Tag Archives: England

Anyone’s Paradise

23 Aug

I recently travelled back home to my native California to spend some much needed time with friends and family and to soak up some sunshine. It was awesome.

As a writer (and a fan of Steinbeck who was always writing about the search for identity), I was looking – and always have been – for the ultimate question: who am I?

As I travel and experience more and more of the planet and spend more time away from my first home, the answer becomes more complex. As I turn back to the Bible and to Jesus who had no home at all, the answer becomes simple… But that doesn’t mean it is an easy one to accept.

Anyone’s Paradise

So the way it goes.

I have dusted my feet with the salted mud of Jordan’s shores
And the golden sands of California
And looked on the dying sun from Ha Long Bay
Between the limestone mirages.

My voice deceives me. I fit neither here nor there
For as fast as sound travels, the air is filled with ideas
About me. How untrue to me they are, there they are:
Floating around me in a cloud of foreign dust.

I don’t blend into anyone’s paradise.

My hair was scissored by a British hand
My white teeth aligned by an American
My skirt hand sewn in Vietnam
My neck adorned by Bedouin artisans
My shoulders wrapped in a Mexican blanket and
My belly full of chapattis dipped in the most fragrant lentils.

Where do I belong? My patchwork self
Embroidered and inlaid with the world’s kindness and smiles.
And so I go.


Poetry sucks! …decidedly so

26 Jul

Well, if that’s the case…

What happened to the apostrophe and s?

In the words of the tragic Hamlet: to be or not to be… or in the words of ill-spoken teenyboppers: it boring or it not boring…

That is the question.

Poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, topics, techniques – there is a massive, vast array of options. It is like someone saying they don’t like art. This type of person isn’t your average Thomas Kincade hater, they despise Picasso’s starry night, Dali’s weird-o alternate reality, children’s first scribbles, graffiti, napkin doodles, the lot.

Types of poetry (how many do you hate?):

Free verse
Nursery rhymes
Songs – yup! Even the latest from Beyonce.

I am certain that the students polled who ‘hate’ poetry cannot define more than three from the above list. But… If you have made it up in your mind, decided with resolve beforehand at some undetermined moment that you will not enjoy poetry, how will you ever know what fun you could be had?

A way back into poetry

HOT TEACHER TIP: One of my favorite poetry exercises is to have each student write some obscure one-liner on a piece of paper. All students pass the paper along the row. The next student writes another obscure one-liner that rhymes with the first line. Then they fold it over covering the two lines. Finally, they write one more line that does not rhyme. The paper is passed again and the action repeated. Eventually you get a full page of rhyming couplets that leave the students in stitches laughing at what silly and odd things they can come up with, if they just give their minds a chance to be free and be goofy.

I always tell my students that I love poetry because there is no wrong answer.

But if you hate poetry, Mary had a Little Lamb, napkin doodles, rhyming words, children and fun, then poetry is not for you. For this reason, poetry sucks.

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 2

 Poetry rules: 4

Poetry sucks! …if you don’t give it time

6 Jun

It’s just too hard to understand… Sigh.

The score is two in favor of poetry and naught… not for poetry. It is time to pose the against argument. This is easy when it comes to teens (and many adults too). I am sure if I took a poll in the street, the majority would say poetry sucks. I know this. I admit that I am a minority and I am okay with this.

Why? Oh why, do you suck, thou poems?

Robert Fitzgerald said, “Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.” This suggests that to really understand poetry you need to have an appreciation of the elegance of writing. Do you take the time to admire things? I mean really to look at stuff in the world – the nearest tree, the glistening paths snails made during the night, the dragons in the clouds? Do you look for these things?

Poetry isn’t like going to the cinema for a chick flick. Without training the mind to admire, to look at the world with a sense of awe and appreciation, then you do not have an eye for poetry. It does not come naturally. In our culture of the constant and bombarding visual onslaught of information, dazzling lights, advertisements, flashy flash, we are accustomed to glancing – not looking, not seeing, not understanding on the deeper level. We don’t process what we see. This is simply too hard to do.

I am guilty.

I heart youtube and films and since I don’t get TV channels on my television (I know, it’s weird but it adds to my point) when I do enter a room and there is a TV on, I am mesmerized. No joke. I am like a moth to the light. I understand the poetry glaze because I understand that we have evolved to become lazy eyed in a figurative sense. We let information attack us and we do not engage.

Recently I watched a series on the Amish. One young Amish woman visited a shopping mall and she said that it made her feel ill because every store, every sign, every kiosk was aimed at throwing persuasive allure at her. She was overcome with the information and we are in the age where every business is savvy to lure you in. We don’t stop and think, we are coaxed in by the pretty and the cheap.

That is what much of the costly is: cheap. That is how businesses, top selling tat make moo-lah.

Poetry, on the other hand, is the finery, thought over, reflected upon art of the written word. It takes time and brain power to understand and appreciate. It is a hard thing to do.

For this reason, poetry sucks because it is hard for us to understand it unless we choose to use our minds to see.

What is your opinion of poetry? Be sure to click follow!

So the score this week is one for poetry sucks!

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 1

 Poetry doesn’t suck: 2

Poetry sucks! …but you learn about people’s lives

27 May


There should really be an apostrophe in there.

This term I have been teaching poetry to some not very enthused 12-13 year olds and I’ve been polling their honest opinions about my second favourite topic to teach: poetry! What is my first you ask? Creative writing definitely and sometimes it is Shakespeare (check out the poem I wrote on The Tempest). So here is the second instalment of my new series on why poetry sucks and/or doesn’t suck.

So, does poetry suck? One student wrote that you learn about people’s lives! Ah-ha!

Whose lives? And why is this even important?! Inquiring minds want to know.

My students have been learning about conflict poetry from WWI so they know about Robert Graves who desperately missed his loved ones from the trenches, Alan Seeger, Wilfred Owen, Vera Brittain,  Charles Sorely, John McCrae and Rupert Brooke  – wait! I see that unlearned glazed look. Hold your hovering finger right there and do NOT click the back button. Go to scroll. Keep reading. Good.

Did you know that Alan Seeger was a US citizen who was killed on the fourth day of the Battle of the Somme, 4 July 1916, at the age of 28? This was one of the most famously bloody battles?  Did you know that 20% of the entire British fighting force had been killed on the FIRST day?

Did you know Wilfred Owen spent a few extremely long and lonely days in the remains of corpses in a German dugout after being blown away from his fellow soldiers? This gives the reader their window – or rampart – to view from, to undertand the immense tragedy when he went back to the front line for a second time (against his friend, Sassoon’s wishes) to be killed one week before the signing of the Armistice. My heart sinks. He had written to his mother: ” I have not been at the front. – I have been in front of it.”

Did you know Vera Brittain lost her fiance, brother, close friend, and second fiance to WWI? Also, one of her friends became blind as a result of the war and this gives context and meaning to her moving poem “Perhaps” on the grief she endured for the rest of her life.  We understand people and we can then understand their art, their writing, and see and feel their emotions through our perception of it.

Then, we might learn about ourselves. But I can’t tell them that, can I?

See how the poetry sucks/does not argument pans out next week! Be sure to click follow!

Please comment: Who is your favourite poet?

So the score this week is one in favour of poetry!

 The score

 Poetry sucks: 0

 Poetry doesn’t suck: 2

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

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.