Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Vocabulary of Fear, e.g. Onomatophobia

Test your knowledge of a variety of -phobias with the words on this list. In order to reverse the problem (to love or like it), it is usually sufficient to switch the suffix to -philia.

Somniphobia - fear of sleeping because you may never wake up

Onomatophobia - fear of the sound of words

Logophobia - fear of the sound of words

Omfalophobia - fear of touching the navel 

Consecotaleophobia - the fear of chopsticks

Ergophobia - fear of work / workplace

Metrophobia - fear of poetry

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia - fear of 666.  Wikipedia reports: "A prominent example is Nancy and Ronald Reagan who, in 1979, when moving to their home in the Bel-Air section of Los Angeles, had its address—666 St. Cloud Road—changed to 668 St. Cloud Road."

Ephebiphobia - fear of teenagers / younger generation 

Eisoptrophobia - fear of mirrors (seven years of bad luck)

Phobophobia - the fear of fear itself.

Chromophobia -  fear of colours. Includes subcategories such as the colour black - melanophobia; white -  leucophobia, and red - eritrophobia

Papyrophobia - dislike of paper and fear of its texture or sound

Monday, 17 December 2012

Ugly Urchin Alliteration: a Poetry Appreciation Primer

As many students are struggling with their forthcoming Unseen Appreciation (poetry) exams, I've collected from the web a quick guide to some of the key elements of sound appreciation in poetry. 

It's very easy for students to learn the key critical terms and it is fun to begin to apply them. I'd also recommend using them! Why not ask your children/students to compose short alliterative poems? Even nonsense poems? 

Poetry should be fun, after all, and creativity is the high road to brilliant critical insight...

Sibilance is a manner of articulation of fricative and affricate consonants, made by directing a stream of air with the tongue towards the sharp edge of the teeth, which are held close together; a consonant that uses sibilance may be called a sibilant. Examples of sibilants are the consonants at the beginning of the English words sip, zip, ship, chip, and Jeep, and the second consonant in vision.

In language, alliteration is the repetition of a particular sound in the prominent lifts (or stressed syllables) of a series of words or phrases.

Matthew Mendlegs miss'd a mangled Monkey
Did Matthew Mendlegs miss a mangled Monkey?
If Matthew Mendlegs miss'd a mangled Monkey,
Where's the mangled Monkey Matthew Mendlegs miss'd?

Consonance is a poetic device characterized by the repetition of the same consonant two or more times in short succession, as in "pitter patter" or in "all mammals named Sam are clammy".

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences, and together with alliteration and consonance[1] serves as one of the building blocks of verse. For example, in the phrase "Do you like blue?", the /uː/ ("o"/"ou"/"ue" sound) is repeated within the sentence


And murmuring of innumerable bees
    Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess VII.203

That solitude which suits abstruser musings       
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Frost at Midnight" 

on a proud round cloud in white high night        
    E.E. Cummings, if a cheerfulest Elephantangelchild should sit

Two quartets, with end-of-line assonances coloured yellow and end-and-beginning assonances coloured teal.
"He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply."

Errantry  by J.R.R. Tolkien, (1933). From Tolkien's The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (1962).

Coming soon: rhythm and metre ...

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gender, Women's Writing and Feminism

Cleopatra: Feminist Icon?
Many of my students are interested in gender, women's writing and feminist criticism. I have recently made available a short introduction to this topic.

I have also started to assemble a list of some useful and thought-provoking comments together with some historic quotations.

Reflect and Enjoy! The last quotation on this page of the blog references Cleopatra...

