Poetic composition with Ernest Hemingway

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

Block 3 have been studying Ernest Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and The Sea in their English composition lessons this term, which has led to all sorts of fishy descriptions and discoveries. Last week they tried a form of poetic composition which involves taking lines from the text and rearranging them to create a poem.

Everyone had called him The Champion
He always thought of the sea as la mar
The strange light the sun made on the water
He loved green turtles and hawksbill with their elegance and speed
He was happy feeling the gentle pulling and then he felt something hard and unbelievably heavy
He held the line against his back and watched its slant in the water
I love and respect you very much.
He is a great fish and i must convince him
They are our brothers and are like flying fish
I hate cramp. It is a treachery of one’s own body.​
‘I’ll kill him though, ‘Now is when I must prove it.’

– Nicky, Block 3

The Human Fish

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
You let the female fish always feed first.
You are good, play jokes and love one another
Take some rest fish
Chew it well and get all the juices

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
But through my treachery,
My big fish,
I will kill you dead before the day is over

It was the saddest thing I ever saw
The female made a wild and panic stricken fight.
Still, through my treachery,
I love you and respect you very much

– Jake, Block 3

La Mar

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming,
The boat moved slowly through the dark water,
 He was sorry for the birds,
The small delicate dark terns,
Always flying and looking and never finding,
The birds have a harder life than we do – he thought,
Why did they make birds so delicate and fine,
When the ocean can be so cruel?
She is kind and very beautiful,
Yet,
She can be so cruel,
It comes so suddenly and such birds that fly,
Dipping and hunting,
Their small sad voices are made to delicately for la mar,
But – he thought,
She gives or withholds favours,
 And if she did wicked things,
It was because she could not help them,

– Shoshana, Block 3

This poetic composition exercise is something that you can do with any text and which produces a very wide variety of outcomes. I thought you might like to have a go yourself, maybe with your family, so here are some instructions:

  1. Choose a novel or short story that you love or know well to work with.
  2. Choose 10-15 phrases or short sentences and write them down. The tricky bit is to not think too much but to trust your instincts and choose lines that ‘speak’ to you. You could also experiment with choosing lines at random.
  3. The quotations you’ve chosen may well have some sort of shared theme. You could use the theme as the title of the poem or you might choose one of the lines to be the title.
  4. Re-arrange the quotes into some sort of order that makes most sense. Try not to think too hard but go with what feels right.
  5. You might need to leave out one or two of your original choices but try to include them all if you can.
  6. You might need to alter the grammar of some of your quotations slightly to help it make sense.
  7. Read it through again and again and make any alterations it needs each time.

I’ve also recorded creative writing sessions which anyone can use which can be found here: Description, Home, Poetry and Speech.

Filmmaking, comic strip designing, podcast recording and lecturing – English students embrace online learning

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

As teachers, we’re very aware of the problems associated with screen-time and have been looking for ways to have students present their ideas that don’t involve toiling in the blue light of their laptops. So, over the last few weeks of online learning, Bedales students have had lots of opportunities to present their work in all sorts of ways. Here are a few of the things students have been doing with the English department.

In Block 3, students have been producing their book reviews as short films, some of which you can see here.

The Block 4 English Language students have been studying a variety of 19th century fiction genres and learning about what has made novels so successful. As part of this, many of them have been asked to make comic strips or Gothic films as a way to understand just why isolated castles, terrible weather and mysterious strangers have become such integral parts of Gothic literature. You may remember this is something we did with last year’s Block 4s in the summer term so maybe we have the makings of a yearly film festival at Bedales! See some great examples from Julia’s class here.

6.1 English Literature students are currently studying A Streetcar Named Desire and have been given a choice of performance tasks. We have some students writing re-creative scenes, re-imagining Blanche, Stanley and Stella in different times and places; some aim to learn and perform a key speech of one of the main characters with costume and full dramatic effects; others are working on mini-lectures about themes and ideas in the play such as how music is integral to an audience’s experience of the play in the theatre. 

Block 5 and 6.2 students have been preparing for internal assessments but they have still been able to get away from their screens to produce useful revision materials for each other. Block 5 have produced informative documentaries about something they know well such as climate change or chicken-keeping in order to practise the skills they need for paper 2 of their GCSE English Language exam.

Meanwhile, 6.2 English Literature students have been busiest of all, making lectures about ‘Othello’ either as audio files or filming themselves (in Jago’s case, filming his hands making meticulous notes!) 

The pièce de résistance, though, will doubtless be the now traditional Eve of St Agnes Experience which this year has had to undergo some changes. Unfortunately, we can’t recreate the midnight feast enjoyed by the poem’s characters Madeline and Porphyro in the same way as in previous years, but can still wish ourselves into their world with photos re-creating key scenes and poetry workshops writing verses we think Keats would have included if he could! Look out for more on this from Julia in next week’s Bulletin.

Writing in nature

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This half term Block 3 have been using their English composition lessons to read and write poetry about nature and the seasons. Naturally, John Keats’ To Autumn proved an inspiration for many with phrases that everyone half knows, even if only from the Mr Kipling advert! We’ve also read Seamus Heaney’s Personal Helicon,in which he muses on the way that nature creates and reflects artistic inspiration and helps us to know ourselves better.

