Recently I was getting ready to teach a unit on ‘The Tempest’ and was trying to find material on how to link Shakespeare’s plays to the modern world. I thought I was fairly knowledgeable when it came to the Bard but stumbling upon a video of Sir Ian McKellen performing a speech written by good old Will, I found myself unable to identify the play it came from. Now there are plenty of plays I would not be able to identify many lines from but this speech resonated and I found it hard to believe I hadn’t heard it before. It was relevant to today, pithy and evocative. There was passion and it wasn’t just Sir Ian’s delivery. Continue reading
‘The Rabbits’ is a picture book by Australian author and illustrator Shaun Tan and author John Marsden. Those familiar with Tan’s work, perhaps though ‘The Lost Thing’ or ‘Tales of Suburbia’, will know that he is a genius in all respects. Tan’s illustrations are beautiful and so detailed but the stories he weaves also explore themes and concepts central to what it is to be a modern Australian.
‘The Rabbits’ is the tale of the colonial invasion of Australia and the near eradication of those that were already here but not recognised by those arriving. Tan and Marsden use the analogy of rabbits, representing the British colonists, and bandicoots, representing the indigenous inhabitants, to make a pointed comment on the damage done to those losing their land and way of life. Continue reading
If ever I were to meet Tom Stoppard I would run to him and hug him. Then, the warmth of the embrace still palpable in my bosom, I would punch him in the face. Then I would hug him again. He is the evil wizard of playwrights and he makes life worth living but for those who have to write essays on his work he also makes you wish you were dead.
‘Arcadia’ is a play that was first performed in the 1990s. It is about Science, Mathematics, Landscape Gardening and the tension between sex and intellect. If you don’t understand iterated algorithms, Chaos Theory or are not intimately acquainted with the laws of thermodynamics or Euclidean Geometry you will be after reading this play.
When I began teaching Year 12 Literature I inherited a horrid list of texts. Often the VCE Literature list reflects the interests of old ladies, jaded and bitter about the world. One of the texts I had foist upon me was Thea Astley’s collection of short stories Hunting the Wild Pineapple. It was as horrendous as it sounds. The problem was that the students had bought it and it was in their lockers, some had even read it. But I couldn’t do it. It was repulsive and I felt like the bromine poisoning from the over consumption of pineapple would surely end my Literature journey. So I sent it to the compost and made a late change.
Having admitted in a recent review to being ‘not much of a reader’ it would seem somewhat duplicitous to go straight back to a novel or play or collection of poetry and sing its praises. Rather than appear two-faced I shall stick to my first love – the silver screen.
Currently, my time is consumed by re-writing my Year 11 Literature course for 2016 as the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has seen it fit to shift the goal posts just when I thought I was getting the hang of it. The upshot of this is that I am to lose my ability to round out the first semester from here on by teaching Rear Window. Having taught it seven times I feel I have refined my delivery and breakdown of the film to a fine art. Hitchcock’s masterpiece has become so much a part of me that the other day my class observed that my hairstyle very slightly resembles that of Grace Kelly’s at the conclusion of the film. I’m not sure whether I should be distressed by that or see it as a great compliment to my beauty. Continue reading
Gary Ross (Writer and Director) 1998
My students often find it hard to believe that I am not much of a reader. Well, I tend not to read a huge amount beyond work. The fact is most reading just feels like… work. Eventually Literature students discover that once you master ‘literaturing’ things (they have turned the noun into a verb without any approval or guidance from me) it can be very hard to turn this super power off. I deconstruct the instructions on a teabag and explore the dialogic relationship to the instructions on the artificial sweetener. It is an affliction of sorts. It is a common film trope that when someone develops telepathy they become overwhelmed with the voices of everyone around them, it is deafening. The same is true with the power of interpretation. This is my origin story.
I need to say up front that I write this review after marking a lot of essays written on this text. I may, as is understandable, be slightly over it at the moment. However, I see this review as a chance to pull this text back from the precipice that is my classroom experience and into the warmth of the bedside lamp.
I am not really one for Australian fiction generally and I certainly don’t like straight up and down stories of the good old Aussie battler but I found myself reading Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet as the most likely choice to replace a novel leaving the English list at the end of 2013. The novel facing extinction was The Life of Pi and I had liked it quite a bit but the students had never warmed to it. Faced with Winton’s phonebook and a story that spanned twenty years I wasn’t convinced I was onto a winner here either. Continue reading
In 2011 I had very few choices. When you allocate text to a VCE class there are lots of factors impacting that decision. Unfortunately the first is not ‘Do I like, or even know, any of the books that are listed?’ The first decision is usually ‘What books are new to the list?’ See, books are only on the list for four years so you want to get bang for your buck. Preparing a text for VCE Literature is a lot of work and I want a full four years to milk all the reading, preparation and, hopefully, knowledge and insight gained.
But in 2011 I had very few choices. I was not able to choose a play or a novel. I already had one of each and having another of either text type limits the students’ choices for the exam. I could put on some poetry but it tended to be very challenging to do well and, to be honest, I was only just wrapping my head around how to teach it in an analytic way. There were some great options but they were all in List A (the non-examinable list) and I had to replace a List B (examinable texts). I had a collection of short stories by Peter Carey, a non-fiction text about bushfires and a novel that they seemed to have placed accidently in the ‘Other Literature’ category. It was by Truman Capote. Continue reading
While we are at school we are made to study texts that we did not choose. As both student and teacher alike I have encountered novels, plays and poetry that I have despised to the point of once burying a novel in my back garden. Happily, I have more often found a gem that sits proudly in a sacred place forevermore on my shelf rather than being relegated to the compost.
In 1996 I was shackled to a desk and force-fed a tale of the distant and, to me, irrelevant 1920s. A land of flappers, prohibition and openly racist millionaires. The characters of old New York had no redeeming features to me and to be honest I did not even finish reading it. I, rather ironically, felt the novel was a car crash of storytelling and couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to follow the exploits of someone that called everyone ‘old sport’ far too often. Continue reading