"one is not born, but rather becomes a woman."
Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

"Historically social inequality between men and women can be traced to unequal power relations in particular societies [...] But it can also be traced - possibly relatedly - to systems of representation: how women are represented in plays, rituals, photographic images, novels, films, etc." Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” 
-Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

"Feminist criticism cannot be traced to origins in the work of one or more individuals working in  a particular period or discipline at a particular time. Rather, it grows out of the historical experience of resistance and self-definition by women in circumstances of social control by men; it is the gradual definition of a critical field..." 
-Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

"[Gender] is a compulsory performance in the same sense that acting out of line with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment, and violence, not to mention the transgressive pleasures produced by those very prohibitions."
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (1990)

“Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.” 
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own 

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"The human species has a biologically fixed, binary sex division between male and female. But superimposed on this are culturally constructed oppositions of gender: masculine and feminine, men and women, etc. It is this system of oppositions which the various strands of feminist criticism analyse and seek to change." Alan Durant and Nigel Fabb, Literary Studies in Action (1990), p. 43.

“A man attaches himself to woman -- not to enjoy her, but to enjoy himself. ”
 - Simone de Beauvoir

“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” 
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values”
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 
- Jane Austen, Persuasion
“I am not an angel,' I asserted; 'and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me - for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.” 
 - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"the restrictive gender categories of the nineteenth century imposed on female writers are reflected in the metaphors of anger and madness in their heroines." Doris Bremm, summarising The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

"One crucial factor in the social construction of femininity is the way literary values and conventions have themselves been shaped by men, and women have often struggled to express their own concerns in what may well have been inappropriate forms." Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (1993), p. 215.

“Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition: the clean becomes soiled, the soiled is made clean, over and over, day after day.”
- Simone de Beauvoir

"Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex."
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

 “Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself--on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.”
- Simone de Beauvoir 
“A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.” 
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.” - Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

“If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.” - Charlotte Brontë, Shirley

"Patriarchy subordinates the female to the male or treats the female as an inferior male, and this power is exerted, directly or indirectly, in civil and domestic life to constrain women. Despite deomcratic advances, women have continued to be coerced by a system of sex-role stereotyping to which they are subjected from the earliest age." Raman Selden and Peter Widdowson, A Reader's Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (1993), p. 214.

“Fathers never have exactly the daughters they want because they invent a notion a them that the daughters have to conform to.”
- Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

“Now, it is frequently asserted that, with women, the job does not come first. What (people cry) are women doing with this liberty of theirs? What woman really prefers a job to a home and family? Very few, I admit. It is unfortunate that they should so often have to make the choice. A man does not, as a rule, have to choose. He gets both. Nevertheless, there have been women ... who had the choice, and chose the job and made a success of it. And there have been and are many men who have sacrificed their careers for women ... When it comes to a choice, then every man or woman has to choose as an individual human being, and, like a human being, take the consequences.” 
- Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?

“The body is not a thing, it is a situation: it is our grasp on the world and our sketch of our project”
 - Simone de Beauvoir
“And "laids," [=ugly] indeed, they were; being a set of four, denominated in the catalogue "La vie d'une femme." They were painted rather in a remarkable style—flat, dead, pale, and formal. The first represented a "Jeune Fille," coming out of a church-door, a missal in her hand, her dress very prim, her eyes cast down, her mouth pursed up—the image of a most villanous little precocious she-hypocrite. The second, a "Mariée," with a long white veil, kneeling at a prie-dieu in her chamber, holding her hands plastered together, finger to finger, and showing the whites of her eyes in a most exasperating manner. The third, a "Jeune Mère," hanging disconsolate over a clayey and puffy baby with a face like an unwholesome full moon. The fourth, a "Veuve," being a black woman, holding by the hand a black little girl, and the twain studiously surveying an elegant French monument, set up in a corner of some Père la Chaise. All these four "Anges" were grim and grey as burglars, and cold and vapid as ghosts. What women to live with! insincere, ill-humoured, bloodless, brainless nonentities! As bad in their way as the indolent gipsy-giantess, the Cleopatra, in hers.”

