Poetry sucks! …but you learn history

12 May

So since my last published poem received minimal views (yes, I did cry inside a little but I got over it) I decided I needed a new approach to lure you to my blog.

Really, I am so excited when I get views, it makes my day.

Now, as you know I am a high school teacher in England (which encompasses teaching 11-19 year olds or 6th graders to seniors). At the moment I am teaching poetry to 12-13 year olds who I polled this week on opinions about poetry and I found some interesting things I’ll be exploring in a series on why poetry sucks and/or doesn’t suck.

So, does poetry suck? One student wrote that it is about history. When I pulled this out the box of anonymous comment I smiled.

I actually loved reading this one. We are learning about conflict poetry this term, and in particular, WWI. We tried on soldier’s gear, we are learning about the soldiers who wrote poetry, and we are spending time imagining peeking over the ramparts into No Man’s Land. There is tons of history here worth exploring, to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine. Next week we are learning about the three main types of gasses used during the Great War. In conflict poetry’s defence, this is an important part of our heritage that we cannot bear to forget.

To put it simply, I think it’s useful; that’s why I am teaching it. Whether or not my students see the light, they can now name the main types of mortars used, know how heavy a soldier’s bag was and can describe the beauty of England that was worth missing to so many poets. I have tried my darndest (I think that’s a word) to send them back in time in my own Magical School Bus way to understand what life was like back then in times of war.

But not all of them see that we are learning history as well – many of them said (in my best Lou and Andy voice): “It’s borrrrring.” I’ll be exploring some of these comments in the upcoming weeks. Be sure to click follow!

So the score this week is one in favour of poetry! What’s your opinion? What value do you see in learning poetry?

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 0

 Poetry doesn’t suck: 1


Fire Over Foreign Water

7 May

My wonderful husband took me to see my absolute favourite Shakespeare play (EVER) a few weeks ago which is… (drum roll please and thank you):

The Tempest

SPOILER ALERT (Follow my blog to read the next work of poetry if you don’t want to know the ending!)

If you have not seen this play performed, watched the major motion picture released last year, or were forced to read the play by an inspiring high school teacher, I am sorry. This is a great comedy and one the last plays ever written (possible THE last, one may never know) by Shakespeare. Not only is there comedy, there is romance, magic, loss, the struggle for power, even murderous plots! The best part, though, and by far why I dearly love this play, is in the ending which defies the normal revenge and need for justice: forgiveness (sigh).

As one of those aforementioned inspiring teachers myself, I have taught the play four times and each time I build up to the confrontation scene where Prospero, our protagonist, rounds up his evil brother, Antonio; the unwitting king, Alonso; the king’s gullible brother, Sebastian; and Prospero’s old friend and lifeline, Gonzalo. I ask my students what they think Prospero will do since we know he has not appeared so innocent and merciful in the preceding acts. Usually they all say surely he will banish them, leave them behind, perhaps kill them. Occasionally I get one or two who suggest the actual response. I love the unexpected kindness and mercy Prospero shows them though they do not deserve it. Such a great ending!

Fire Over Foreign Water

Here is the poem, an example of concrete poetry which forms a picture:

The text version:

An orchestrated shipwreck,

fire over foreign water,

flamed amazement;

brought sorrow and greed to a magical isle.


A crowned king, displaced by thrown swells

to the island inhabited, enchanted

and apart from kind kin, deaf to the past evils,

with wisdom from only an aged advisor

the rest of the entourage, alas, a loss.


Budding romance at first sight on another shore,

a young prince and a duchess, who saw only things

divine and brought together two families of royal blood.

First to a father’s test who watches with many eyes

over the isle: the water, the shores.


And frozen moments reveal the masked deceivers

parading round, of their fears, and steadfast hunger.

Sword drawn, a plea of roaring lions bellowing out,

fools the few. They wonder while the islander hides

from the storm and worships ambitious fools

inebriated and swaddled in charmed robes.


The king, desperate now affright with a raven’s warning;

the advisor jaded; the lovers enthralled by Ceres, Iris and Juno.

Plot foiled for the creature ever lurking is shamed

while all are taken to Prospero by the Lord’s lion and servant spirit.


Our magician ruler who – twelve years asunder –

instead of righteous revenge pardons them,

lavishing forgiveness: true justice for every last one.


Let us all set free and pardon.

Featured Poet: James Clayton

28 Apr

This week is the FINAL Lessons from Lebanon poem and I’ve saved a real treat for the finale. This is a featured poem by never before published James Clayton AND a featured video by Greg Doutre. Did I just hear a wow? I know!

This week the final lesson is the reality of war. We met many people in Lebanon who experiences the reality of civil war. One man told us about the civil war when his now grown children were small witnessing their fears as war raged on all around them. I cannot imagine the desperate thoughts and sense of vulnerability I might experience protecting a young family and for many, many people around the world today this is a reality. My heart goes out to those who do not live in safe places today.



