Posts Tagged poetry
The careful art of lawn maintenance
As good as mining blocks on a screen
Or thumbing an endless scroll
The pastime of encouraging grass to grow
In a suburban lawn plagued by weeds.
You may have heard there are a range of eco-friendly
solutions to the sprawling clover.
Something to do with vinegar and hot water
As so many solutions to contemporary problems involve.
If I took any of this seriously
I would have looked more carefully into the names
(characteristics and behaviours) of each weed by now.
Instead I non-methodically pry at tendrils and leaf unfurling through the blades
Elicit their reaching roots from the soil or
Snap their creeping stalks at the base.
Five major types at least stand out
As especially ambitious:
- Dark green leafy creeper, spreads close to the ground with thick, white roots spreading out in long runners under the soil. Pulling a thread up by the underlying white root is a deeply satisfying reward.
- Mini clover, spreading in patches via spindly stalks, criss-crossing between and around blades of grass. Can carefully be pulled up as a net, most successfully if edges are first unpicked.
- Sprouting grass: invasive. At first looks like healthy grass filling in a bare patch so it has been allowed to spread unchecked. May in fact be a weed. Pull up by individual tufts – tedious but high success rate with roots quick to relent. Evolving suspicion of an underlying rhizome.
- Spreading grass: invasive. Thin slender blades that form feather-soft patches of ‘maybe we should give up and let this grass take over’. Looks likely to burn in summer.
- Some kind of broadleaf weed. Starts as small, inconspicuous bursts nestled among healthy lawn. As it grows leaves spread wide out over grass, stealing sunshine and water for itself. Most likely to snap at the base when pulled. Roots plunge down in a tough spear as if clinging to hell.
My neighbour reliably tells me
We were sporting healthy Sir Walter buffalo
When we first moved in three years ago.
It must have been new turf, at the time.
Since then, the local mowing service has brought seeds
From corrupted yards far and wide
And a succession of resident bush turkeys have raked muck
From every neighbour higher on the hill, down through the low chicken wire fences.
But now we have our eye on you
And all the time in the world to invent
Runner breaks, cultivate watering routines,
Stage patch tests, chase the shade.
Images by author.
Ali Alizadeh is a poet listed on the prescribed text list for the senior English/EAL courses in Queensland from 2019-2021.
He is an Iranian-Australian (Persian-Australian? would appreciate any correction in comments), currently living in Melbourne and working at Monash university.
Both my creative writing and my literary scholarship interrogate the collisions between the political, the personal and the historical. Radical subjectivity, philosophies of history and theories of art are of particular interest to me. (Alizadeh’s bio, July 2018)
I searched for some preliminary resources for teachers wanting to learn about Ali Alizadeh, and here is what I found:
- Staff profile for Alizadeh at Monash University: http://profiles.arts.monash.edu.au/ali-alizadeh/
- Poetry International Web bio (with several linked articles): https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/14574
- Poetica episode from 2nd November, 2013 (39 mins): http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/poetica/ali-alizardeh/5026248?
- Writers Victoria – Ali Alizadeh interviewed by Michelle McLaren, 24 May 2016: https://writersvictoria.org.au/writing-life/on-writing/exploring-the-distance-between-now-and-then
- Overland article – by Tara Mokhtari, June 2011: https://overland.org.au/2011/06/ali-alizadeh%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98ashes-in-the-air%E2%80%99/ (loved this article!)
- Australian Book Review – review by Gig Ryan, April 2011: https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/abr-online/archive/2011/241-ali-alizadeh-ashes-in-the-air (full article is paywalled)
The earlier two volumes are called:
eliXir: a story in poetry, Grendon Press, Mont Albert, 2002
Eyes in Times of War, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, UK, 2006
A sample of Alizadeh’s poetry (poem extract):
Yes, I understand
your language. I’ve been learning
the lexicon of my inferiority
from behind the bars. I now know
how to spell and pronounce
the terms of my slavery. Your shackles
are called Security; your war
Operation Freedom; your cluster bombs
food parcels for my children. O master,
(extract from ‘Your terrorist’ (2006) on Poetry International Web: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/14577)
An extract from Mokhtari’s Overland article:
What really does it for me about Alizadeh’s poetry is that his subject matter is important. These poems are unlikely to bore a reader who shies away from the overtly political because they also engage in everyday scenarios and experiences. Alizadeh’s poems about cultural displacement take a different approach from many other Australian poets who write on the same theme but tend to dwell in the realm of sentimentalism (a natural, valid treatment of the theme, but one which may risk alienating un-empathetic readers). It’s as though these poems have ‘gotten over it’ just enough to allow a more sophisticated depth of knowing and exploration of the subject through everyday representations, without compromising emotion.