“The Life of a Woman”, from Villette, by Charlotte Brontë.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook (London and New York: Routledge) and Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 (Four Volumes. Subcultures and Subversions. Routledge). He has recently contributed a chapter on gothic sexuality published in Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2013). A new book on Shakesperean Tragedy will be published in 2013.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day

A Song for St. Cecilia's Day, 1687

FROM harmony, from heavenly harmony,       
      This universal frame began: 
  When nature underneath a heap
      Of jarring atoms lay,  
    And could not heave her head,         
The tuneful voice was heard from high, 
    'Arise, ye more than dead!'     
Then cold, and hot, and moist, and dry,
  In order to their stations leap,   
     And Music's power obey.         
From harmony, from heavenly harmony,        
   This universal frame began:    
   From harmony to harmony      
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,    
The diapason closing full in Man.  

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?     
    When Jubal struck the chorded shell, 
  His listening brethren stood around,    
    And, wondering, on their faces fell    
  To worship that celestial sound:  
Less than a God they thought there could not dwell   
    Within the hollow of that shell,
    That spoke so sweetly, and so well.  
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?     

    The trumpet's loud clangour     
      Excites us to arms,     
    With shrill notes of anger,      
      And mortal alarms.    
  The double double double beat 
      Of the thundering drum         
      Cries Hark! the foes come;    
  Charge, charge, 'tis too late to retreat! 

    The soft complaining flute,     
    In dying notes, discovers        
    The woes of hopeless lovers,    
Whose dirge is whisper'd by the warbling lute. 

    Sharp violins proclaim  
  Their jealous pangs and desperation,  
  Fury, frantic indignation, 
  Depth of pains, and height of passion, 
    For the fair, disdainful dame.  

    But O, what art can teach,      
    What human voice can reach, 
      The sacred organ's praise?   
    Notes inspiring holy love,       
  Notes that wing their heavenly ways    
    To mend the choirs above.     

  Orpheus could lead the savage race;   
  And trees unrooted left their place,     
    Sequacious of the lyre;   
But bright Cecilia rais'd the wonder higher:      
When to her organ vocal breath was given,     
  An angel heard, and straight appear'd 
    Mistaking Earth for Heaven.    


As from the power of sacred lays  
  The spheres began to move,     
And sung the great Creator's praise       
  To all the Blest above;    
So when the last and dreadful hour       
This crumbling pageant shall devour,    
The trumpet shall be heard on high,     
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky!

John Dryden. 1631–1700

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

52 Favourite Children's Books

Thanks to all the recent contributors on 

Facebook and Yahoo Answers.

I have now compiled a list of 

your favourite children's books:
  1. Anna Sewell, Black Beauty
  2. Anthony Horowitz: Groosham Grange; Return to Groosham Grange
  3. Arabian Nights
  4. Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  5. Clive King, Stig of the Dump
  6. C. S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
  7. Cressida Cowell, How to train you dragon books.
  8. E. B. White, Charlotte's Web
  9. E. L. Konigsburg  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  10. Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna
  11. Enid Blyton, Famous Five or Secret Seven Books
  12. Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl
  13. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
  14. Francesca Simon, Helping Hercules and Horrid Henry Books Series 
  15. Hans Christian Anderson, Fairy Tales
  16. Harry Potter books
  17. Isaac Asimov’s SF Books
  18. Jacqueline Wilson Books
  19. Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  20. Jeremy Strong, Books include There's A Viking In My Bed
  21. Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
  22. JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit
  23. JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  24. Kate DiCamillo The Magician's Elephant
  25. Kevin Crossley-Holland's Beowulf
  26. Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  27. L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  28. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
  29. Lois Lowry, The Giver
  30. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
  31. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet Series #1) by
  32. Marjorie Blackman, series starting with Noughts and Crosses
  33. Mary Norton, The Borrowers 
  34. Michael Ende,  Momo; The Neverending Story
  35. Michael Morpurgo, books
  36. Nick Sharatt, Illustrator and Picture Books
  37. Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
  38. Philip Ardagh, The Eddie Dickens Trilogy; The Unlikely Exploits Trilogy
  39. Philip Pullman, The Firework Maker's Daughter
  40. Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines series
  41. Philippa Pearce, Tom's Midnight Garden; Minnow on the Say; Rikki Tikki Tavi
  42. Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl; James and the Giant Peach; Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes; The giraffe and the pelly and & Me; Matilda
  43. Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island
  44. Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins
  45. SF Said, the Varjak Paw series;
  46. Sheila Burnford, The Incredible Journey
  47. Shel Silverstein, Every Thing On It
  48. Spike Milligan's children's stories and poems.
  49. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games [young adult]
  50. Terry Pratchett, Books
  51. Tove Jansson, The Moomins 

Light and Shadow: the Age of Kindle

Light and Shadow: What will happen to books and reading in the Age of Kindle?

