The Yellow Palm

Instead of a normal analysis, I am here today to offer some notes on the content of the poem. These ideas, as said before on numerous occasions, can be used in essays, but if you choose to use my words, word for word, you have to give me credit. Your teacher simply knows your standard of writing and will know when it is not you writing, so she will Google the words and find me, resulting in disqualification for you.

Cultural and historical references in the poem

  • Palestine Street – a major street in Baghdad (although not the street that Minhinnick identifies as the inspiration for his poem), also known as Falastin Street.
  • Poison gas – a term to describe chemical weapons such as mustard gas and chlorine gas. Poison gas was used by Iraq against Iran during the Iran–Iraq War and also (allegedly) against its own Kurdish minority. The UN supervised the destruction of a quantity of chemical weapons in Iraq after the first Gulf War.
  • Muezzin – the person who calls the faithful to prayer at mosque.
  • Imperial Guard – the unit of volunteers (largely) who originally served as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s personal bodyguard. The unit’s remit broadened into a wider military one.
  • Mother of all Wars (or Mother of all Battles) – President Saddam Hussein’s description of the first Gulf War.
  • Tigris – river flowing through Baghdad.
  • Cruise missile – a guided missile that can carry conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear warheads. Cruise missiles were used by both ‘sides’ during the first Gulf War.
  • Yellow palm – a type of date-producing palm tree that is frequently mentioned in the Qu’ran. The tree’s leaves, bark and fruit are used for a variety of purposes including timber, rope, food and fuel.
  • Salaam – an Arabic greeting (meaning ‘peace’) which is used throughout the world, mainly by Muslims. In the Middle East, it is accompanied by two or three light cheek kisses, usually between people of the same gender. It is a shortening of As Salaam Alaykum (peace be upon you).

Using these notes you should be able to write an analysis of the poem.


Mametz Wood – Analysis

For someone to visit Mametz Wood in the present age, one has to have an interest in the fighting that took place in the first world war [1914-1918] so this poem is a creation of someone’s thoughts after seeing the place for themselves. As such, anyone who visits such a place as this is usually left with a sensation of desolation. I know when I went and paid my respects at Cabaret Rouge Cemetery in 2002, I was left in tears at the mass loss of life that took place in this stretch of land in northern France.

So it comes as no surprise to me to see such words as this from Owen Shears. He shares his thoughts from the perspective of the after effects of the battles that took place there. In verses of three lines each, using no real rhyme scheme, he shares how pieces of the men who fell have been found by farmers constantly digging up the landscape. He describes them as “the wasted young” which immediately shows the reader his attitude to the fighting and the war; one of disdain for such a massive loss of life just because someone in officialdom said we go to war.

Such an attitude is prevalent in many of the first word war poets and it is a feeling that has not gone away in this time of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, where soldiers are sent into fields of conflict at the behest of politicians and Generals intent of waging war on others. The farmers would find a piece “of bone” or part of “a skull” when the blades cut the soil and on each occasion, a grave would be unearthed. In this field where young men “were told to walk, not run,” the blood and the bone still exist to show us the horror of warfare and Shears is showing just how horrific it was, and is, for those who continue to find the remnants of sons, brothers, fathers and even Grandfathers in the mud and the soil. In essence it is a sad edict on the idea of war but it is also a criticism of those who sent the men to their deaths.

Shears recounts how the men were sent forward, walking into imminent death against machine guns on the ridge before the wood, where the German troops were gathered with machine guns, ready to cut the English soldiers to bits. It is that ground which “stands sentinel” now, to remind us that this happened nearly one hundred years ago. It is also something that we as humans, should never forget.

And on the morning he visits there is unearthed a whole grave of bodies that are laid with their “socketed heads at an angle” to show the grim reality of war. It is this image that the writer is trying to imprint in the mind of the reader; see this and know the full horror of warfare in the twentieth century. Know that innocent men went to their deaths trusting those in authority that what they were doing is right. In this way, yet again we have another poem that is a polemic on the nature and attitude to war. It is a picture that is being painted here, a “broken mosaic” of an image that resides now in the mind and memory of the writer as he reflects on having to see what has been unearthed before him.

