be replaced with a

recorded message.

 

12/2

The gossip queen

lights rumours

that spread like wildfire

where only the innocent

get burned.

 

13/2

And so we rebuild this bridge

from the rubble of the last one,

the scorch marks still visible

from when I burned it down.

 

14/2

Days break like hearts,

silent and alone

but visible to many.

 

15/2

thoughts upon thoughts

revisions of decisions

we live our lives

inside our own heads

and there we drown

in uncertainty

and insecurity

 

16/2

Hard earned

liquid love

refreshes the soul.

 

At this point here I joined Instagram. Most of my poems before this were written on Post-It notes and shared via Facebook and Twitter. From the seventeenth onwards; however, my poems took on a more ‘fancy’ aesthetic.

 

17/2

Dear younger me,

They are not mistakes

but opportunities,

not roadblocks

but detours.

Stay true to yourself

and the world will open

its arms to you.

 

18/2

Winter rain

and summer storms

bring forth

water from the sky

but they are

no more alike

than you and I.

 

19/2

I scratch ink

into my skin

so there’s a part of me

I can love.

 

20/2

I make believe that poems are a conversation

between you and me

but ultimately

that cannot be the case.

There is no back and forth.

There is only me

then

there is only you.

 

On the 21st I wrote two poems. This is because I was a little concerned that the intentions behind my first poem might be misinterpreted or that I might inadvertently offend someone with it. What I was trying to do was use a pop-up book as a symbol of innocence to comment on sexual violence and the impact men have, sometimes without an awareness of having done anything wrong. I shared the poem privately with a couple of people but haven’t shared it publically until now. I’ve decided to share it as part of this blog because the forum allows me to explain myself somewhat and other content published here reinforces my respect for women.

 

pinp 18 1

 

21/2* (replacement poem, published instead of the one above)

I believed that I

had stepped softly

but I have found

others following

in my footprints.

 

22/2

The reach of my heart

is infinite

as those I inspire

go on to

influence others.

 

23/2

when it’s the fifth time that night

when it’s the sixth night that week

when it’s the third week that month

the baby

is not the only one who cries.

 

24/2

Did he,

tortured and troubled,

cut off his own ear

or

did his friend,

accosted and angered,

sever it from his face?

 

25/2

In that darkened space behind the curtain,

away from prying eyes,

I looked into your face for the final time.

I cried for what I had lost,

not in your physical presence

but in the relationship we never had

nor would get the chance to build.

 

26/2

We danced by the fire

unaware of how close we were

to getting burned

until someone pulled us back from the embers.

 

27/2

There is one more child

in my classroom

– a baby snake has slithered in.

In their fascinated excitement

the students endanger themselves

and the dugite;

I become the

most feared creature in the room.

 

The following poem is one I’ve just scribbled down. I’ll publish it on Instagram and on my other social media tomorrow. Consider this a sneak peak.

 

28/2

All things,

whether bad or good,

must come to an end

but it is up to us

how we remember them.

 

Thank you to those who have liked, loved, retweeted, shared or just read my verse along this journey. Much love to you all.

pinp18 2

 

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: an update

This is a short post, nothing special.

In November I ran a Kickstarter campaign for their “Commissions” project. It was my first ever experience on the provider side of crowdsourcing.

I’d like to say a massive thanks to my friends for making the project a success, especially those who paid more than what their ‘reward tier’ required.

For those who didn’t see the original post, my Kickstarter campaign was poetry based. Basically, I’d write whatever people wanted me to write – they picked the topic, form and length.

It was cool to try something new and I loved hearing back from people about what they did with the poem and how they reacted to what I wrote.

Some of the feedback included:

“You bloody bugger you made me cry!!!!!!!