If you know of other resources that would interest Queensland English teachers who are considering Alizadeh’s poetry for QCE study, please consider sharing your links/info in comments below. Thank you!
This semester I am attempting to demonstrate project based learning (PBL) in action by giving both of my classes an extra-curricular project to work on.
(More about whether these projects are in-or-extra to ‘the curriculum’ in an upcoming post…)
Pre-service teachers in my 3rd year English curriculum studies class are themselves focusing on how to use a PBL approach to design learning for junior secondary English. Their final assignment involves working in groups of 3-4 to create a PBL unit of work and assessment task/criteria sheets.
So, while we are learning about PBL, we are also doing PBL. And here is the project flyer:
We’re in Week 6 of a 9-week semester, and I already know that exploring ‘ways of speaking poetry’ is going to get squeezed out. That’s OK. My original goal of using the explore phase to offer a ‘smorgasbord’ of experiences has been usurped by getting to know the students and their needs – and they need to spend time going deeper into ways of reading and writing poetry. That’s cool – one of the things I am proud to model for my PSTs is they way plans have to change once real humans are involved. This need to teach in a responsive, agile way is understandably one of the things that new teachers find confronting, but ultimately it’s what effective teaching requires.
I’m at that critical stage of the project where I’m looking at the number of lessons left vs work that needs to get done to complete the project – eek!
My original plan was to get enough poetry artefacts to fill an entire display cabinet, but thankfully the cabinet has SHELVES, so our new goal is to fill 1-2 shelves only. Not a bad result it turns out, as it gives me space to run this project again next year and fill the cabinet progressively instead of all at once.
The whole project is supposed to take 6 weeks. By the second week I wished I had twice as much time! But that’s how teaching rolls, eh – PBL or no.
Will post pics of the finished cabinet display at the end of semester 🙂
Wouldn’t it be something to be recognised as a poet?
I mean, not just to be a poet – many of us write poetry, and are already poets.
But to actually be recognised for it!
To have people read your pieces and like them enough to want to share them, by giving them an award, or publishing them in a book…
Now that would be something!
Links of interest:
Something I have been sharing with my students over the past few years is the story of how I became confident enough to read and teach poetry.
You see, the truth about English teachers is that not all of them like poetry. Not all of them feel like they ‘get’ poetry, either. In fact, just like there are English teachers that hate Shakespeare, or storytelling, or debating, or essay writing, there are some English teachers that HATE poetry, and avoid teaching it wherever possible.
I was never a teacher that hated poetry. But I was a teacher that saw poetry as ‘beyond’ my understanding for many years. I knew I was supposed to ‘get it’, but I had to study what I was going to teach quite intently before tackling it in class, every time.
Oh the revision I had to do when I was a beginning teacher!
Oh how useless my university units including study of poetry seemed (and still seem)!
Luckily, I did have enough positive experiences of poetry from my youth to stay engaged – as a little kid I had some illustrated poetry books that I loved to read, and as a teenager I lived up to the classic stereotype of hormonal girl by writing maaany lines of free verse about my horrible melancholic life etc. into notebooks covered with skulls and flowery tattoo sketches.
Ahh, those were the days!
In high school English I enjoyed studying poetry, and felt very clever at it. But our study was always heavily guided by a teacher – when left to my own devices to interpret an unseen poem, I always felt lost and frustrated.
As for writing poetry, well … aside from a few haikus in junior English, I don’t recall writing any.
So what changed?
My attitude changed very quickly in my first year of teaching. Tell me if you’ve ever heard this advice:
A teacher should try completing activities themselves first, before setting them for students.
I know I’ve heard that advice a few times, and of course it’s good advice though impossible to follow all the time. However, as a beginning teacher it was clear to me that my colleagues and I were setting work for students that we didn’t do ourselves about, oh … half of the time? At least??
You see, no-one in the staff room was writing poetry, or short stories, or letters to the editor, or pretty much anything in their spare time. Two teachers in postgraduate studies would have been writing essays, but the rest of the teachers sure as shoot weren’t. Yet we were teaching a curriculum that required students to spend half of their time composing texts of various kinds.
When I realised this, what changed for me was that I decided to be more of a role model for my students by attempting more personal writing.
And that included poetry.
How does writing poetry help you like poetry?
The short answer: by providing a source of intrinsic motivation.