Thank you to James Clayton for your poignant words and Greg Doutre for your moving photography in the video!

If you are a writer and think you have what it takes to be featured here, please send an email with a poem and a brief explanation to me: augustreads@gmail.com

Follow me for next week’s poem  – insha’Allah!

Their War

It’s not academic, it’s not interest;

They know it. They have felt it.

They were there.

As the bombs fell, the blast

It lit up the faces of their crying children.

As the tanks rolled in,

The plates shook out of their cupboards.

A bullet is not just a bullet if it flies

Past your window.

War, it used to interest me,

Dare to say even excite me,

But now I grimace, it’s just so


Lessons from Lebanon: The Grand Mother

20 Apr

View from our homestay, Lebanon

Third of the Lessons from Lebanon series, this poem is about one person who impacted me maybe the most during my time in the land of hummus and labna mmm… Ahem, um, yes so we stayed with a family six miles’ walk away from civilization in any direction. It was an awesome hike getting there and when we finally did, we stayed with a small family in one of the valleys. The house was made up of four rooms build right into the mountain side: a kitchen, living area and two small rooms, plus an outhouse.

The grandmother of the family was amazing. I do think all grandmothers are quite special and this one was pretty amazing. Imagine a small – I’m talking 4 feet – woman with no teeth, bandana round her grey hair, face all scrunched up with wrinkles, large belly, hands so calloused she took a pan straight out of the oven with no gloves. NO GLOVES! That is awesome.

P.S. Next week is the final Lessons of Lebanon series and it’s a featured poet! Also I’ll be featuring a video as well so be sure to follow me!

The Grand Mother

We travelled six hours by foot to the glorious Qadisha Valley
to stay the night with a young family and watch the stars.
Beautiful, the view from the hermit’s cave;
Delicious fresh salted goat’s yoghurt from Paradises
and all those shimmering olive trees.

When all we had were smiles to understand each other,
I watched for a long time the grandmother who
would speak to me for long moments in Arabic
in a tone of assured agreement. I watched the lines
on her face from pure mountain life (no distractions).

I watched her pull a hot pan from the oven bare handed.
I, wide eyed, could not comprehend the wisdom she must
possess from bearing children with only the comfort
of age old advice passed down. How I longed
to have such wisdom shared with me.

And we smile at each other and she touches my arm
And she is strong and gentle yet fierce
and in that moment where we mirror
a small gesture of kindness,
we understand something of the other.

We have many lessons to learn from them.

The Seven Ages of Jen

17 Apr

Happy Birthday to me!

That’s right readers, I have written a birthday poem to help myself reflect on life and come to terms with the incessant aging process. I’m now in my late twenties – there is no denying it – I am definitely out of my mid-twenties and on my way to thirtydom. I keep reminding myself to welcome it with open arms but dang, that is hard. So poetry is my way forward.

This poem is a twist on Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man” from the play As You Like It; however, I have given it an added twist. I haven’t copied the structure. Instead I wanted to challenge myself and write in the sestina scheme. Here is the breakdown of stanzas:

Shakespeare’s seven ages:

My seven ages:

1.    Infancy 1.   Infancy (part of a family)
2.   Childhood 2.   Teenage years (phases that NO ONE wants to relive)
3.   The lover 3.    Young adult (maturing, travelling, committing my life to God)
4.    The soldier 4.    Marriage (current ‘age’) (getting hitched, moving to England, becoming an adult)
5.    The justice 5.    Motherhood (I guess that is next… AHHH!)
6.    Old age 6.    Grandmotherhood (Looking forward to this in a few decades)
7.    Mental dementia and death 7.    Death (I guess it’s one of two guarantees in life)

 So what is a sestina? A sestina is a type of poetry made up of seven stanzas following a complex scheme. In each of the first six stanza the lines end in one of six words and the seventh stanza is short but still also uses all the words as a treat. My six words are:

A = balanced;    B = patient;    C = loved;    D = world;    E = be;    F = sweet.

Stanza 1 Stanza 2 Stanza 3 Stanza 4 Stanza 5 Stanza 6
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

Confused? Don’t worry, it’s the enjoyment of the poem that’s the important bit –  not the fancy schamncy scheme.

So how did I go about choosing these six special birthday words you ask? I asked my friends! Thanks friends!

Enjoy the poem and a happy day to you, especially if it’s your birthday too.

The Seven Ages of Jen

My world is a stage: curtain drawn. A balanced
Part comedy, part tragedy of a not-so-patient
Woman’s journey, learning to love and be loved
And finding her – my – own way in the world.
My mom told me once that I taught her how to be.
I? Only a baby in this gift of family, bittersweet.