Thank you sooooo much”

“Oh my god it’s so good! I love the second stanza. It actually made me tear up a bit”

“I love it! Perfect 👌”

“It’s beautiful and I love it. 😊 AND I can’t believe how great the structure is! Sonnets are so strict 😂 I also love the last line”

“Can’t see it well in the photo but this is what I did with your poems you wrote for my sister. She really loves them Ron. She reads them over and over and admires how you put together my feeling about her into such beautiful words. Thanks again for doing the poems x”

And here’s what people did with their poems that were gifts for other people:

image

Again, I want to thank everyone that got involved for their support, encouragement and feedback. Much love 💙

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

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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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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Teachers With Teeth

I was a teenage dirtbag and people have often suggested that I must be a brilliant teacher because there’s nothing the students can do that I haven’t seen or done before. If you add to that the fact that EVERY teacher I ever had said that I had the brains to be so much more then what you have is a recipe for… something.

If I knew cookery better then I’d offer a more precise metaphor but picture something that is potentially perfect but easy to mess up, prone to disastrous results. I want to say soufflé but I’m not sure if that’s right.

Anyway… what I’m really trying to get at is that I’ve walked the walk of a disengaged, disruptive teenager before and I can still talk the talk quite fluently. I match their criticism with witticism, their talk down with talk back. They bring the sass? Myeh, I’m a Sasquatch.

I don’t know what it is but students seem to respond to that as though they respect a bit of attitude. Maybe it’s just that they like teachers who show a bit of personality and humour.

There are 2 problems here.

  1. These retorts need to be immediate to be effective, thinking time decreases their effect and, so, you’re not always censoring yourself as much as you normally would. When shooting your mouth in this manner it’s possible that you’re firing live bullets.
  2. Mental health issues, depression and teen suicide are too real to ignore in today’s day and age.

I know I’ve overstepped the line before. I am truly apologetic for the words that have come out of my mouth in times where I haven’t considered their impact and I wish I could take some of those hurtful things back. But I can’t. So, I’m doing the next best thing – I’m trying to create a more supportive, positive vibe in my classrooms.

It’s not easy. This sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m trying. One of the things I’ve tried to encourage is the students complimenting each other. That way, when my feedback or comments are negativity geared they can pump each other up.

That’s why, when I read this poem recently, it was everything I felt but never expressed. It was as though someone was telling my life through verse and had gotten my gender wrong.

That’s why I asked them if I could share it here. It wasn’t titled where I read it so I’m going to call it “Miss Roast”. It’s by fellow WA based teacher/poet, Elise Kelly.

 

They call me Miss Roast at school

It is a title of respect that crowns my head, put there by adolescent fingers

Shouted in open school halls like a student catcall or a grudging fanfare

Every day in class I read my students a Shakespearean insult

Though they can not sift through the Bard’s English, the cloaked insult is a language they understand

And breathe it like oxygen

There is no higher art form to them than invectives injected like venom into another’s tender skin

They roast their friends and foes over the same fire and feast on the spitting crackle, hoping they will not be burned in turn

Their favourite sport is the back-and-forth banter, the tennis-match rally of roasting and boasting

And although there is room for wit, they have no time for it

Their words are crude and cruel and so naive in their poison

But they call me Miss Roast because I can speak with their forked tongue

Relief teachers get a lot of shit, and I have learned to clapback and smackdown their jibes

I have clothed myself with comebacks and stood armed with retorts like they were a shield

But I fear they have become bullets that plant guns in their half-grown hands

They call me Miss Roast, because I can leave a student who gives me lip lying in the dust after the lick of my whip-like tongue

Hold my own against the sass of asshole dropkicks

But I wonder if I should be proud of the title

Rap for them comes only in battle form

Poetry to them is uncool until it is in a slam

My words are most worth their respect when I make them weapons, and I did not mean for this to happen

Why do I teach them an insult a day when I could teach them to be kind

Fill their ears with the music of Shakespeare’s sonnets of love

Teach them the ancient art of compliments where no one is the opponent, and victory comes from raising each other up instead of breaking each other down

They call me Miss Roast

A stamp of youthful approval for the fire in my breath, leaving the ground scorched

But I would rather be the warm sun helping these little buds to bloom

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.

🙂