This poem, like others before it, shows the horror of warfare in the trenches in the first world war. It also shows just how much of a blood-letting took place and just how the memory of that time can never be truly forgotten when the land keeps churning up the relatives that we lost in Flanders fields.

Mametz Wood – Owen Shears


Mametz Wood is notorious as a place of death, a hell in the lives of so many. Anyone who has been to visit and pay respects, or who has read about the first world war will have heard the horror stories that are associated with this place, so for someone like this man to visit the place and then write this poem speaks volumes to the hollow feeling of death and decay that exists on that stretch of land in northern France.

On another post, you will find my analysis. I would rather just have the poem here, in all its detail. It would be remiss of me to add comments here. RIP to all those who fell. Lest we forget.

Flag – John Agard

John Agard is one of my favourite poets, simply for one magnificent poem called Half-Caste. I cannot get enough of it. So it gives me heaps of delight to analyse this one.

Flag – John Agard

Many poems begin with a question and this one is no different. The question and the title link together immediately in the mind of the reader because we expect to see a flag “fluttering in the breeze.” It is a nice picture, a positive picture, to begin with, but when coupled with the next two lines, it becomes something in the mind of the reader that brings about a sense of pride in the nation we inhabit. With Agard born overseas, this reflects his country of birth, but it could indeed reflect and represent any country someone calls ‘home.’

A flag fluttering in the breeze can “bring a nation to its knees” in reverence as well, for it is an emblem of a nation’s unity. This is why political parties the world over choose to use the national flag to represent their values and viewpoints, but to then add that the same flag is “just a piece of cloth that makes the guts of men grow bold” strengthens the feeling of nationalistic pride even further. One sees a very positive poem here from someone proud of his heritage. But students of Agard will know there is to be a twist at the end.

With the introduction of the question “what’s that rising over the tent? And the answer that follows of “it’s just a piece of cloth that dares the coward relent” one sees the change and the conflict that good poets usually put into their poems. A flag is all these things but daring a coward to relent from his [or her] cowardice is something that then suggests that Agard is now talking to those with weaker hearts and this poem becomes a polemic to those people. [look up the word, polemic please]

Agard then continues with “what’s that flying across a field? Again this is an image in the mind of the reader that in warfare, such things would indeed happen. But to consider it to be “just a piece of cloth” is a negative sounding comment and one that makes the poem change tone at this point. It has changed from the flag that brings pride to the one that “will outlive the blood you bleed.” The flag then, is something that can be seen in many different ways, dependent upon the person viewing it.

In this sense, one begins to see Agard’s attitude towards war, based on the use of the flag in the past. In times gone by, when soldiering was more traditional and man fought man, the ‘colours’ or the ‘flag’ was flown high. Indeed some countries like America hold the flag very highly in their understanding of what it is to be American. But Agard is now being critical and one has to see this here.

He asks “how can I possess such a cloth? Apart from the obvious duality of the meaning of the word “possess” he is asking how he can get into that mindset like others. How can he hold to nationalistic views like others? To a certain extent, one can, but how extreme do your views go before the flag becomes a nightmare that has to be burned? We see extremism where these things happen. To those people, a flag is a sign of intolerance and indifference. It is something to be hated and loathed, burnt and mocked. Their views have been blinded from the reality of a standpoint and the ability to have tolerance for another nation and their emblem, their flag.

In this way, Agard is saying that it is very easy for someone to ask to buy a flag because in doing so, one’s thoughts can be blinded, or that a person can “blind” their “conscience to the end.” In doing so, they allow themselves to be blinded to the truth that we all should get on with each other and the hatred should stop. Once we see that the flag is merely a representative aspect of our nation and hold it at that, we can be the neighbours we need to be with each other.

This is a poem therefore that has cynical attitudes towards warfare and to the notion of the country’s flag. A flag is just a flag, nothing else and to be blinded by hatred and indifference just because of a piece of cloth with a design on it would be foolish.

Flag – John Agard

What’s that fluttering in the breeze?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that brings a nation to its knees.

What’s that unfurling from a pole?
It’s just a piece of cloth
That makes the guts of men grow bold

What’s that rising over the tent?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that dares the coward relent.

