Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Pain

Pain comes in different forms and degrees and possibly moulds us -- along with other factors -- into who we are. 

This is a poem about how pain feels to me.

PAIN
I've felt the pain 
Of the rose
When it could no longer
Be called a bud
The sadness of the tree
When its trunk 
Bent in the wind
The yielding of the moon
When the clouds had their way
The grieving of the skin
At the loss of your touch


Friday, 21 July 2017

This is true

Writing comes in bursts, and it takes hold of us.
This is a Greek creation. It is about the roads
we have not taken and the regrets about not
being bold enough...


Έτσι είναι

Μου είπες
Αυτό το ταξίδι
Κρατάει πολύ
Κι άλλαξα γνώμη
Να πάω σε μέρη άγνωστα
Δεν επιδίωξα
Με ή χωρίς εσένα

Τον δρόμο που βγάζει
Σε γνώριμο ακρογιάλι διάλεξα
Να στέλνω τα βότσαλα
Μέχρι τον βυθό
Να λέω αντίο
Σε καράβια που αρμενίζουν
Άφοβα στ’ ανοιχτά

Να πλέκω ιστορίες
Ασήμαντες
Στην πάλη με τον χρόνο
Δεν πειράζει
Είμαστε ό,τι διαλέγουμε
Μου είπες
Κι έτσι είναι



Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Droplets

Droplets

The droplets of bitterness
I collected in the depths of winter
They ran and ran
On swells of anger they rode
On howling winds they fed

Triumphantly menacing
 Into furious waves they grew
Buffeting us on a weeping shore
Our togetherness smithereens

Of broken illusions

Friday, 14 July 2017

Houses and paintings: an approach to descriptive writing


 Houses are fascinating places to look at. To my mind,  every house has its own character, which is of course the result of the owner’s choices in terms of decoration and style but also depends on the location, the weather conditions, the changes brought about by the community and the local authorities.
Normally in teaching language, we limit ourselves to asking students to describe their house mainly focusing on room and furniture vocabulary and in terms of structures on “there is/are”. This is all very well at lower levels of English, but I feel that we need some extra challenge for more advanced students if we want to develop and enrich their vocabulary and descriptive ability further.

I find long lists of topic-related words only useful as reference. However, in order to impress specific words or phrases on students’ minds, you need different strategies depending on the topic and who you are.

Personally, I am very keen on paintings in a totally amateurish way, and I find that showing for example images of houses in paintings where usually there is a degree of abstraction helps excite students’ imagination and allows the teacher to focus on specific items.

Let me illustrate with some examples:
Here is a painting by Childe Hassam called The Brush House:


Two-storey, wooden railings, run-down, porch, thatched roof, wooden shutters, obscured by vegetation  are some of the items the teacher could supply for the students before they are asked to describe the house and its environs. The vocabulary becomes more memorable as it is linked with the various aspects of the image.

An entirely different setting now with a lot of grey area so that the students can speculate:
Moonlight by John Atkinson Grimshaw:


Stairway, solid, brick, chimney, imposing, isolated, dimly lit, bare trees casting their shadows, ominous, spooky, silver disc are some items the teacher can supply to get the students started. In this particular example, the students could try to imagine what is going on inside the house, who the occupants are and whether there is a crisis in their life right now.

Going one notch up in abstraction, here is a painting by Constantin Piliuta called Parental House, Birthplace:


Here one might want to start with the atmosphere so dreamlike is a suggestion. Despite the abstraction, the house looks quite real with its arched windows, elevated balcony, timber roof and whitewashed exterior walls. The boundary with the street is marked by what looks like almond trees in blossom possibly at the close of winter.

All in all, images are out there to use and your imagination is the limit.



Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Memories: Addiction

The summer heat brings back all kinds of memories. The cruel light finds a way to the darkest depths where our mind has repressed them. This is a memory:


Addiction
He said to me
You're addictive
Lonely lady
I said to him
I know, I see
The poor junkies
Piled on my feet

He said to me
Do something
I said I can't
Not a gram of soul
Left in me
Doomed to fade
We all are...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Lessons out of song videos: The Great Dust Storm

My experience in life in general and in language teaching in particular suggests that the trivia make up the composite whole or, to put it in another way, understanding occurs when we move from a lower to a higher level, from examples to generalisation, from practice to theory. Knowledge is not dictated; it is attained. 