The longer answer: I found that trying to write poetry forced me to look at other people’s poetry in a whole new light. Just try writing a poem… if you aren’t already in the habit of it, you’ll probably find it challenging! Sometimes when I try to write a poem, the limits of my own writing ability are so in-my-face that I feel driven to go and read more examples of other people’s poetry to try to get ideas about different writing styles and tricks. There are still plenty of poems that I don’t understand, but these days there aren’t really any that I’m afraid of anymore!
Maybe I’m not completely right about this – after all, if you feel too frustrated with poetry writing, maybe you won’t appreciate other people’s attempts or even want to read any. (A message for teachers might therefore be to make sure that writing at school stays fun, so that students stay motivated and encouraged to independently learn more.)
Reading contemporary Australian poetry
Now that I actually like poetry, I’ve found out that I also actually like Australian poetry!
In a workshop by the Red Room Company with Johanna Featherstone last year, my students and I were asked to name as many Australian poets as we could. The list was woefully short and mostly full of bush poets… we agreed that day had been a wake up call for us all!
Since then I have been reading some volumes of poetry and I am very happy to recommend the following, for anyone who is keen to pursue contemporary Australian poets:
Ross and Michelle are poets that I’ve met since working at QUT, and I got to know Lachlan when he visited my class as a Red Room Company poet. Knowing a little bit about these poets has helped me to engage with their work, but honestly, they are all just bloody good! Have your library order them 🙂
Looks like the theme for this blog at the moment is VOICE!
A little while ago I was alerted to this excellent production of student work from South Western Sydney, and I’d like to share it with everyone here on the blog.
Coming to Voice is a collection of ‘literary videos’ from students at Sir Joseph Banks High School. The video production by Westside is 5 minutes long, and showcases an innovative layering of student stories, voices, and animation:
From the press release:
Thirteen students from year 7 worked with the Chief Editor of Westside Publications, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, to develop writing that was then animated by 2012 SHORTCUTS film festival winner Vinh Nguyen.
The literary video, called ‘Coming to Voice’ will be screened at an assembly at Sir Joseph Banks High School and will also be launched on the BYDS website as a new web series on August 23rd.
Digital stories, literary videos etc.
BYDS (Bankstown Youth Development Services) seems to have a range of resources relating to the local community on their website: http://www.byds.org.au/ including oral history and photomedia materials. I’m so glad that these kinds of digital arts-based resources are flourishing!
When I talk about ‘digital stories’ or ‘digital narrative’ with teachers, it can be hard to explain the possibilities for the genre. There is of course the Daniel Meadows school of thought that advocates for 2 minute, 12 frame, voice-only digital biographies. The digital storytelling project at QUT uses a similar form.
I think the folks at BYDS have cleverly carved out a different kind of genre here for what they’ve produced – a “literary video”. As the students are reading their POETRY, the production is not quite of STORYTELLING. Could they have called them “digital poems”? Perhaps. But that might distract from the multimedia nature of the production, and the way that animation and video shots add meaning to the piece.
Literary videos… I like it! Thanks for sharing Mariam!
Teaching at university can be tricky, mostly due to the emphasis on summative assessment.
Since starting this position in 2010 I have been attempting to infuse the unit I coordinate with greater amounts of project-based learning. However, in a context where students have little time or incentive to engage with classwork that isn’t formally assessed, it has been hard to reward things like student project work.
After three semesters of teaching English Curriculum Studies 1 I decided that a radically new assignment was in order.
Students used to do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis
- Assignment 2 – Report on video lessons and learner needs observed
- Assignment 3 – Junior secondary English lesson plans
All of these assessment pieces were completed individually – no collaboration was required and no public audience was utilised.
From this semester onward, students now do:
- Assignment 1 – Personal teaching philosophy statement and resource analysis (same as before)
- Assignment 2 – Junior secondary English lesson plans (now completed in small groups of 2 or 3)
- Assignment 3 – A range of CHALLENGE TASKS published in a portfolio <– SCHMICK NEW TASK!
The New Task:
Many of the key ideas about inquiry-based and cooperative learning that I am working with can be found in a book extract provided by Edutopia: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Brigid Barron & Linda Darling-Hammond.
Here is a brief extract – some words about project-based learning:
“Project-based learning involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. Thomas (2000) identifies five key components of effective project-based learning. It is: central to the curriculum, organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles, focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building, student-driven (students are responsible for designing and managing their work), and authentic, focusing on problems that occur in the real world and that people care about.” (Barron & Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 3; my emphasis)
What I’ve done in my new task is to create a poetry ‘project’ as one of 10 ‘challenges’ that students need to complete.
After trialling a poetry project last semester, I know that students see value in, and engage with this kind of learning. But, at the end of the day, students felt let down because the work they put into their projects didn’t ‘count’ towards their final grade.