What’s that flying across a field?
It’s just a piece of cloth
that will outlive the blood you bleed.

How can I possess such a cloth?
Just ask for a flag my friend.
Then blind your conscience to the end.

Anthology Poetry – Conflict

Screenshot 2014-10-07 at 21.51.22

These are some of the poems in the AQA anthology called Moon On The Tides. Over the next few days and weeks, expect to see analysis on each one, or most of them. I have taught several, most notably COTLB, to year 8 [p195] but will enjoy giving you food for comfort for when your teacher chooses a title that looks at attitudes to warfare. That is what I intend to concentrate on with each one.

Happy reading….

Speaker’s Corner – 2015 CA

Speakers’ Corner: Write the script of a piece intended to be read on local radio in which you voice your strong opinions on a subject of your own choice.

Okay, so a teacher makes the mistake about choosing this one. He or she thinks there will be a variety of thoughts and emotions coming out in the writing. Boy are they in for a shock!

What are the choices available to us? Well for a start there are the right wing bigots out there who think they can write about ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East. If they are uber religious and haters, you can guess what kind of writing AQA and the likes will have to read through. Someone who is of the sensitive kind will mark down any papers that are bigoted in their viewpoints.

Then there is the whole idea about the World wide debt situation and the government deciding to pay off the deficit to balance the budgets [USA and UK respectively]. You can imagine the furore such a subject might bring out of people in their writing. Once again, this becomes a very touchy subject to write about and one that will bring out the somethingists of this world. Woe betide any teacher choosing this one then.

Or perhaps there is the possibility to write about the plight in the Middle East and the notion of the New World Order? Oh my word, what a choice. Every conspiracy theorist out there will see this as a chance to vent their emotions and feelings. If this was entitled, as it was two years ago, Don’t Get Me Started, then you can imagine the words that would appear on the page.

Should a teacher choose this? I think not.

But if they do, then there are better subjects to choose from, such as abortion and the right to end a life in this manner. It is an argument that in this case is to be one sided; yes a venting of feelings, but one that can be controlled in such a manner as to bring about something that could be aired on public radio. After all, look at the title again; it is to be aired in public on the radio. So be careful but let your words do the talking. I have rules I set to these CAs and I would advise the same for you – no swearing of any kind and absolutely no hate words! Both suggest a lack of vocabulary in you and a bigoted outlook on life.

But it does not mean you cannot have fun with this one if the teacher chooses it. Being mostly High School Year 11s who will take this test, I would advise choosing something within school life, possibly the way parents and society tend to view getting results and achieving in the world of academia to be the way forward. Not everyone is a brain box after all. Not everyone will get A*s in the exam and go to university. We need trained and experienced people in life to lead the lifestyles and do the other jobs for us; plumbers, bricklayers, electricians etc.

So perhaps your piece could be on how us ‘oldies’ tend to pigeon hole the young into going to university and ending up 20k in debt with no chance of a job, when at 16 or 18 they could be working?

Who knows, this could get the grade you seek, C or above!

How To Add Quotes Into PEE Chains

How to add quotes into PEE Chains

There are 2 ways one can do this.

  1. The ‘and then he said’ style. Eg. In The Woman In Black Kipps sees the mysterious woman dressed in black, in the church at the funeral. He turns to the man with him after and says “…..insert quote here………” which means that he is concerned for her well-being.In this PEE chain, there is a POINT, followed by a piece of text, or EVIDENCE and then completed with some thoughts from you, or EXPLANATION from your point of view. Good ones get a D grade.
  2. The ‘fully embedded quote” style. See example below….At the beginning of the chapter, he is sorting through the paperwork of Mrs Drablow’s estate and nothing much else is happening, but then, Spider, the dog, loaned by Mr Daily as company for him whilst in Eel Marsh House, reacts to a sound and it is this sound that gets Kipps curious as to what has caused it. He is alone with the dog in the old house and tells the reader that “every hair on her [the dog] body was on end, her ears were pricked, her tail erect, the whole of her tense, as if ready to spring.” Clearly, this is a sign of growing curiosity, rather than fear, but it also shows just how much he fears his surroundings and the strangeness of them, coupled with previous events in the village. It makes the reader ask the obvious question; what will happen next?