Therefore, I am rather skeptical about the effectiveness of conveniently numbered tips about how to do things in class (for example how to use videos or songs).
I am inclined to believe that each song or video lends itself to a different use in class, which is determined by the content and the images of the song or video itself as well as the level, age and maturity of the learners.

I will illustrate with an example of a country song called The Great Dust Storm by Woody Guthrie.


The Great Dust Storm (Dust Storm Disaster)
Woody Guthrie

On the 14th day of April of 1935
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky
You could see that dust storm comin', the cloud looked deathlike black
And through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track

From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom

The radio reported, we listened with alarm
The wild and windy actions of this great mysterious storm
From Albuquerque and Clovis, and all New Mexico
They said it was the blackest that ever they had saw

From old Dodge City, Kansas, the dust had rung their knell
And a few more comrades sleeping on top of old Boot Hill
From Denver, Colorado, they said it blew so strong
They thought that they could hold out, but they didn't know how long

Our relatives were huddled into their oil boom shacks
And the children they was cryin' as it whistled through the cracks
And the family it was crowded into their little room
They thought the world had ended, and they thought it was their doom

The storm took place at sundown, it lasted through the night
When we looked out next morning, we saw a terrible sight
We saw outside our window where wheat fields they had grown
Was now a rippling ocean of dust the wind had blown

It covered up our fences, it covered up our barns
It covered up our tractors in this wild and dusty storm
We loaded our jalopies and piled our families in
We rattled down that highway to never come back again

When I watched the video, I thought it would be a good idea to mute the sound and only show the video in order to elicit some language:

important date, dust, storm, bury, thick clouds, cover, hover over cities, pray, disaster, tracts of land, pitch black, doom, graves, plod through, abject poverty, cramped living conditions, wheat fields, carts drawn by horses, fences, barns, tractors, farming machines, abandon land and property, load up cars/wagons, deserted countryside

The above list is simply a suggestion. It seems to me that the song can be used with any level from intermediate upwards so the teacher would simply raise or reduce their expectations in terms of vocabulary production.

The students could be asked to describe what they see in the video (pause and play) and then engage in a discussion about the causes of the phenomenon and its relevance in this day and age. Here the teacher could encourage them to use modal verbs of possibility followed by present perfect infinitive, which the students hardly ever get the opportunity to practise in a meaningful context. (An accident might have happened.)

Following this, the teacher could play the song and ask the students to confirm or rectify their guesses. Again, the teacher could use this as an opportunity to introduce ways of confirming or correcting wrong guesses:
I wrongly thought … when in fact …
I was right in thinking/saying …

Although the disaster struck over 80 years ago, it is still relevant today. The lack of care in farming was to blame for the soil erosion and the resulting dust storms, which caused so much damage to the environment and major upheavals in people’s lives – especially those of people living in the country in a similar way that today wrong farming practices as well as intensive farming play havoc with the environment and people’s health.

The teacher can either give an account of the background themselves or hand out the entry in Wikipedia and prepare some reading comprehension questions.



For writing practice, the students could invent a story about one of the families that left their land and home: how they reacted to the dust storm, what they thought was happening before they found out from the radio, how they loaded all their belongings onto a vehicle and left behind a lifetime’s effort and memories.



Thursday, 29 June 2017

Summer magic


We are well into summer now and the haze of the heat has engulfed us all. We seek a breath of coolness in the nearest sea by day while by night everything turns magical under the moonlit sky. If you let go and sink into the summer nightscape, you will drift into your dreamland. For each one of us it is different but dreamland it is.
I have tried to capture a little of this magic into the following poem:
A summer night’s vision

The drifting moon
Was gazing down
A seamless blue
The sleepless sea
A swelling lull
The slightest signs
Of life subdued
In its arms
An eerie stillness
The cosmos ruled


A trail of dreams
Wrestling free
Like sailing boats
Under a breath of wind
Their skyward course
Across the nightly cloth
With eagerness pursued

The restless vision
A flight of fancy
Unchecked
In its inception
A  ruthless rift
Insidiously wrought

In the nocturnal harmony