I had the opportunity to make use of a friend’s Kindle a fortnight ago.
Dear Reader, you may be shocked at my tardiness in coming to the most fashionable gadget in recent years. Indeed, in 2010, I fought off several offers of Kindle Christmas presents from the many friends and family who know very well my addiction to reading books.


I was aware of the vast library of free books and that was a temptation: having them in my pocket, rather than stuck on the hard drive, or only available with internet access. What struck me was the sleek design of the Kindle, its comfortable lightness and ease of use; but most impressive its screen technology, unglaring and flicker-free.


As my large Victorian terrace house will not accommodate more purchases of books it makes sense to switch at least some of my purchases to electronic copies for certain kinds of work. But I still have reservation and feel that the potential for ebooks is still in its infancy. But I do see astonishing positive opportunities, and fewer but nonetheless noteworthy negatives.


As I gaze into the future I am the first to admit that I have never been very good at prediction. I could not see why anyone would want to queue outside a bank, in the rain, just to gain access to your cash, when you could wait inside, speak to a cashier, and have your money handed to you in person. But self-service is now king in the World of Selves.

Sloppy publishing?

Let me say now that I don’t feel that Kindles and other ebooks will kill of traditional paper and hardbacks. There will still be a market for well-crafted books where the quality of the form matches the brilliance of the content. I would also admit here that many of my recent ‘hardback’ purchases have been poor examples of contemporary publishing: sloppy editing and layout, loose pages, poor paper, lack of illustrations, footnotes, an index, a bibliography …


Considering that production and delivery costs are negligible I see no reason why supporting material and resources, including colour illustration, cannot become an expected component of non-fiction ebooks. Here then is an opportunity for improved quality of content, and more of it.

A fair trade deal for writers

Epublishing and self-publishing also provide opportunities to reduce the role of parasitic intermediaries such as the publisher and shop. It has long been a topic of lamentation amongst writers of worthy but unpopular books that the author is paid a pittance for years of conscientious research, reflection and composition. In contrast to the shop prices, many writers are no better off than the coffee bean grower, paid a few cents from your $4 cappuccino. Surely it’s now time for a fair trade deal for authors too.


Nonetheless, I don’t predict that instantly available, cheaper and more dynamic ebooks will replace their traditional ancestors. There is uniqueness about the book as commodity and artefact which the Kindle clone world cannot utterly displace or diminish. There will also be nostalgia for the traditional product. And an appreciation of the art and craft element in book as object. Similarly Tape and CD looks cramped and uniform compared to the opulent canvas of Vinyl Records. And there will be purists who prefer the ‘warmth’ and glitchy individuality of the analogue to the bland reproducibility digital product.


But ebooks present a range of further opportunities for reading and writing that the traditional forms could not and will not offer.

First, we will see the development of enhanced reading, in which the text is not merely supplemented by, but integrated with other multi-media. If I am reading an ebook on the History of Rap, one click will allow me to place the examples featured in the book. Similarly colour illustration and video clips also become an affordable option for content, citation, and diversity of approach.

Second, improved opportunities for annotation are attractive for the many non-fiction readers who are studying or researching. Again the transition is toward a more active reading process. Of course I can still underline and comment in the margins of my paper copy, but the ease of use for multi-coloured highlighting, commenting, searching certainly facilitates the usability of the text. Add to that the possibility of communal annotation and we have further avenues for creative collaboration which would be a crime against the crisp clarity of the shared library book.