    In this piece of text, the story is told a little more, but it is much more subtle as a way of explaining your thoughts. It is a much more effective manner of writing also and much more fluent, achieving a higher score, into the A and A* grades if used throughout an essay.

    The trick is to check at the end of the writing this thought – if I take away the speech marks from the quote, does the sentence still make sense? If it does, then you have done it correctly!

Tasks to complete…

  1. Choose a piece of text from Woman In Black that is less than 20 words in length.
  2. Try to adopt Style No. 2 and do that sort of PEE chain.
  3. Then think about how much it is better than the other style.
  4. Use it in your essays from then on, which ever book, poem or play you are writing about.

Journeys – 2015 CA

The web host of a creative writing website approaches you to submit some writing for it. This month’s theme is ‘Journeys.’

Just seeing this title in front of me made me think of the Bill Bryson style of writing and that this is what the examiner would expect from us all, but then that idea gave way to this one for some reason. I wonder what the examiner would do if he or she saw this Acrostic plus a story?


Journeys; small ones, large ones, boring ones, exciting ones. They are

Of course, a necessary evil on the road of our life. They are both

Useful, necessary, unnecessary, laborious and fruitful, sometimes

Resulting in an array of experiences, that enable us to live out our lives,

Endlessly remembering that which has gone before us; the memories of

Yesteryear, the good, the bad, the small, the large, our rich journeys in life.

So remember them, wherever they were to and whoever they were with!


There are many journeys in my mind’s eye right now, many times when good turned to bad, or bad to good. If I was to begin with “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” one reader at least would see the Dickensian link and see where I might be going, but this journey was one of discovery, if nothing else for I was to learn something about the beauty that is human nature.

It began on the day of my mother and father’s Ruby wedding anniversary, when my sister in law rang them to wish them well. They live abroad, so getting to such events is not possible, but I could see quickly from the quickly draining face of my mother that something was wrong when she was on the phone.

When I picked up the receiver I listened in horror to the account of how my brother had been involved in an accident a thousand miles away. I was determined to get there and see him so hatched a rather crazy plan; I would hitch hike the route there and back and just have to pay for my ferry ride. I had no job and no money, so this was a possibility so I decided there and then to go on this journey.

That afternoon, I began ringing people and found that I could pay at Dover for my place on an open ended ferry ticket, where I could just arrive, get on and travel aboard the ferry to France. Within a few days I was on my way, but the way I got there, inside 36 hours, to this day astounds me beyond belief. Yorkshire to France is problematic at best because one has to navigate the horror that is London and by foot, this was going to prove difficult, until my Minister [Priest] said she knew of a way to get me to France, or “somewhere in France” as she added. She knew a man, who knew a man, who knew a driver, who knew his boss very well. You know the sort of thing I am sure.

And the following day, I was meeting two 40 footers by the side of the road a few miles away, who would take me from Rotherham, to Dover, to Calais and then to “somewhere in France,” all free and gratis, of course. As we got to Dover I was told to hand over my passport to the driver. How odd I thought. But I did so and we boarded the ferry together, with me listed as “co-driver.” These wagons did not have co-drivers, but hey, this was an emergency. So we were away from this country and on the ocean; well, Le Manche, as the French call it.

When we got to Calais, off we went down the French country roads, into and through the April morning and off to the east of France. It transpired that the wagons were full of frozen cow carcasses, in a refrigerated unit, so we trundled south, where at the point where the wagons would go into the tunnel to get them into Italy, they would drop me and I would hitch the rest of the way.

Simple, or so I thought.

When we got close to our agreed place where we would split however, something terrible happened; the wagon I was in broke down and at the side of the road, on a warm day, with no refrigeration unit working, you can guess what began to happen. The wagon began to stink! When the lads knew it was not going to go any further, they told me and I decided to hitch from there, just north of Chamonix in France. It was now going to be an interesting jaunt to get to the autoroute du soleil, where the direct trunk road was that took me to Avignon in the south; my destination.

