John Cooper Clarke – i wanna be yours

John Cooper Clarke – i wanna be yours

Now this brings back some happy memories for me, to see this included in one of the latest anthologies. I remember teaching this well over a decade ago and loving the language of this punk performance poet. The likes of Armitage and Duffy may give us the likes of a clown who is a punk and someone called Salome who acts in more disparate ways than her predecessor, but when it comes to performance poetry, as far as this teacher is concerned, JCC is God! Normally, I stress not using the words “I” and “my” in essays, but I am not sure I can do that here because this one is so personal to me.

So, here is his rather simple little poem. Let’s see what you think.

i wanna be yours
let me be your vacuum cleaner
breathing in your dust
let me be your ford cortina
i will never rust
if you like your coffee hot
let me be your coffee pot
you call the shots
i wanna be yours

let me be your raincoat
for those frequent rainy days
let me be your dreamboat
when you wanna sail away
let me be your teddy bear
take me with you anywhere
i don’t care i wanna be yours

let me be your electric meter
i will not run out
let me be the electric heater
you get cold without
let me be your setting lotion
hold your hair with deep devotion
deep as the deep
atlantic ocean
that’s how deep is my emotion
deep deep deep deep de deep deep
i don’t wanna be hers
i wanna be yours

John Cooper Clarke

Analysis

Now, when it comes to poems, these are the ones I love; free verse, no punctuation, just loads of enjambement to let you know when to take a pause [at the end of each line]. This is such a wonderful little poem when you look at it more closely because Cooper Clarke is saying to the person he is writing to, the love of his life, that he wants to be the normal things to her [or him] rather than the special, the mundane rather than the extraordinary.

If we think about it, we tend to think about the ones we love in terms of us being the best person for them, offering them the very best in love that we can every day so that they can know the true beauty of real love in their relationship with us, but we do not tend to think in terms of the ordinary things like a “vacuum cleaner” or an ageing “Ford Cortina,” [an old car last made in the 1970s, I believe, although I am no doubt wrong there].

ford-cortina-mk3-1Ford Cortina Mk3

But John Cooper Clarke writes this poem saying that he wants to be like the vacuum cleaner “breathing in your dust” and like the Cortina because, in his words, “i will never rust. Simple rhymes used to great effect are so effective in any poem and here, Cooper Clarke does this so well. The very idea of the normal being used to say he will be the perfect lover is so simple a message that it shows the simplicity of the English language in all its glory. But it also shows just how much this person means to him, or indeed, if he has written it as if someone else was speaking, for that person to the one they love. It is a message that we can all adopt in our relationships, so that we can say “if you like your coffee hot let me be your coffee pot” and mean every vowel and every consonant as we specify that we will be the one thing for that person that she, or he, would want from us.

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At the end of the day, the speaker is saying that in this relationship, it is a case of “you call the shots” because in the big scheme of things, all the speaker needs to share with the loved one is the message “i wanna be yours.” What better message can there be for someone whom we love? What better way to stress the importance of their love in the relationship that we have and exist in. In the first verse alone, there is a symmetry to the words that is sublime in its simplicity but also sharing such a powerful emotion, such as love for another.

Then, in the second verse, this style and structure is repeated, offering another item of ordinariness in the idea of something that can protect us from the harshness of the inclement weather we seem to have in the United Kingdom all the time. The speaker says “let me be your raincoat for those frequent rainy days,” offering us the image of the raincoat that covers a multitude of sins and keeps us warm when we are in the face of harsh weather and a driving wind. Sometimes, those driving winds can be more than mere weather. They can be pressure from family that they believe we are entering into the wrong kind of relationship, or from friends because they think they know our heart better than we do. To this, the speaker adds “let me be your dreamboat when you wanna sail away” and the tenderness of “let me be your teddy bear” so that you can “take me with you anywhere.” Once again, the simplicity of the imagery shows how he wants to be all things to this person. The saying being “all things to all persons” is being adopted here because, as he specifies at the end of the verse, “i don’t care i wanna be yours.”

The sense of ownership is one that Cooper Clarke is investigating so well because he sees himself as not being able to live without this person, whoever they are. I love the last verse in particular, because he uses such things as heaters that we use in the home to share his love for this special person in his life. Thus, “let me be your electric meter” is such a fantastic idea because he believes that he will not run out”  and leave his lover in the mire of not being able to lead a normal, healthy life without him. Now some would say here that such a person could be seen as being rather OCD in terms of wanting such a closeness in their relationship, but at the end of all things, he is specifying that he wants to be all things to this person, the perfect partner that he can be.

electric-meter

Then he adds “let me be the electric heater,” because “you get cold without” one in your life. Once again, what a fantastic way to share your love for someone! And I am sure that anyone who uses product in their hair will understand the next one on the list as well, for he says “let me be your setting lotion” so that he can “hold your hair with deep devotion” for as long as needs be, in order to keep this image he has of her [or him] in his mind; the picture of perfection. That is how I see my wife, especially after thirty years of marriage and that is how this speaker sees the person in his life; someone he can offer love to that is as “deep as the deep atlantic ocean.” Such is the extent of his love for this person. The depth of love is thus measured in terms of the mundane and the every day, to show the depth of his “emotion.”

