Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sylvia Plath appearances in popular culture

Sylvia Plath: poet, wife, daughter, mother, student, author.

For some reason it's mostly teenage girls who can appreciate her writing?  Maybe because of the fascination with her personal life, her tragic life, which detracts from the significance and worth of her work.  Maybe because of a silly idea that her work isn't relevant or meaningful to anybody else?

Any mention of her in the press is due to a family tragedy, more gossip, more secrets being turned into books.  So even if it is only teenage girls appreciating her work on screen - at least someone is - and hopefully one day that'll because they know nothing about her personal life and just adore her poetry.  It is, after all, the same respect we award most authors.

Sabrina the teenage witch

The Simpsons

Ryan Adams

Gilmore Girls

Annie Hall

Ten Things I hate about you 

Please note: Boys are allowed to read The Bell Jar as well.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

English Lessons: The Death of Poetry?

I post poems here all the time.  Following the recent article in The Independent about the high culture which we introduce young children to; I recalled a conversation I had had with my fellow English students - who all hated poetry.  Largely because of the experiences that they had with poetry in English lessons.
English lessons are often the first contact-point people have with poetry.  An enormous responsibility is then put upon teachers, exam boards, and schools to choose the right syllabus.  A syllabus which will give its students a rounded view of what poetry, and indeed literature, entails.  My own experience of English lessons, however, largely consisted of teachers teaching what they were interested in.  Until I met Mrs Clegg - who would start lessons with poems, often crying whilst reading them, but it made you even more determined to love the poem - to feel as strongly about it as she did.

"I don't really like poetry..." is often followed by an admission that the only poetry someone has encountered has been that which they did at school.  There seems to be a mistaken conception that the poetry on a school syllabus is there to give you a taster of 'the best' poetry.  If you find nothing you like, therefore, among the best poems you must not like poetry at all, right?  I remember we had one teacher who was finishing her training and spent the best part of a month analysing the poem "Limbo" by Edward Kamau Braithwaite.  We did the poem to death.  I still remember the poem today - and not in a good way.  That poem is nowhere near what I would regard to be 'the best' poetry and I am lucky enough to have had alternative experiences with poetry, to not leave the classroom thinking all poetry was like that.  

My mother's generation, however, were learning Coleridge, Tennyson, Keats in their English lessons.  And by 'learning' I mean reciting the poems until many years later - they still know them all off-by-heart.  There are anthologies published entitled Poems we learnt at School - presumably because they bring back fond memories.  I still cringe remembering the English essays in which I would liken the sonnet form to a bomb.  Small but powerful.  My mother was shocked at the poems, or lack of, which I was learning in school and sat me down with a copy of The Nations Favourite Poems and we went through them all.  It is these poems, which I didn't dissect to death, over-analyse  just sat and read through with my mother which I remember with fondness.

I think there's so much confusion about how you should treat poetry, let alone teach it.  

Are you supposed to read it aloud or in your head?  
How much of the imagery is supposed to be analysed?
What purpose does a poem have?
What significance does the form of the poem have on the overall impact?

And it is killing any enjoyment children could gain from poetry.

I just wish we could give children a chance to truly enjoy poetry before killing any enjoyment with over-analysis.  Just read a poem - don't think about it, just enjoy it, for what it is - a poem.  

Here's some of my favourite poems which I've previously posted.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried  
Tim O'Brien.

I first read the first chapter as a freshman in an upper level English class as an undergrad. I can STILL remember the way my professor said the first line:

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. 
This passage continues with this Vietnam marine talking about how he uses his precious, literally, drinking water to wash his hands before reading this girl's letters from home.

It was the first book I read that as soon as I finished, I wanted to know everything about the author. I looked up everything I could find about him. I wish I lived in Texas so I could take one of the courses he teaches.

It's just amazing. Jimmy Cross and the love and load he carries for every person around him is beautiful and devastating. Just the symbolism of his name: Jimmy Cross, JC=Jesus Christ, a cross to bear. O'Brien is a genius. Every word is meticulously thought-out. And the scene in the boat, my God.

Many thanks to Rhiannon for sharing your favourite book with us! 
Rhiannon's blog can be found here; and her twitter here.
If you would like to share your favourite book, as Rhiannon has done, then you can find out more information here, it'd be great for you to get involved ;)
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