My third observation is that we will see publishers offering discounts to groups of readers who have formed into clubs because they enjoy the shared experience of reading, comment and criticizing texts. For those with minority interest, this affords opportunities for informed discussion across vast distances, and on a global scale. Note how the empowering effects of the technology present opportunities for a shift in human consciousness.

A further development of the third observation would be the book that can evolve through individual or collective participation. We are familiar with books having different editions, but these have become uneconomic for all but the most popular or scientific non-fiction. The ebook becomes a living organism rather than a stable and fixed cultural artefact.

A fifth observation, more radical, and perhaps a little disturbing, takes the openness a stage further and provides books with different openings, middles, or endings. Or characters and locations that readers can alter and transform. The book perhaps comprises flexible and shifting modules, components, and floating memes, susceptible to addition, deletion, or transformation. Books that reform and deform. Texts become deconstructing games, and the balance of creative effort shifts from ‘writer’ to ‘reader.’ What’s disturbing in this case is the demise of our long cherished notions of property, authorship and ownership, guaranteed by the commodity form of the book as a fixed and stable created object. What’s more disturbing, perhaps, is the need to recognize that the period of romantic authorship, which we may be on the verge of abandoning, persisted for less than three centuries in the history of human writing and thinking systems.

A sixth observation proposed an experience even further away from the notion of reader, writer and book as a one-to-one experience. As texts become a form of enriched and enhanced reality, a transition is made to animation and game technologies; to infinitely increased levels of interactivity and engagement. Perhaps the student textbook will prevent access to the next level, until questions have been answered correctly. Books that police our journeys through them and a corporate dream of remote learning beyond physical institutions.


And lurking behind the collective participation is the machine tracking our preferences and choices. Reading interrupted by pop-up ads designed to capitalize and monetize our tastes and preferences. Othello becomes a weekend trip to Venice, The Odyssey a Greek holiday opportunity. In this scenario ebooks and maybe even the readers are offered to us for ‘free’ but are colonized by tracking, tagging and selling; a minor sacrifice and self-willed infringement of the safe and private experience of reading that is now no more than a shadowy nostalgia for a lost time, a lost place.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

An Ear for Poetry

Has the noisy modern world drowned out our ear for poetry? I suspect not. While it may be true that contemporary society both fears and yearns for silence, it is also clear to me that performance poetry, poetry slams, and many other street manifestations such as that of griots and rapping, are alive and well. 

While traditional poetry presents a variety of obstacles to the modern reader, we should not forget the appeal of the ear that chimes so well with popular contemporary consciousness, and indeed constitutes a significant public domain for the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. These sentiments are leading me to reconsider one of our greatest but most neglected poets: Dryden.

In the Preface to the 1945 edition of his book John Dryden: A Study of his Poetry, Mark van Doren wrote 

"We have cults of sensibility and sincerity; we are marvellously responsive to ambiguities; we know how to plot the oblique course, to surprise words into revealing three senses when there was none before; we can find politics in metaphor, morality in syntax, and myth in minor parts of speech. But we do not act as if we had ears. Ears are not everything, but the absence of them leaves poetry dangerously dead. 

Dryden had a great ear. He attended to the craft of sound, and not vulgarly as Poe and Swinburne did, but with a man's interest in the muscle, the sinew, and the nerve of a poem that must be both heard and understood as saying something. He liked to say things, and in time perfected a verse instrument that could say for him anything he was capable of thinking or feeling. Poetry itself was an instrument upon which he spoke and played. The rhythmical organization of a poem got as much of his attention as the plausibility of its statement."

[T. S. Eliot's Selected Essays (p. 306) referred to Mark van Doren's The Poetry of Dryden, 1920, which was based on his Columbia Uni PhD]

I'm assuming that the 'masculinity' that Pope and many others associated with Dryden was associated with the public role of the satirist and dramatist? How would you reconsider that category from a 21st century perspective? 

If you are an English poetry scholar, let me say that I'm looking for any recommended polemical works published since the 1970s that provide idiosyncratic discussions of the critical relationship between John Dryden and T.S. Eliot.Ideally, I'm also seeking out any writings that are able to move from notions of 'difficulty' to 'accessibility' and perhaps open up these poets, and the enduring relevance or value of their prose works, to new readers.