electric-heater-1

Then we get to the end, which can cause some fun when read out by Year 10 in a classroom setting, for when we try to read the line that goes “deep deep deep deep de deep deep,” we fall into a fit of hysterics, not really thinking or understanding the performance aspect of Cooper Clarke’s poetry. When he does this, it is meant to sound like a song in the middle, where sometimes, the singer sings words like this to keep the melody going. At the end of all things, we want to be the perfect partner to the one we love and it is this message that is then twisted at the end when we see the words “i don’t wanna be hers.” These words suggest that there is a sense of the loved one seeing someone else in the equation and being jealous and the poet simply stressing that he does not wish to be someone else’s love, but instead, he wants to “be yours,” which in essence is a slightly odd ending, thinking that it has been to this point about one person’s thoughts of love to another, but now, there seems to be a sense of him explaining that the third person in the relationship is, in his thinking, irrelevant. On the whole, this is an excellent poem that shares the nature of a loving relationship in the ways that other poets have never done, but one has to consider just how much John Cooper Clarke is able to share these feelings of love and passion in the simplicity of the mundaneness of the English language.

Bravo Mr Clarke. What a poem!  

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The Destruction Of Sennacherib – Lord Byron

The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.

LORD BYRON (1788–1824)

Analysis

Lord Byron, now there was a character to contend with in terms of his personality and in his writings. What we have here is one of his masterpieces of English Literature. But do you know what it is about after one reading? Do you know about Baal and the way that all ended, in the end? If not, Google it now before you read on.

…….

On the face of it, this about a battle, the usual thing we think of in terms of “conflict” but there are hidden messages in this, sent to every reader. Remember Dulce Et Decorum Est and its message that it is not sweet and good to die for your country? Well this is similar in that it tells of a battle but not necessarily glorifies it.

The poem has several features, most notably the use of quatrains and quite a speedy rhythm, which does not ‘sound’ right, in a way, because a war poem should, you would think, be more sombre, slower paced and dramatic. But with the poet being a Romantic, his thoughts play into the writing as he creates this piece of work. In the end, when we put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, we have a rough idea what we are going to write, but not totally. Check out the notions of the intentional fallacy, as well as its opponent idea and see what I mean.

The contradiction between form and language is startling because of this and is meant to represent something of an opposite; the strength of a well armed machine of an army as set against the idea that was is a tragic venture. Consisting of six verses, or stanzas, we see an aabb rhyme scheme appearing, helping to make this a powerful poem. The rhythm of the poem may even be said to represent the sound of horse hooves at the canter, a sound heard in battle before the might of modern machinery took over. At this point as well, you need to ask yourself if anything in the life of the poet is shown in this poem, as well as world events at the time. Born in 1788 and dying in 1824 puts Byron in some very historical dates, including the battles between Wellington and Napoleon. Look up those years to add to your research and you may see something different. Also, as a Romantic, he was interested in the cultures of the Middle East, the importance of liberty and freedom and the fascination with mystical, supernatural events.

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So, we have to see the Assyrians as representing the French and the battles of the wars of that time especially since the poem was first published in 1815. If you know some classical music, you will know the date of the major battle because there is a very well known piece of music called an Overture set to it, using some of the Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. And as you see this, then think how the poet is trying to get the reader at the time to think about the events in the Middle East. I wonder, nothing changes much even these days, so I wonder if I was to write a poem about the Syrian conflict, the refugee situation, but setting it in a context to the battles in another time, whether the same effect would be seen? This is why this poem is such a clever use of words.

Assyria sounds very like Syria doesn’t it, but you would be wrong to assume this, for it is what we now know as modern northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and the northwestern fringes of Iran. The start to this poem is particularly dramatic with the words “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold” with the use of the simile to compare them to a pack of hunting wolves. That image in your head right now is meant to be there for we tend to think of the Wolf in negative terms and so, anyone who hunts with the enemy must also be seen in the same light too, hence the next line where we see “his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.” Purple and gold are regal, kingly colours, so we are seeing an army with others attached who come invading in power and might. Indeed, the way that they look allows us to see them in all their glory as it were, with the “sheen of their spears” being described “like stars on the sea when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.” The sense of romance about this band of brothers is meant to be there as the description continues.

Then Byron gives us a description of the slain army, described as being “like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,” another use of romantic imagery to make this all sound rather wonderful. But is this what Byron is intending for us? That is what you have to ask as you read about the “host with their banners at sunset” who are seen “like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown.” This sets the poem in late Autumn because it has blown, or gone, or is on the way into Winter. If this is the case, then the battlefield would have been a cold one leaving “the host on the morrow [laying] withered and strown.” That final word is an interesting one. He means “strewn” but that would not rhyme, so he bends the word to match what he needs, just like Shakespeare, in a way, introducing new words into the English language.

Into this battlefield comes a figure from history we are all too aware of. Think of those films you have seen where the Grim Reaper has emerged and you have seen the cloaked image of death. The Angel of Death, if you wish. Here we see the same thing in this poem as “the Angel of Death [spreads] his wings on the blast and [breathes] in the face of the foe as he [passes],” claiming them for his own. The romanticism of death is the best phrase I can think of to describe what is happening here at this point. This Angel of Death walks among the dying, claiming them for his own as “the eyes of the sleepers” move towards death as “their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.” There is a beauty in these words, which are meant to honour the fallen, but there is also a sense of desolation as well in this battlefield scene where men lay dying, but they are not alone either, for their war animals are there also dying.