At this point, there is always a certain amount of fear, but I could do nothing but write on a card my destination of SUD and hope for the best. I offered a little prayer and no sooner had I opened my eyes, a man driving a car stopped and took me from there to the auto-route. That journey did not take long and at the barriers of the Peage, I waited for about 20 minutes when a young man driving a tanker stopped and drove me south. I explained my reason for the journey in broken French.

As he drove, it began to rain like I had never seen it do before, or since, so the driver got on his CB radio and started chatting. I wondered what on earth was going on. I know very little French so had no idea what he was saying and after about an hour he stopped in a lay by and pointed to the tanker at the side of him. I was to get out of his cab and into the other. He had organized the lift, which would take me to 50km north of Avignon, where a room had been procured for me. It was, simply amazing!

After my sleep, I emerged into the morning of the next day and stuck my thumb out again. There was nothing on this road apart from two Gendarmes who asked if I was a vagrant, so again I explained and they reassured me my brother would be fine and I continued, for about five minutes, when a car arrived, picked me up and drove me the 50kms into Avignon centre. He had to make a stop or so it seemed and I was a little worried. This was weird! But then, he drove me south towards Cabannes where I recognized the scenery. He had asked me the address I was going to and took me to the door! I thanked him and he went on his way. I had arrived at my destination and only been stood at any roadside for less than an hour in the entire journey.

But what it taught me is that the notion of the Good Samaritan is not dead! Human nature is and can be, wonderful and I have often wondered, since that time, whether or not those Gendarmes phoned to base and got a friend to drive me to Cabannes. I suppose I will never know.

Re-creating a story from a literary text [CA 2015]

CA Title: Use a character from a literary text you have read as the inspiration for a piece of your own writing.


The character I am choosing can be found in the Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations. His name is Abel Magwitch. In that novel, he is a criminal, who is helped by young Pip at the beginning of the story, a deed for which he admires Pip when he is transported to Australia. As a convict, he cannot return to England ever, without fear of death by hanging, but when he gets to Australia and becomes very wealthy as a sheep farmer and trader, his desire is to make something special. This is an imaginary account from him that could be inserted into the plot of the novel, arguably the greatest novel of all time.


As I sit here, in the beauty and tranquillity of the regional outback, I can see just how fortunate I have been in my life.

You see, I am a criminal; the worst of the worst you might say, the sort you would not want to associate with, but I am also a man and a man should always be given a second chance. I learnt that from a young lad by the name of Pip once, before I came to this beautiful place.

He helped me you see, when I needed help the most. He went back to the Smithy’s forge and stole me some drink and a pie. He even got me some whittles so I could file away the shackles on my ankles so I could get free. There was none of the revulsion that one would normally associate with the likes of me. There was none of the wariness that everyone else shows me. With Pip, it was just a case of me being someone in need and he was my good Samaritan.

He helped me to see once again that salvation that can be shown in human beings and so, I told the soldiers, when they captured Compeyson and I, that I had stolen the whittles, food and drink, so it would not get that bright, young thing into trouble. I even gave him a look as if to say I will take your blame with my multitudinous sins with me to the other side of the world.

And here I am, amidst the land and my sheep, somewhere where I have become known and become rich. It is a land filled with plenty, a luscious yet hard way of life, but one that is infinitesimally better than that in England. England, the place of my birth, the place of my downfall, the place where the likes of Compeyson can climb their social ladder and become the gentleman criminal. What a sordid and wicked place that really is! In such a world as this, there can exist something so powerful as the British Empire and it be completely corrupt, from head to toe.

Out here it is so very different. Yes, we had to serve our time, but when that time came to an end, we were allowed to settle into the landscape, the rich, living landscape that allows us to live, to thrive, to make something of ourselves. When I began this illustrious career, I had one thing in mind; to repay the debt I owed. I have worked hard all these years, tending the sheep, rebuilding my life.

I live thousands of miles away in this remote outpost of the British Empire and have had only one thing in my mind, to see my gentle young man once again. When I came out of the shackles and began working again for a living, I knew the debt had to be repaid. I knew I had a destiny to once again return to England, but I also had someone I could consider an heir to my fortune, which was slowly amassing as the months went by.

