Personification in Poetry, Poetic Phrases and Personal Pain

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20 James Road, 1988
Mairi Neil

The TV babbles,
the gas fire hums and hisses
to the squeaking, creaking
Jason recliners
settling down for a night
in front of the ‘goggle box’.

Dad’s brandy glass
smooches the table
between sips
until the final
perfunctory kiss –
Goodnight Sweetheart!

Mum’s tea cup
gossips with the saucer
gulps snippets of
the day’s details
digested and refuelled
often…

A cigarette smoulders
fuming or
tension released.
The marbled green ashtray
a present from Venice,
from friends now gone.

Curtains shimmer and shake
new moon’s light filters
the delighted red sky,
the room aglow,
forty years of marriage
comfy as snoozing slippers…

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Albert Street, Autumn 2015
Mairi Neil

Towards the railway station
the sky turns to navy and
muted purple hue
stains remnants of clouds.

Parrots soar across
the sky; black darts
seeking branches to rest
as dusk descends.

In the orange glow
of street lamps
red and green flashes
squeal and squawk

Rosellas determined
to fight sparrows or thrushes
for roosting perches in palm trees
lining Mordialloc Main Street.

Most trees still and silent
this mild autumn night,
the sea breeze too gentle
to rustle leaves, shake fronds.

Beside the stoic finery
of native gums and ti-tree
branches of imported trees
already stripped and stark

Proud and strong and
uncomplaining, they’ll rebirth,
withstand the years of
insect and birded demands.

Watching people pass,
hearing trains trundle
inhaling the exhausts
of countless cars.

Mother Nature’s guardians,
the earth’s lungs
the Creator’s gifts
to be treasured.

I looked around the room, focused, reflected,  wrote whatever words came to mind. Short sentences and phrases, staying with a single thought in rhythmic lines…

Forgotten grapes fermenting
or is it the apples?
Buying ‘specials’ has its price.

Jasmine leaves dying
possum nests abandoned
winter on its way

Must kill the wisteria
before it destroys the fence
beauty sacrificed to finance

Ornate wooden crocodile
carved from driftwood
memories of Darwin and Kakadu

Two silver bejewelled elephants
a long way from home
reminder of senseless slaughter

Purple, tall and willowy
gifted orchid
struggling to survive

The year of the horse over
Yellow origami steed
memento from Chinese writer

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Margaret’s Gift
Mairi Neil

A Waterford Crystal glass
four thistles etched for
a Scottish touch from the
Emerald Isle.
It reminded her of me…
(or perhaps it was the flaw
marring inside rim)

The seahorse wine stopper,
another reminder of …
flatmates, drinking buddies,
the good times often rolled.

Gifts painstakingly parcelled
trimmed with recycled silk ribbon
‘life is for living’ stamped
green ink on soft silk.
Bubble-wrapped and boxed,
declaration of a loving friendship
that needed no reminders…

Security at the airport alert
to a pointed silhouette
‘Please step aside’ embarrassment.
I babble about a funeral,
an old friend, we flatted together
an unexpected inheritance,
‘…crystal, fragile, be careful… please’

A young man with empathy
and clumsy gloved hands
unties the ribbon
opens the cardboard,
unfolds the bubble-wrap,
unwraps the tissue paper
‘I’m sorry for your loss…’

He fumbles and blushes
hands hampered by latex
and inexperience.
My flight is called
I hear my heart pounding
his breathless frustration…
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I whisper.

Nerves as fragile as the crystal
equilibrium shattered.
Cancer’s curse has robbed
me of yet another friend
memories more precious
than mementoes…

On board the plane
the gifts repackaged,
grief compartmentalised.
I stare at the shifting clouds,
wonder if there is
life after death…
as surreptitious tears
flow. Smothered
by the sounds of flight.

A Little Moderation Goes A Long way

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When pre-accredited writing classes are funded in community houses the teachers are moderated to gauge how effectively the course develops employability skills.

The moderation process allows teachers to think about what they are teaching and how they can improve. How they can deliver the course better, and improve the content. Moderation involves showing a lesson plan example, discussing how a session is organised, and hearing any feedback from students.