We see this in the next few lines as we see that “there lay the steed with his nostril all wide.” Now, for the modern audience, this will have a negative effect on us because we love our animals, pets, even if they are working ones. Here, we see the horse split from the rider, with “the foam of his gasping” describing its final breaths as it lays “white on the turf” and we see the life go from it being described in terms of “the spray of the rock-beating surf.” Now this is an interesting image for me, because such white, foaming water is a thing of power, but here it is used to describe something that is losing its power, so that shows the romanticism of this poet at work.

If this was written now, about battles in Afghanistan or Iraq, where soldiers use animals like dogs to find IEDs then I ask a simple question: would the language used be so utterly romantic in style? Possibly, if written by the dog’s handler. But the effect may never be the same because we view the world with twenty first century eyes, not the eyes that saw the world on the battlefields of Waterloo. In this poem, we see Byron using such language to describe “the rider distorted and pale, with the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail.” It is not a pretty image but when written like this, it becomes so for a reason. It is designed to make you, as the reader, feel the pride. On this battlefield, “the tents [are] all silent, the banners alone, the lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.” Everywhere is now silent and deathly, just like a funeral service as the coffin goes down into the grave. It is intended to be somber at this point, for to do it in any other manner would be foolish.

The final verse is perhaps, the most interesting, from my perspective, because Byron is aiming a message straight at us, a message that would have been understood then but maybe not now, especially by someone who is fifteen years old. We see that the “widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,” which is a traditional wail in the Middle East when someone you love dies and we see that “the idols are broke in the temple of Baal.” But do we understand nowadays the significance of these words? The wail can be seen on the News any time there is a bombing in the Middle East. Families, especially female members, will wail a high-pitched wail when they are burying their dead. It is their done thing. But Baal is another thing entirely. Do you know what Baal is, or was?

Baal is the name of a god [note, small g] that was prevalent in the Canaanite regions of the Old Testament times. Worshippers of Baal, like Queen Jezebel, offered their sacrifices to it as their god. But then came the Hebrew God [note, big G[ who, according to the Bible, wiped out the followers of Baal. So, when I see this reference to Baal here, my memory and knowledge lets me understand the reference. Google ‘Baal’ and see. But then, in the final two lines, we see that “the might of the Gentile [non-Jew], unsmote by the sword, hath [has] melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.”

This clear reference to the Hebrew God Yahweh [Jehovah] shows one thing and one thing only to me; that Byron was a firm believer in God and he was in some way believing in the age old adage that when you win a battle it is because “God is with you.” Be careful here though, for it does not matter whether you believe in God [capital g or not] or not, but more importantly, that you appreciate that Byron must have to be able to write these words, unless he was using the words for political gain, or some other gain. Nowadays, people who believe that to win a battle the Lord has to be on your side are seen as fundamentalists [from whichever faith] so we tend to see such folk in negative terms. But it appears as if Byron was more believer than none and we need to take that on board when answering a question on this one.

What is clear is that Byron is writing a poem here for us to consider the nature of the Gentile and their God. To understand this, let’s go back to about 2,200 years ago, when the Jews were awaiting their Messiah. Then, approximately, 2,000 years ago, along came a man called Jesus. Who he was and what he was is irrelevant here for us. Factual evidence that he lived exists. But a small group of people took it on themselves to share his teachings with the world and a new faith was born; Christianity. At that point, you were either Jew, or Gentile. The Jews understood the term Gentile to be ‘everyone else’ in the world apart from them, because they believe they are “God’s Chosen People.” But with the arrival of Christianity, the idea was that Jesus is the Son Of God, so Gentiles were now part of God’s blessings because of his death on the cross. Move that on 1700 years or so and we get to when Byron was alive and writing. Now, if you know that and read the lines again, they change in their meaning, strengthen in their style and make a difference to the reader, whoever they are and from whatever walk of life.

Such is the nature of a poem like this.

The Manhunt – Simon Armitage

The Manhunt – Simon Armitage

After the first phase,
after passionate nights and intimate days,

only then would he let me trace
the frozen river which ran through his face,

only then would he let me explore
the blown hinge of his lower jaw,

and handle and hold
the damaged, porcelain collar-bone,

and mind and attend
the fractured rudder of shoulder-blade,

and finger and thumb
the parachute silk of his punctured lung.

Only then could I bind the struts
and climb the rungs of his broken ribs,

and feel the hurt
of his grazed heart.

Skirting along,
only then could I picture the scan,

the foetus of metal beneath his chest
where the bullet had finally come to rest.

Then I widened the search,
traced the scarring back to its source

to a sweating, unexploded mine
buried deep in his mind, around which

every nerve in his body had tightened and closed.
Then, and only then, did I come close.

Exam Task: Write about the presentation of relationships in The Manhunt.

The Manhunt, by Simon Armitage, is a poem that breaks with the model of the title having some kind of meaning to the rest of the poem. It is not about the kind of manhunt that you would normally associate with the title, a hunt for a criminal, a killer, or a thief, where one person typically hunts down the perpetrator to some horrible crime, but rather, is a poem written as though the main speaker is a woman, a wife who is on a man hunt of her own, to find the man she fell in love with, but who has come home from modern warfare, a broken man, possibly dying or seriously injured.