Our local favourite is Edward Thomas, who many Block 3 students know from visits to The Poet’s Stone – a hop, skip, and very steep trek up Shoulder of Mutton Hill. The poems But these things also and The penny whistle evoke the landscape around Bedales and students gained a clearer insight into the subtlety of nature writing from the detailed imagery Thomas uses.

I’ve been really impressed with the poems that the Block 3 students wrote in response. You can read a selection below:

Autumn is the soft dying days when the light fades into mysterious night;
Autumn is the cold seeping into your cheeks making them go a rosy pink;
Autumn is the sharpness of the cold in your lungs and the chilly nip of the crisp air;
Autumn is the cosy afternoons by the fire and the musty November smell;
Autumn is the silence in the sky;
Autumn is the path from summer and the bridge to winter.

Posy

The autumn came that year, too fast, too soon.
The rolling winds whipped in from the west.
And all that was in light, shadow overtook.
The late summer fruits lay rotting in the fields,
As if summer itself had forgotten them.
More harvests failed with every looming day,
As the thunderclouds crowded low, drenching the ground.

Where there should have been leaves, golden and red,
There was the black rot of decay.
Where the autumn grass once would have lain,
Bear rock, earth and mud had overtaken.

— Jake

Standing tall, silent, sturdy,
They loom above you,
The pines are straight and thin,
They have stood for tens, hundreds of years.

Needles drop, crunch underfoot and rot,
Branches fall only to be replaced many years later,
Squirrels hop from tree to tree, escaping from some unknown.

— Xander

Winter is coming
Winter is coming thick and fast
The earth is getting hard and frosty
The sun has hidden behind a cloud
And you may be thinking what is happening
And I tell you Winter is coming
It doesn’t matter what you think
It doesn’t matter what you do
Winter is always coming.
When the leave stand strong
Then Winter is just around the bend.
When the hedgehogs are curled up in their dens
And the rivers are freezing up
The wind blows hard on my face
And I know Winter is coming.

— Jack

The trees shiver naked in the blowing wind,
The cool rush of a fresh breeze,
Leaves scattered across the floor,
With little wellies splashing

The winter bounds stick to the paths
With the mud rushing on
Nowhere is safe from the weather
Not even the warmth.

— Mo

Block 3 experiment with comparative poetry

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

My Block 3 students have been practising writing poems using extended metaphors.

In class, we read The Beach by William Hart-Smith, Winter Morning by Roger McGough and In a Station of the Metro by Ezra Pound to inspire us, observing that none of the poems used full rhyme or a particular rhythm; instead, they’re constructed using one long sentence.

Students then worked together in small teams groups, looking at a range of images – a skiing scene, traffic on a motorway, a mountain top and a red London bus – and coming up with a number of metaphors and similes to describe aspects of the picture (mountain tops as “Stegosaurus spines” in the skiing scene, for example).

Next, they were asked to turn their collective notes into a descriptive sentence that uses at least one metaphor, then turn that into a poem.

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English students exercise persuasion skills in homework debate

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

This week, my Block 4 English set were given the chance to debate a subject close to the heart of every member of the school community: homework.

Having learnt about persuasive devices and studied speeches from speakers as diverse as Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg this half term, students have made their own speeches to their class on a wide and eye-opening range of topics. Kipp Bryan had researched fast fashion and advised us all to buy more from vintage clothes shops; Theo argued for a ‘back to basics’ approach to paying footballers; Stella Miller gave an illuminating account of what it has been like to be without a smart phone for the last month and how liberating it has been; and Masha Kulakova argued for more languages to be taught to primary school children. Having practised their skills as solo performers, the class moved on to a more tricky way to persuade an audience: team debates.

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Poetry by heart

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

On 11 October, Block 3 students were invited to attend and participate in a poetry event in the Dining Hall. Welcomed by members of the English department dressed in sheepskins and cloaks, and surrounded by candles, students and staff stood up to perform a poem they had learnt by heart in front of the roaring fire. Some took on Shakespeare and others invited the audience to join them in a rendition of a nursery rhyme.

Lilibet Viner gave a dramatic performance of Helena’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Sam Coleman told us what it was like to be a cupcake cooking in the oven; Clara Gardiner-Cox gave a moving rendition of Mary Elizabeth Frye’s Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep; and Miranda Robertson sang a luxurious yet spine-tingling version of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Arvon attendees reunite for writing workshop

By Julia Bevan, Teacher of English

Last Wednesday, 14 students who attended the Arvon Creative Writing course in Shopshire over the Easter holidays attended an afternoon writing workshop. We held the workshop partly so they could collect The Lighthouse (the anthology of their writing from the course), but also to celebrate seeing their work in print and practice writing techniques they learnt on the course.

To get themselves in the writing headspace, they began by carrying out a free writing task to some serious music, which quickly led to much fast scribbling! The students then attempted some ‘Golden Shovels’, a technique devised by the American poet Terrance Hayes in honour of his fellow compatriot Gwendolyn Brooks.

The last words of each line in a Golden Shovel poem are, in order, words from a line or lines taken often from another poem; the original Golden Shovel is The Pool Players / Seven at the Golden Shovel by Brooks. The results of this technique can be quite different in subject, tone and texture from the original poem, depending on the ingenuity and imagination of the poet composing one!

In honour of the incoming Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage – who visited Bedales last September – students chose lines from his poems Poem and I Am Very Bothered, and had a lot of fun sharing the new poems that evolved from his lines. The intention is to keep the writing momentum going with monthly writing reunions next year and include new work in The Poet’s Stone.