Once I started messing around with a new assignment that gave them credit for their project work, it was too hard not to design a whole suite of ‘challenges’ that they could choose to take up! So, that’s what I’ve done – students decide what grade they want to get, and complete the number of challenges needed to obtain it.
‘Challenge-based learning‘ as a term has not gained as much traction as ‘project-based learning’, but I think there is something to be said for the difference in terminology. In my teaching context, students are completing a ‘project’, but there is a minimum standard they have to reach to be able to ‘pass’ the assessment. Also, there is less focus on a ‘driving question’ than a PBL task would have – more of an emphasis on the products needing to be made. Hence my use of the term ‘challenge’ in the overall task.
OK, the easiest way to show you the assignment is to share copies of my assignment sheets:
A matrix of challenge tasks is provided for students to choose from in assignment 3.
Students will receive a grade for Assignment 3 based on the number of challenges completed:
- 4 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = PASS
- 6 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = CREDIT
- 8 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = DISTINCTION
- 10 CHALLENGES COMPLETED = HIGH DISTINCTION!
Note the peer assessment component of this task. This is something I am especially proud of, for a number of reasons! Not only am I hoping that this will result in a more sustainable marking practice for me (I will be checking/validating the peer marking, but no re-doing it), but it is also a strategy for getting the students to learn how to share their work and act as ‘critical friends’. I also think that having anopther preservice teacher assess your work in this context can be seen as providing an ‘authentic audience’ for student work.
The student portfolios for this task are due next Friday, so I’ve yet to see how this new assessment plays out in real life.
One idea I have bubbling away about the teaching methods chosen is that ‘project-based’ learning can perhaps be broken down further as being either ‘inquiry-driven’ or ‘challenge-driven’ (and maybe even a third category, ‘play-driven’). But that’s a hierarchy that I’m still thinking through…
There is a lot going on here, I realise. But I’d seriously LOVE to hear feedback from my critical friends, including any students that end up reading this post 🙂
If you have any questions to ask, shoot them at me too! Obviously I’m quite proud of what I’ve constructed here, but in a few weeks it will be time to reflect again on how to improve for semester 2, so as they say…bring it!
In this week’s episode of Q&A (from the Melbourne Writer’s Festival) there was some interesting discussion about young people and apathy in politics.
I was especially glad to head from Omar Musa, an award winning Australian slam poet who my students recently brought to my attention. An extract from the episode transcript follows; the full episode can currently be viewed on the ABC website (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3299482.htm):
OMAR MUSA: I can’t speak for previous generations but when I talk for my generation, I see a lot of selfishness. I see a lot of materialism. I see a lot of superficiality and I think that’s something that we should all be – as artists we should all speak up against. I mean I think people have enjoyed such a good standard of living for so long in Australia, that – all right there’s – from the way I see it, there’s two different types of apathetic people in Australia. There are those who are apathetic because they feel that the government is not properly representing them and that they have no alternative choice and then there are those who are apathetic because they feel so entitled to this prosperity that we have that they can’t feel any sense of compassion to those who are vulnerable and, you know, I think that’s something we need to interrogate as a society, you know. I just see that there are problems in this society. I mean I’m proud to be Australian but, you know, as someone who is patriotic, I feel that it’s my responsibility to criticise and to ask these sort of questions about our past. Why is a dog whistle – always, you know, it invariably works in Australian politics. I mean a pugilistic wing nut like, you know, Tony Abbott almost won the last election by using the dog whistle when most people don’t even like the guy, you know. And so why is it that that sort of stuff works.
TONY JONES: In that same poem, My Generation, you talk about witnessing Prime Ministers slain, hush coups in the halls of parliament house. I mean does that sort of taint your view of politics, when you see something like that happen?
OMAR MUSA: Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s got to a point where it feels like it’s a choice between the devil and deep blue sea, you know. You’ve got this pugilistic knob head on one side and then you’ve got this sort of gutless wonder on the other and so I understand that – the young lady that asked the first question, I understand that feeling of apathy but I guess it’s times like this when it’s more necessary than ever to speak up and to question these sort of things.
These sentiments were followed by some very stirring words by Afghani activist and writer of A Woman Among Warlords Malalai Joya including the insistance that
The silence of the good people is worse than the action of the bad people.
I wonder what role I will play in the grand scheme of de-apathising the ‘youth of today’, including my own generation? Surely the answer must lie in art, like Omar’s poetry, and in active protest, like Malalai’s…not just in retweeting exclamations of outrage and sharing witty remarks about news articles on Facebook? Not that I’d be without those things mind you 😉