There are detailed references to the body of the husband showing a closeness in their relationship, something that perhaps, he may now be having difficulties with due to his injuries, as horrific as they undoubtedly are. In an age when young men go off to war torn countries and return with limbs missing and internal injuries galore, this shows the love the man and the wife have for each other in their new found situation in life.

It is a relationship that defies all the pain and the heartache that this couple are going through and explores the strength of a truly loving character, or couple. In the most harshest of circumstances, here is a loving relationship that is bound to last, but there are issues that could break them apart if they do not control their situation.

The speaker in the poem is female and she is determined to search for the man she fell in love with, who is hidden somewhere in the battered remains that are now before her. He is a changed man because of his experiences and because of his injuries. So, she wishes to understand her husband’s feelings because of his condition and although it is a medical and physical condition that he is enduring, there are hints of the possibility of something like PTSD splitting them apart, caused by his injuries and his state of mind.

It is as if the soldier has returned from the theatre of war after “the first phase” of action. The word “phase” is sometimes a military word in certain contexts, so the first rhyming couplet paints an image of a phase of fighting, or a tour of duty and then “passionate nights and intimate days,” when the husband would let her “trace the frozen river which ran through his face.” This is metaphorical in style because “the frozen river” could be symbolic of his tears at what he has been through, but it could also mean the grief and feeling of utter hopelessness that he is feeling, as he tries to come to terms with what he has seen and endured.

The wife then states that after those passionate nights, “only then would he let me explore the blown hinge of his lower jaw,” which again is possibly metaphorical and using a rhyming couplet. “The blown hinge of his lower jaw” could be taken literally, whereby his jaw is damaged, for we do not hear him speak in this poem. Instead, he is a silent patient, but whether he is a patient patient is another thing entirely. If he is suffering from the likes of PTSD, a number of things can happen. He can remain silent, preferring to hide his feelings, to bottle them up for fear of upsetting his wife, who now sees his broken body and mind. He can also be verbally loud, obnoxious even. I know that my experience of PTSD includes bouts of depression and then anger, where nothing but verbal diarrhoea can appear if I am not careful, so sufferers tend to practice being nicer and kinder, to control their feelings. It is almost like being Bi-Polar; up massively one minute and back down the next. Therefore, the link to the “frozen river of tears” is all the more powerful because it is like saying that his tears have all but dried up; that there is no feeling left in him, and this is what his wife finds so difficult to cope with. The once loving and considerate husband is a mere shell of himself.

At this time she can “handle and hold the damaged, porcelain collar-bone and mind and attend the fractured rudder of shoulder-blade,” as well as being able to “finger and thumb the parachute silk of his punctured lung” which is indicative of the fact that his wounds are severe. The man has a punctured lung, a broken shoulder blade as well as other life threatening injuries so his wife is able to touch and feel the damage. Imagine for a moment, that you were able to see this on someone you love. How would this make you feel? Would it increase the sense of separateness between you? In this instance, it has and it does separate them, because this soldier wants nothing more than to be left alone. There is a deafening silence from him throughout the poem.

But the wife, on the other hand, is the driving force and when she runs her fingers up “the rungs of his broken ribs,” she is able to do so on someone who was once a fit and agile young man but now, is a broken wreck of a former self. She says that she can “feel the hurt of his grazed heart” and that she can “picture the scan,” like some form of image that shows “the foetus of metal beneath his chest,” reminiscent of a shrapnel injury, but more likely to be from “where the bullet had finally come to rest.”

Now, in the first six lines of this poem, there is an A, A, B, B, C, C rhyme scheme being used but this changes at line seven, where the lines stop rhyming but this is done on purpose, to change the structure and style of the poem, so that it keeps a sense of brokenness that links into the feeling that this soldier is enduring. This is a wife who then explores the body of her lover, tracing “the scarring back to its source,to a sweating, unexploded mine buried deep in his mind.” Now this sounds as if there is a bomb of sorts in his mind, a willingness [or not] to ‘explode’ either with rage or some other symptom of the PTSD, causing all around him to suffer. It could also refer to the thing itself that put him in this position,”around which every nerve in his body had tightened and closed.” It is as if his body, being as broken as it is, has shut down and as much as the wife wishes to support her husband in a moment of tenderness, the relationship between them is strained. To him, she is not his lover any more. Perhaps, the chances of a sexual union have ended with his injuries. But she is able to see him for who he is, for what he is, to her. At that moment, she is able to draw near to him and show her love and affection, which is why she states at the end that “only then, did I come close” to understanding just what makes her ‘new’ husband tick.

He has come home from the war, whichever one it was, and he is suffering badly, in pain and in spiritual and emotional pain. In his heart it is all over. He just wants his life to end. I know, that in 2010, after my car crash that nearly killed me, that for weeks and months, I just wanted to die, such was the pain. In the same manner here, this man is secretly wishing that he would pass from this world, leaving his wife to lead a better life instead of being forced to look after him for the rest of her days. He feels a burden on her time, on her life, on her love. This is the true cost of war in the modern theatre of conflict, but it also shows the strength of their loving relationship that they are able to continue in love.  

This is not an easy poem to read, digest and study, but be aware, that you need to view it from both sides. To do that, draw a line down the middle of a page; half a page will do. On the left put the word “wife” and on the right, “husband.” Now, down the middle of each column, use single words to describe her relationship to him and then fill the other side in as well, his relationship to her, for it will show you the kind of relationship they have and it is, after all, relationships and love that you are studying in these poems, so do that and then read it back to yourself to see the differences in their love and their expectations.