Beyond the familiar - and much derided - emphasis on the 'exploded' notion of 'dissociation of sensibility' and 'reputation and traditions' school, I'm also interested in coming across studies by poets (perhaps working outside academia?), who have responded to the idea of finding a public voice, and to 'finding an ear' for poetry.

Can anyone help?

I think that this is quite a promising topic in terms of inclusivity, and hope to publish some more blogs on poetry as sound, and orality, in the near future.

Further Reading 

Edwards, Paul; Kool G Rap. How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC. Chicago Review Press. 

Kool Moe Dee; et al. There's A God On The Mic: The True 50 Greatest MCs. Thunder's Mouth Press. (2005). The Art Of Emceeing. Boss Up Inc.. 

Krims, Adam (2001). Rap Music And The Poetics Of Identity. Cambridge University Press.

Alan Light; et al. (1999). The Vibe History of Hip Hop. Three Rivers Press. 

Jeff Chang; D.J. Kool Herc (2005). Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Picador. 

Sacha Jenkins; et al. (1999). Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists. St. Martin's Griffin.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Your Practical Revision Timetable


Sample Revision Plan Template for students taking exams

Days to

Rewire your confidence – you are destined for exam genius by using skills

Write down your motivational factors and your reward-for-work system

Acquire copies of past exam papers and grade criteria

Decide how you will avoid distractions and gain by working in short bursts

Custom design a practical and realistic revision timetable

Ensure you have knowledge & understanding of the exam board's success criteria

Make a list of all key topics and themes

Make lists of key words for arguments, concepts & connectives

Finish re-reading key texts; finish any secondary/background  reading

Copy notes & any highlights from books to one source

Re-arrange notes to fit the key topics and themes that you will be tested on

Copy and paste essential quotes, facts, ideas; reduce notes by 60%

Re-read key sections of books & check anything you’re still unclear about

Using exam papers, start planning essays using mindmaps/spider diagrams

Cut notes further but also make more use of visualisation to aid memory

Practise writing brilliant opening and closing paragraphs

Practise writing exam answers under timed conditions; show these to teachers;
ensure that your timing is accurate minute-by-minute

Revise essays and reflect critically on relevant content, style and structure
Remember that you need to give yourself some leisure time

Share work with 'study buddies' and check best practice with teachers

Cut notes down by half to ensure you have essential information

Learn your cut down notes thoroughly and test yourself – employ key cards;
Remember that you need to give yourself some leisure time

Revise your practise essays and memorise key phrases; trial run timed essays again

Check your key words for essay writing and revise from memory cards daily

Check essay plans and cards – avoid stress and exhaustion


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The gentle art of reading and writing blogs

Because there are now millions of free blogs we have the opportunity to dip into lots of different kinds of writing and to sample quite different approaches to recurring topics or themes. Doing this kind of reading randomly can have wonderful results. It's called serendipity which involves surprise discoveries and unexpected connections.

Serendipity is, of course, an eighteenth century word (1754). While we may consider that the period of the Enlightenment was obsessed with reason, system, order and process, the variety of different kinds of topical, fictional and journalistic writing offered many opportunities for fluid expression by creative people and mercurial personalities.

Serendipity is also a useful strategy for broadening your interests and for avoiding the so-called writer's block.

I believe that all great writers are also intelligent critical readers. I despair when I hear people saying that they want to write, but then proceed to say that they are not interested in other people's work. Sometimes it's a good idea to imitate or parody writers that you like or dislike. (Imitation is not the same as copying.)

Part of writing is a craft, and it's good to learn the rules before you start to break them creatively. There are plenty of style and grammar manuals on the market.