Many things children do not see as bitter or sweet –
But they are all gifts. Between school and chores, small hands balanced
Living and growing and learning through trial. I dared to be
Grunged and gothed through the early acts, not patient
But fighting through change in the staged world
Hungrily grasping at what it was to ultimately be loved.

And I, a young woman came to know how to be loved,
Truly, by God. And the moment of sweet
Forgiveness – to know my place in the vast world
Downstage or up, or hiding in the wings. I found myself balanced
Learning to be still. Then, off on adventures to China to find fruit: the patient,
Loving-kindness, goodness, and faithfulness that I can be

And bring to others. And so one day upon my stage I, a wife to be,
My husband appeared at stage right and instantly we loved
Each other in a new way of deep, true, patient
Love, and I savoured those moments so dear and sweet.
And I changed the props to England’s castles and cups of tea and I balanced
New things: baking, blogging, teaching, loving in this wide world.

Now who I can invite to this stage in my new world?
To become a mother next, perhaps I will be
And learn a new dance, a new walk, to be balanced
With a swollen belly, children already loved
And wanted. They will be gentle and sweet
As peas. I will learn again, to be patient.

The audience will want to stand for an ovation – be patient.
I’m still watching them grow, to learn and marry and make a world
Of their own and I’ll treat them all to my dad’s sweet
Secret ingredient recipes. I’ll stand downstage to be
Master of the dramatic soliloquy reflecting on how loved
They are. A comedy, a tragedy, a history: well-balanced.

Then my patient heart will be met with the ultimate bride-groom to be,
Who conquered the world and loved it first.
Then all will be sweet and balanced.

Lessons from Lebanon: The Green Line

11 Apr

The second of a handful of poems in the Lessons from Lebanon series, this one came by surprise – the best poems do – in downtown Beirut. We were walking along the famous Civil War boundary when a security guard stopped us for a friendly chat. I’m not going to lie, I was a little intimidated… until he started showing us pictures and smiling a lot. 

We were standing just in front of this massive cinema, irreconcilably one of the most startling reminders in the immediate area of the war.

Lebanese Civil War, Cinema, Green Line

According to Wikipedia, the Green Line is: “a line of demarcation in Beirut, Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990. It separated the mainly Muslim factions in West Beirut from the Christian Lebanese Front in East Beirut. The appellation refers to the coloration of the foliage that grew because the space was uninhabited.”

Just what this poem is about.

The Green Line

There is a man who stands along the Green Line,

Security guard on the cinema side –

The theatre wrenched open splaying grey

 And thirty years of decay.

Juxtaposed with the beautiful blue topped

Mosque next door or the white

Of the churches down the road.

With a wave he invited us to hear

The story of civil war on the space I stood

Just one generation before.

He tells me through yellowing teeth

From many cups of sweet coffee

And with a smile, his story (with pictures).

And gazing behind him,

In the open innards of the edifice

With its metal skeleton bare

And its guts amiss

I see unfurled a single arm of green ivy

From somewhere deep within

Reaching up, up to the sky.

Only the Stones

6 Apr

It's Easter! Photo credit here

Students have been unleashed into Spring Break, teachers are sleeping in late and it’s Peep eating season. Wait, there are no peeps in the UK?! Hold on… something is missing beside the Peepage. My birthday? That’s still a little while away… School? No, two weeks off still (hooray!)… Easter Sunday? Ah, that’s the One: the Jesus thing.

This poem stems from imagery of Jesus on the cross which is historically believed to have happened today, a Friday (as public excutions must have been dead and cleared away before the Sabbath). Remembering images of this event, I was indifferent the first time I saw The Passion, averting my eyes from the gore of a beaten man. The second time as a believer (when I was 20), I wept, gazing on such a sacrifice, an atonement. I saw it differently. And today, I see it differently again; I don’t watch it anymore. Why? Because the cross is empty; He rose.

P.S. If anyone knows the whereaboust of any possible Peeps in the England area, please let me know. I miss their pastel marshmallow goodness, especially when it’s Easter: a time to celebrate after all! Happy Easter and a Good Friday to you all.

Only the Stones

The logs cracked and burdening

On his back became splinters, somewhere,

Reabsorbed into the good earth,

And maybe into the air.


And the garments gambled for,

Worn down to shreds and resold,

Passed down and around; the relic

Vanished from the eager human hands.


Backs arched for strong swings hammering

Iron nails gave into rust and time:

Withered, dented, worn away

By sandaled feet as roadside debris.


Their eyes, their living eyes burned

By the eclipsing sun have all fallen asleep

And their stories too, oral tradition

Of the strange day, carried away by the breeze.


There is nothing to see now, no place to dwell.

Only the rocks, and me, we have a story to tell.