When you have done that, have a go at answering the above question.

Happy writing.

R

WJEC Section B: How To Answer

Section B Task: WJEC Creative Writing

This is taken from an exam paper, word for word.

SECTION B: 40 marks

In this section you will be assessed for the quality of your creative prose writing skills. 24 marks are awarded for communication and organization; 16 marks are awarded for vocabulary, sentence structure, spelling and punctuation. You should aim to write about 450-600 words.

Choose one of the following titles for your writing: [40] Either,

(a) Making a Difference.

(b) The Choice.

(c) Write about a time when you were at a children’s party.

(d) Write a story which begins: I didn’t know if I had the courage to do this …

Planning

Which do you choose? Which is the easiest? How do you plan for such as this?

Well, all of them are equally as good to write about but depending on who you are, there will be almost likely, obvious choice. It will all depend on experience. Now if you are 16 years old or younger, then a story about you making a difference may not be easily remembered, unless you have saved a life, or done something great, like helping an old lady out etc. If you have led the quiet life, doing this one may prove awkward, to plan and to write. Likewise, if you are an adult student looking at this, then you may have the experience required to write that one successfully. It is just telling what happened after all.

Likewise, the one about the choice may be difficult for the Y10 or Y11 student unless there is something in the background or they are especially able to dream something up on the spot. After all folks, this does not have to be true you know. It can be, and sometimes, needs to be made up, from the heart, or mind, so as to be special in the exam. Note please, that there is one simple rule in any exam, assessment or test and that is this: It is your chance to show off to the examiner. Time to brag about how good you really are. Time to brag about your skills [and those of your teacher too – we need the praise. Sad I know]. So, a choice can be about choosing between right and wrong, or doing something or not, or simply a choice about liking or loving someone; some people choose their partners in life in strange ways, so make it an odd, almost ‘different’ story. Make it up and show ff those skills.

Then there is the time where you have been at a children’s party. I know, boring! But, if you add a twist into it, then you get something totally unexpected and different. Imagine, for a minute, the children’s party being in a YOI, or Young Offenders’ Institute [Prison if you like]. Now, that would be different to say the least. The description of persons there, of the surroundings and the guards, could be as grim a picture as you are likely to paint in a story and would be interesting indeed. Do not forget, your exam marker usually marks 300 scripts at a time, so yours might be number 237 in the pile and by that time, he is off his head on caffeine, so he is feeling decidedly sleepy until he sees your answer to this one and then, bang, he is wide awake!

As Captain Picard from Star Trek might say, “Make it so!”

But for me, perhaps the best one for a Y10-11 is the last one and this is why the exam boards add these, for teachers can teach the skills required to write such a thing. But, and it is a big but, there is an issue with planning this. You could write the first line of “I didn’t know if I had the courage to do this” and then continue writing, but the chances are that after about 100 words, you might run out of ideas and stop. If you left it at that you would get a G grade or maybe an F for that, simply because of lack of effort.

Now you may think there that you have really tried and for some, 100 words is a lot, but the task asks for between 450 and 600 words. 2 sides of an A4 page, maybe 3 in an exam booklet. So, planning is key here and you need to do it using the Power Of Y [see video on website here] and plan at least 6 things to write about. If you write half a page for each one, that would be three pages. Then begin.

So, if it was me, it would look something like this…

(d) Write a story which begins: I didn’t know if I had the courage to do this …

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There are twelve things there that I could write about and it is not even my story. It is my wife’s.

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She went on a tandem jump with a fella called Wes once to raise money for Help For Heroes, a British charity that helps the British Armed Forces personnel when they come home injured physically or mentally. As soon as she hit the ground she said, “Can we do that again please?” She was elated!

From this plan, I would need to then number each section, so number 1 would be the first thing to write about, the idea of a tandem jump, as frightening as that is. So, I didn’t know if I had the courage to do this; to take part in a 15,000 metre skydive, attached to a former Paratrooper. Now that gets the attention of the reader if nothing does.

Then, with everything numbered, after you have finished writing in extreme detail, you simply put a line through the one you have finished till you get all twelve completed. Believe me, you would be pressed for time and writing like you have never written before. If you have hand cramp at the end, the chances are that you will do better than if it is the opposite sensation.

But above all, what you need to remember, as stated earlier, is that this is a chance for you to show off. Begin with the statement, if it was the one above and end with it too, so the whole thing is completely rounded, circular in shape and then you cannot lose marks for lack of structure.

Take note how many marks, out of the 40, are for SPAG, or spelling, punctuation and grammar [the correct word choices].

Go on. Have a go at any one of these four now, for practice.

Enjoy!