I have had my experiences in England before now; the love of a good woman, the loss of a child, the utter grief at being separated from my wife and here, I could channel that grief into something good, something positive; young Pip and making his life a better one. He thinks of course that the money he receives is being given from someone else. He must think that for he would never guess that it is I who has instructed that shark of a lawyer named Jaggers to work on his behalf.

And now, after all this time, I have the chance to return. I know the risks that come with this venture. I know the trouble I will be in if I am caught. But I have to go once more, to see my young gentleman and to tell him that it is I who have given him his great expectations. I am sure he will understand and be grateful, but that is not my reason or my intent. No. What I need to do is offer him the rest of my wealth and fortune. With that he will become whatever he wishes to become. With that, he will be able to encounter the world and all its glories. With that, my gentle young man can emerge into London society a confident and able man of affairs.

I have done the one thing I set out to do. I have made a gentleman and I am extremely proud of my Mr. Pip!


You never know, but one thing you could write in an exam situation is something different. Three years ago now, there was a radio script. There is nothing stopping them adding in a meditation of sorts, which on the surface of it, seems like a nightmare, but panic not dear brethren, it is an easy enough task, given that they will give you the title etc.

Here is an example trying to be as creative as possible and based on the theme of “Harvest.”

Harvest Of What?

We plough the fields and scatter, the good seed on the land. Well, not us. Not for some time either. We don’t get our hands dirty, preferring instead to buy pre-packaged, pre – washed, pre- prepared everything, from sliced white bread to ready chopped carrots.

Never mind that our choices are flown half way across the world. We like quality. And, on occasion, we’ll even pay for it.

Harvest is something we’re prepared to leave to others. The physical harvest – Is someone else’s worry. If the weather’s bad. If crops fail. We’ll simply shop elsewhere, move on, pay more. We certainly won’t starve. We have not been that close to the land for a long time now. It’s nothing new, to reflect modern life, contemporary culture.

Perhaps our harvest celebration needs to be revamped? Perhaps it needs to reflect our experience. Of work and toil, our experience, of sweat and tears. Isn’t harvest about celebrating our gift, our skills, all that God has given us to make life good?

Isn’t it about giving thanks for the comparative luxury we know and that we protect at all costs. That’s so far removed from work on the land so can’t we find another way to celebrate? We plough the fields and scatter? Not us, not any more.

Come, ye thankful people come, raise the strain of harvest home. Oh yes. It’s good to give thanks once a year; thanks for all those little luxuries, thanks for God’s blessings. Once a year it’s good to give thanks.

For the Lord our God shall come and shall take his harvest home. Now that’s sounding a different note. God harvesting people. But we won’t worry too much about that. We’re simply here to give our thanks for now. Don’t need to worry about the future at harvest. We’ll just celebrate the present and leave the future to God. That’s part of harvest too, isn’t it, that God takes care of the future?

Come, ye thankful people come, raise the strain of harvest home… Moving on:

For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God. We’ll celebrate all that we can see around us. We’ll congratulate ourselves on being so well off that we can sing heartily the words: In our world wide task of caring, God’s will is done. In the harvest we are sharing God’s will is done. Yet, to make our words ring true today we have to see beyond our shiny colourful display of fruit, to the responsibility that God places on each of us, to make the kind of harvest we celebrate; alive with meaning for the world, alive with meaning for those who’ll sleep rough tonight, alive with meaning for those who will go to bed hungry, alive with meaning for the poor all around us and, yes alive with meaning in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Sumatra and Zimbabwe, in all the hovels where God’s children  are to be found; to know that our world is not as God intended, that in creation there is more than enough to go around, if we could only share.

And so, in our plenty, it’s not that we should waste time on feeling guilty but that we should turn God’s goodness to us into a call to serve the world by our sharing. Our God, who stretched out the heavens and created everything in wisdom relies on us to care and gives us what we need to do, just that, and so we will take our fruit this morning, symbol of all the goodness of God.

We will take our fruit, symbol of the power of God. We will take our fruit, symbol of the call of God, we will give thanks and we will share from our place of plenty. We will give thanks to the God of the harvest and we will share God’s food for God’s world.