Poetry Friday: Mirror (Sylvia Plath)

Reading Time: 2 minutes Sylvia Plath’s poem is heart-rending to anyone who’s ever struggled with self-image, literally disliking what they see in the mirror in front of them or with their perception of themselves. When she calls the mirror a “little god”, she’s absolutely right in the petty yet all-consuming obsession that can result from putting too much faith in your perception of the reflection rather than trying to see the ‘truth’ – whatever that might be. It can be destroying, looking at your reflection and seeing what you think is less than what it should be, whether you struggle with body consciousness, weight, …

How to start a great essay

Reading Time: 7 minutes Essay writing is a great way to practise writing skills, whether your preferred genre is fiction or non-fiction. You need to have a clear goal in mind, your phrasing needs to be both beautiful and clear, and you need to make every word, as when writing poetry, count. It’s always been a great art form too – although I suppose essayists were something like the newspaper editorial columnists of their day! While columnists write generally on relatively transient and personal ideas, the great essayists wrote meditations where they really thought about the big questions. William Hazlitt and John Stuart Mill …

Poetry Friday: Anne Hathaway (Carol Ann Duffy)

Reading Time: 3 minutes A favourite of mine – have studied it a lot with students and it’s always proclaimed the favourite at some point. I think I first came across it when teaching GCSE but it’s just as popular at A-level, perhaps more so because I think the students can understand some of the nuances of longing a little more by then. Shakespeare famously left Anne Hathaway his “second best bed”, as Duffy uses for the inspiration in her epigraph – because, it’s widely assumed, the best bed was the one reserved for guests and so he’s leaving her the bed they shared …

Poetry Friday: Glory of Women

Reading Time: 2 minutes I loved my A-level English class. A really great group, I have fantastic memories of discussion in a room that I probably remember as smaller than it really was, and the way my teacher made everything both absolutely clear and made me think at the same time! One of the novels we read was Pat Barker’s Regeneration, which was wonderful. The story of Dr Rivers, who worked at a mental hospital called Craiglockhart during WWI, and treated during his time there patients including Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen – it was where the two met. I found the breadth of masculine relationships in the novel …

Poetry Friday: Porphyria’s Lover

Reading Time: 4 minutes This is a poem I use at school for various things, from teaching pathetic fallacy to a comparison with Much Ado About Nothing’s view of women. The gothic tragedy of it has always appealed to me, from the sullen spiteful wind tearing down the elm trees just because it can, to the final, haunting image of the couple sitting together at the end. I always find students’ responses very interesting to it as well – it’s not really my intention to talk much about my day job here, but I think it’s fascinating how in whichever class I’ve used it with …

Poetry Friday: Bright Star

Reading Time: 2 minutes One of the interesting things about collecting poetry from staff for National Poetry Day last week was that the majority of poems had a meaning from childhood. They were ems studied at school, that they had been made to learn by heart or that they remembered being read to in a classroom. It made me think a little about the poetry that I expose my students to. Is it always something that I think will have this kind of resonance? Is it poetry that I think should have some wider echo in their lives, become a ‘gobbet’ as Hector in The History Boys …