RJ

Boat Stealing – Wm Wordsworth

Boat Stealing – William Wordsworth

From The Prelude [extract]

One evening (surely I was led by her)
I went alone into a Shepherd’s Boat,
A Skiff that to a Willow tree was tied
Within a rocky Cave, its usual home.
‘Twas by the shores of Patterdale, a Vale
Wherein I was a Stranger, thither come
A School-boy Traveller, at the Holidays.
Forth rambled from the Village Inn alone
No sooner had I sight of this small Skiff,
Discover’d thus by unexpected chance,
Than I unloos’d her tether and embark’d.
The moon was up, the Lake was shining clear
Among the hoary mountains; from the Shore
I push’d, and struck the oars and struck again
In cadence, and my little Boat mov’d on
Even like a Man who walks with stately step
Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure; not without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my Boat move on,
Leaving behind her still on either side
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
Until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. A rocky Steep uprose
Above the Cavern of the Willow tree
And now, as suited one who proudly row’d
With his best skill, I fix’d a steady view
Upon the top of that same craggy ridge,
The bound of the horizon, for behind
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin Pinnace; lustily
I dipp’d my oars into the silent Lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water, like a Swan;
When from behind that craggy Steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Uprear’d its head. I struck, and struck again
And, growing still in stature, the huge Cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measur’d motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling hands I turn’d,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the Cavern of the Willow tree.
There, in her mooring-place, I left my Bark,
And, through the meadows homeward went, with grave
And serious thoughts; and after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Work’d with a dim and undetermin’d sense
Of unknown modes of being; in my thoughts
There was a darkness, call it solitude,
Or blank desertion, no familiar shapes
Of hourly objects, images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty Forms that do not live
Like living men mov’d slowly through the mind
By day and were the trouble of my dreams.

Analysis

The Prelude is a long autobiographical poem in fourteen sections, first written in 1798 by Wordsworth and published three months after his death in 1850 by his wife. The poem depicts the spiritual growth of the poet, as he thinks about who he is and his place in the world. Wordsworth was inspired by memories, events, visits to different places and he tries to explain how they affect him. He describes The Prelude as “a poem on the growth of my own mind” with “contrasting views of Man, Nature, and Society.”

This extract describes how Wordsworth goes out in a boat on a lake at night. He is alone and a mountain peak looms over him. Its presence has a great effect and for days afterwards he is troubled by the experience. It is as if he has had some mystical experience at the sight of this monument to nature. It reminds me of the area where I live too, for it has such beauty around it, most notably a hill that has a modern name, but was once referred to as Odin’s Hill [or Mount]. It is specifically lovely and if I let it, would inspire me to write a poem or two to include the old Norse beliefs. A similar thing is happening here, with Wordsworth.

So, what is going on here then? Let’s begin…..

The setting is evening but the poet feels led by someone or something. The use of ‘her’ can mean person or thing. We use ‘her’ when talking about inanimate objects after all. But we are then led into the poem as much as he is led by ‘her.’ The poet tells of how he “went alone into a Shepherd’s Boat” which was small, the size of a “skiff that to a Willow tree was tied within a rocky Cave, its usual home.” Why is he being led by someone in this instance? Or is it love, fascination, or some other driving force that moves him forward? As soon as you get to where this is made evident, then the light will shine for you.

The setting is therefore, evening and by “the shores of Patterdale, a Vale wherein I was a stranger,” suggesting that he has never been to this place before. He says he is a “school-boy traveller” who is on his “holidays.” This is a journey he is never going to forget. Indeed, he will remember it and then write about it later, as he has done here. He tells how he “rambled from the Village Inn alone” and “no sooner had [he sight of this small Skiff” he knew what to do next. It is an “unexpected chance” that he finds the skiff there, a random circumstance that leads to something else. It is as if he almost sees the boat and thinks okay, here we go. Let’s have a little ride in that, not thinking that it may actually belong to someone. He says he “unloos’d her tether and embark’d” on his journey. There is not much thinking or planning going on in his mind here. He is just acting on impulse and has no idea or inkling about the possible dangers or what will happen later.

The fact that he tells us that “the moon was up” as well as “the lake was shining clear among the hoary mountains” just goes to paint the picture in the mind of the reader who sees this “from the shore” where he says he “push’d, and struck the oars and struck again.” The sense of “cadence” as his little skiff moves on makes him feel at home and relaxed, happy and contented with his lot in life at that moment. But, as the “little boat” moves on, he realises that it is a stealthy act he is performing which he then describes the act of stealing the boat and rowing it as a “troubled pleasure; not without the voice.” The oxymoron there of two opposing words is powerfully laid down for us as readers as we see and feel the sense of adventure he is experiencing.

As the boat moves on it leaves the woman on one side of the lake, away from him, so he is on his own, contemplating life itself and the water makes its movement through the lake and through the poem as “small circles glittering idly in the moon” make their way through the water. He sees the “sparkling light” and the “rocky steep … above the cavern of the Willow tree” and sees the majestic wonder of the thing and his place in it. He is an insignificant speck of dirt in the big scheme of things and he is beginning to know about it. Imagine for a few seconds, that you are you and that you are many things. In my case, I am male, a son, a brother, an Uncle, a nephew, a father, a husband, a friend, a teacher, a preacher [yes indeed], as well as a human being [and other things too] in all its wonder. I live within a small family, which has wider connections across the world and so, I see myself with many heads at times, many different aspects within the one frame and when I look at nature, I see how utterly small and insignificant I actually am.

Wordsworth is feeling something similar here as he tells us he “proudly row’d with his best skill” and how he “fix’d a steady view upon the top of that same craggy ridge,” so he would know where he was going. That is his landmark when rowing the boat. He can see the “bound of the horizon, for behind [is] nothing but the stars and the grey sky.” There is a sense of beauty here that is second to none and it is being interrupted by this oarsman and his skiff. Or rather, the “elfin Pinnace” that he “lustily” rows and dips his oars into the water. And as each stroke is made, so too the boat goes “heaving through the water, like a Swan.” This is a fantastic simile here, for when we think of the Swan, we think of grace and beauty, of fine colour, shape, style etc so when the poet thinks of nature, he does so in the sense of being close to it in every way. It is a “voluntary power instinct” that rears its head as he strikes with the oars. He has stolen the skiff, which he knows is wrong, but he seems not to be bothered about such technicalities.