In order to establish your own voice and style it’s essential to compose regularly. It is also correct to say, in my view, that improvements come slowly over a period of time. In the art of writing there are few miracles that manifest themselves overnight. And genius is 90% effort and training. Learning to write fluently and effectively can be as difficult as learning to play an instrument such as the piano, violin, or guitar,

It is crucial to be self-critical, but you should avoid becoming self-destructive. Think about how you would the improve blogs that you wrote 6 months ago. Reviewing past material should also build your confidence by giving you a sense of progression.

Also, ask yourself how you are responding to an issue, and think about the kind of reader that you have in mind - this is also something that you can research. These days, writers tend to know who they are writing for.

I would also say that blogging is a genre in itself. This means that you will need to write differently when you turn your blogs into a larger article, essay, or book. Typically, the most popular blogs are very personal, or they offer lots of tips in bullet points. That said, there are REALLY no fixed rules or expectations for this genre. My own blogs have a variety of styles, and I see them sometimes as experiments, and as work-in-progress.

Another positive aspect of blogging is that you can break a larger project down into smaller components, or event fragments that do not fit together as you compose them. After a period of time you start to see links between the pieces, and new patterns of significance are established.

Finally, one of the most valued aspects of blogging is the opportunity for dialogue and what we have come to term interactivity.

In our time, writing is a bit more collaborative and a little less solitary.

Quote from Wiki:

"Although not a must, most good quality blogs are interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments and even message each other via GUI widgets on the blogs, and it is this interactivity that distinguishes them from other static websites. In that sense, blogging can be seen as a form of social networking. Indeed, bloggers do not only produce content to post on their blogs but also build social relations with their readers and other bloggers."

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (2013) ... 
also available on Kindle, or to download

Monday, 8 October 2012

Witty Will-power and Bardic Gender Politics

Shakespeare in Love with Puns

The second part of my exploration of rudeness in Shakespeare couples Sonnet 135 with a discussion of his work written by Dr Samuel Johnson in 1765

In this poem 'Will' is punned in a variety of senses: (1) willpower; (2) Will Shakespeare; (3) a bequest; (4) the penis; (5) future/s. Sense (4) is the one that you are least likely to encounter in discussions that want to shield readers from the reality of the eroticised encounter with the male genitalia. 

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus;
More than enough am I, that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

(As Michel Foucault pointed out, the erotic "gaze" resulted in "perpetual spirals of power and pleasure"...)

In Johnson's discussion below,  Shapespeare's tendency to pun (or quibble) is presented in sexualised terms as a undesirable temptation and procreation of meaning. Johnson then proceeds to deconstruct further the risk of vulgarity and triviality. There is the sense of a downward motion (stooping/falling) beneath bardic dignity. But Johnson's preface also plays on the idea of bulky and swelling wit/will and seems to me to provide a scandalous  reconstruction of the mine/treasure of erotic discovery and exploration. And so at every turn the witty willpower hints at a risky grotesque quality that offends decency.

Preface to Shakespeare

Samuel Johnson (1765)

  It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow upon it.        

  Not that always where the language is intricate the thought is subtle, or the image always great where the line is bulky; the equality of words to things is very often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas disappoint the attention, to which they are recommended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures.          

  But the admirers of this great poet have never less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, than when he seems fully resolved to sink them in dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetick without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivocation. He no sooner begins to move, than he counteracts himself; and terrour and pity, as they are rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden frigidity.
  A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.

   The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with shades, and scented with flowers; the composition of Shakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes giving shelter to myrtles and to roses; filling the eye with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless diversity. Other poets display cabinets of precious rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine which contains gold and diamonds in unexhaustible plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner minerals.
  It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether he had the common helps of scholastick education, the precepts of critical science, and the examples of ancient authours.     

  There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shakespeare wanted learning, that he had no regular education, nor much skill in the dead languages. Jonson, his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and no Greek; who, besides that he had no imaginable temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force could be opposed.   

  Some have imagined, that they have discovered deep learning in many imitations of old writers; but the examples which I have known urged, were drawn from books translated in his time; or were such easy coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who consider the same subjects; or such remarks on life or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences.

© Samuel Johnson,

© Dr Ian McCormick