The hugeness and grandeur of “the huge cliff” as it rises “up between [him] and the stars” brings on a “measur’d motion, like a living thing” that lurches after him everywhere he goes. But he keeps his cool and steals his way “back to the cavern of the Willow tree,” back to land and to safety; back to the “mooring-place,” where he left the boat and “through the meadows homeward” travels.

But by now there are “grave and serious thoughts” in his mind. He has “seen [the] spectacle for many days” and by this time, his “brain” works “with a dim and undetermin’d sense of unknown modes of being.” There are so many different ways in which he can feel his closeness to nature and his place within it but at the end of the day in his “thoughts there [is] a darkness” which he suggests is a sense of solitude, “or blank desertion,” with “no familiar shapes of hourly objects,” only “images of trees, of sea or sky, no colours of green fields.” By now he is feeling the benefit and the sorrow of communing with nature. It can be a blessing and it can be a curse to be that close to nature. And as we get to the end of this selection, we see how he is able to visualise just how “huge and mighty forms that do not live like living men” move “slowly through the mind by day,” causing trouble in his dreams.

In essence, this is an easy poem to study and read, but there are so many hidden depths within this, that you have to be extra careful not to miss something. Yes, it tells the story of how he steals the boat, hence the title of the thing, but we also see someone who is looking at everything around his and trying to figure his place in nature/the world. Sometimes, we can do that by looking at nature and considering just how small we actually are in this globe of ours. When we see ourselves as mere specks, the poet is saying, and when we get closer to the truth about life, then our lives will be so much better for us, because hatred and insults will stop at that time. Now, one could argue that this makes this poem almost polemic in style, written to teach readers to think more about nature and their place in it. It is not an easy poem to unpack, but that is the major thrust of the piece, that when we are at one with nature, we can see the real beauty of it all around us and we can be thankful.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Dulce Et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Analysis

Is it ‘sweet and fitting, to die for your country?’

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That is what some poets believed before and during the Great War, the 1914-1918 war in Europe. One of them, called Jessie Pope, fervently promoted the war as something every man should join up for, promoting the bravado of going to war, the camaraderie of the soldier and the joy of service. But she did not have to stand, or sit, or even sleep, in a first world war trench and see rats gnawing at the rotting flesh of her friends, or see the lice jumping on those near to her. She did not have to see and smell and taste the horrors of modern warfare, where gases were used for the first time and so, Wilfred Owen took a swipe at poets like Jessie Pope when he penned this brilliant poem.

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[typical poster at the time of the war]

It is, without doubt, in my mind, the single best war poem I have ever had the privilege to read, study and teach and I have done all three. It is something ingrained into my psyche because my Grandfather who was in the KOYLI, the King’s Own Light Infantry, was wounded in Mons, recovered in Malta and was then stationed on the Somme just after the battle of the Somme began, which is where this poem emerges from. The sad fact that Wilfred Owen was killed in action a week or so before the end is so sad, for what else would he have penned, had he lived to survive the war?

Let’s take it line by line and try to unpack it, something I do with classes, in groups, giving them an equal amount of lines as much as possible. The first thing Owen does is paint an image and it is not a very nice one either, for each of the soldiers in this picture are disfigured, and “bent double, like old beggars under sacks.” This is about as powerful an image as I can think of to make the reader reel back in shock. It is a tactic used by the poet to grab the attention of the reader, but just as much as he paints the picture of the soldiers, he then gives them actions and sounds to go with their hideous figures. They are also “knock-kneed,” wobbling therefore from side to side in abject agony, “coughing like hags,” like old witches in cartoons we are so used to. Something is making them cough up their lungs, literally!

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[Wilfred Owen]

Owen extends their actions by telling us they “cursed through sludge,” offering their swear words to the enemy and to their Generals, who no doubt were sitting back in the luxury of their mansions nearby but never in the firing line. Oh no, they could not do that, for that was too risky. None of this ‘leading from the front’ routine of Hollywood films in those days. No, these men walked from place to place and as they did so there were sounds all around them, sounds of “the haunting flares” as they “turned our backs and towards [their] distant rest began to trudge.” These men are weary and worn out beyond measure, have more than likely been marching for some time and by now, are more than just tired.

Then, if that is not enough of a description to make the reader reel back, we see that simple tiredness does not describe the image in the mind of the reader, for we are told that “men marched asleep.” Simple tiredness does not describe this pain they are in. I have been in the Army and taken part in night time maneuvers, which scared the hell out of me. Imagine gunfire from three feet away coming at you in the dark, with yellow flame coming from the muzzle blank and you get the picture. I can assure you that by the end of that first night, I was exhausted, but these men had been at this for months by the time Owen writes this poem. He says that “many had lost their boots, but limped on, blood-shod.” Just because you lost your boots did not mean you were stuck where you were. No, you still had to move forward and follow orders. If you could, you took the boots from a dead soldier and wore his, if indeed there was anything left of him to see. Some sank into the mud when dead. Others were eaten by the rats who found their way there.

Those that could not find alternative boots “went lame” and could not walk more than a few paces but instead of sending them all off to a field hospital, they would force the men to stay there in that abject pain and agony, going “blind; drunk with fatigue” and “deaf even to the hoots of gas-shells dropping softly behind” or as one translation of the poem has, from large ‘five-nines’ that were shelling their position.

It is horrible indeed and a direct, written slant at anyone who thinks that warfare is heroic, but then we get to the gory bits, if you unpack them properly as a teacher, the bits I love to teach just before lunch. Aren’t I a naughty teacher? But I love this poem for all its linguistic beauty and infinite gore. For who else would in the next line remind me of a time when I was in Basic Training in the Army, when I was wearing my NBC Suit [Nuclear, Biological, Chemical] and the Corporal gave us the order to get the masks on inside thirty seconds, for we were about to be gassed. When he left, we needed no second bidding. Owen reminds me of that when he writes those repeated words of “Gas! GAS!” [notice please, one is lower case and the other capital letters – done for a reason] followed eagerly by “Quick, boys!” as there begins the “ecstasy of fumbling” that exists in the mind of the soldier who is “fitting the clumsy [helmet] just in time.” It was a call to action that phrase “gas, gas, gas” and still is used, but these soldiers, some of them teenagers, were subject to Mustard Gas in the Great War, shelled by the Germans onto the British trenches [and probably vice versa too] and so, when you heard that call, you rushed to get the thing on, or the mustard gas got inside you as you breathed it in. What it did to you is gross indeed.

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[British Army Green NBC Suit – NATO Forces]

Now when I was gassed, it was only C.S Gas, quite harmless in a way compared to Mustard Gas and any other gas they used back then, for that gas would do some very nasty things to your inside of the chest cavity. It would make your lungs gargle and go frothy as you coughed up the contents and lining of the lung. I have had pneumonia in 2014 and that was not pretty when the hospital put me on a drip and I eventually hacked up the contents, but the memory lingers and makes me think of how bad it would have been for those brave lads in those trenches.

They are brave lads indeed, who are “still was yelling out and stumbling,” unable to get the mask on in time and “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.” Have you ever seen those films where the stuntman gets set alight and then goes for a stumble a few paces? Well that is the image here, but instead of flames, it is gas they can see as they look through the pane of glass in the mask. It appears misty and murky as “dim through the misty panes and thick green light” the ones who have got their gas masks on are able to view those who have not and they look like they are “under a green sea” drowning as they view the horror before them. Owen says he “saw him drowning.” It is as if Owen, when writing this line, is remembering the event and depicting it in as closest detail as he possibly can, not just to be gory, or make a point, but also to prove to those who think it is fit and right to die for one’s country that they are in fact, wrong! It is then, an anti-war poem.

He adds the now infamous words “in all my dreams before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” The man in this mental picture is drowning in his own vomit as he hurls the inner contents of his lungs up through nose and mouth into the ground. He cannot control the convulsions and neither can Owen. To Jessie Pope and all the others, therefore, he sends this message: “if in some smothering dreams, you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in and watch the white eyes writhing in his face, his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud, of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,” then “my friend, you would not tell with such high zest [eagerness] to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”

That is the key message of this poem; if you could see and hear what we had to endure, to smell and taste the things we had to, then you, who did not go and do not know what it is like to serve and fight, would not be so bold with the lies, especially the lies told to children who want to hear tales of glory and bravery. Get real, in other words, is what he is saying. Be careful with your words, for young, innocent men are going off to war based solely on your words. Owen clearly believes that that is wrong, to persuade men to fight just for pure glory. There has to be a better reason than just that.

That last verse, is the most powerful in poetic history, for in just a few words, we get the full extent of the horror that befell the likes of my Grandfather and Wilfred Owen, who served on the same line, in different trenches. When you, he is saying, in your bed, at home, are having safe dreams, think of us, for ours are “smothering dreams” where we still “pace behind the wagon that we flung him in.” Our dreams still are as vivid as ever as we remember and “watch the white eyes, writhing in his face” as the dead body jumps each time a pothole is hit by the cart. We will see “his hanging face” dangling there for all time “like a devil’s sick of sin” [what a simile that is!] and we will hear at every jolt, the blood come gargling [up] from the froth-corrupted lungs” in our haunting memories and we will shiver with the memory of it and yet, you treat going to war as being something glorious?

War, Owen is saying, is as “obscene as cancer.” It is as “bitter as the cud.” It is “vile” and just like the “incurable sores on innocent tongues” because they never go away. As war poems go, this is the best ever, in this teacher’s humble opinion and just shows the true nature and futility of modern warfare to the maximum. This is why it is so good and still is studied by students the world over. In terms of the English language, there is nothing better!

Envy – Mary Lamb [A Challenge For You]

Envy – Mary Lamb

Do you see the conflict in this poem?

How would you annotate this poem, with the theme of conflict in mind?

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Well if you have a look at the picture, this is how I would do it and then create something from that, most notably about the use of imagery; plants, trees, fruit etc along with creational growth and its opposite; decay. I would write about the inner conflict that blights us all, the thing that some call sin, that eats away at the heart of the person, revealing nothing but a “blind and senseless” personality devoid of love.

Think for a moment of how you would write an analysis of this poem and then have a go at writing one. It is easy enough.

RJ