Students are asked what skills they have learned, where else they can use those skills and if the course meets their needs. If not, what can change to ensure their needs are met.

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Governments, regardless of what level (Federal, State or local Council) want accountability for their investment in education. Community wellbeing and life skills are important, but it is the economic value, aka employability skills and the bottom line decision makers (read bean counters) consider when spending taxpayers’ dollars.

Moderation is usually done by managers or high level trainers, but in pre-accredited courses it can be peer to peer collaborative appraisal. There is examination of quality indicators and employability skills to ensure consistency of teaching and outcomes, and there’s been good use of the money government has invested.

Moderation is about:

  • standards and values – improving where necessary
  • accountability
  • demonstrating an outcome
  • preserving the courses so they are relevant

Teachers share their

  • passion
  • faith in their methods
  • clarity of purpose
  • desire for continued professional development

After moderation, if necessary a new improved session plan is submitted along with the old plan e.g.. increased time for computer skills, more time in computer room, or excursions – maybe introduction of guest speakers, short films; learning outcomes may be revised; different employability skills may be introduced  like written English for a specific job, writing a monologue or short play…

Reflection by the teacher and moderator focuses on:

How effective were the strategies used to achieve the desired outcomes
eg. Did role play improve written dialogue? Did a specific project develop team work?

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The sessions I teach cover all types of writing with some focusing on specifics (Writing for Pleasure and Publication, Life Stories and Legacies, Memoir to Manuscript, Writing and Editing, Creatively Writing Towards the Future)

Skills developed include:

  • Written and spoken English – constant communication with each other, in class and beyond.
  • Planning and organising – whether an ‘outliner or pantser’ – planning a short story or organising a poem takes a variety of skills
  • Problem solving – working out plots in creative writing, character biographies and developing their place in story
  • Team work – in class we often work in pairs, but every session we listen and give feedback on each other’s writing as we workshop various pieces
  • Research skills – using traditional means from books in libraries to online ‘Googling’
  • Interview techniques – particularly relevant for those writing life stories, family histories and biographies

Some of the techniques we use to improve our creative writing and our creative non-fiction are:

  • Character questionnaires – this may involve personality tests on self, other classmates, online tests
  • Clever use of the computer – the functions of word processing software and search engines
  • Typing skills are invariably developed – the world of writing in the 21st century necessitates computer skills
  • Each session we splurge – writing in class to a prompt to trigger memory or ideas. This encourages ‘thinking on your feet’ plus use of imagination and digging deep for memories
  • Sometimes we do role play to improve dialogue skills – this encourages conversational skills and public speaking
  • Reflection activities – for editing, feedback to others and self, clarity of vision

The collaboration in class involves listening carefully to other students, sharing stories and expertise – an important aspect of learning, but also because observation and attention to detail imperative for writers.

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Students learn differently. The lesson plans and any supporting information is photocopied and given to each student – this saves copious note taking and avoids lapses in memory or misunderstanding regarding what the class covered and the homework.

Sessions are tackled differently too – prompts not always written, some are visual, others tactile, or involve listening to a CD.

Some classes like to write with classical music playing in the background, others prefer silence. Objects may be brought in to act as story starters, short videos watched, photographic or word prompts distributed, often a combination of all of these.

Exercises to improve grammar or spelling, the understanding of metaphors and similes, the crossover of poetry and prose, and various other hints and techniques regarding the craft of writing incorporated as the sessions progress.

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Explanations and discussions about E-books and the fast changing digital technology introduced, the ability to insert graphics, the portability of equipment available to write and save work.

Session plans must be altered to suit various groups, but at all times quality indicators and employability skills are addressed. Each year, it is not so much ‘reinventing the wheel’ but ensuring what I teach reflects the changing face of creative writing and publishing and my teaching is effective and relevant. Both student and teacher must be clear about their purpose.

One of the gifts I give my students is to collate class work in an anthology so they have a record of their achievements in edited, polished pieces. The book also serves as an historical record of their time in class, the friends they have made; writing and socialisation skills learned.

These anthologies are evidence that students not only attend classes, but have produced a piece, or several pieces of writing and understand the most important tenet I teach – writers write!

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Several years ago there used to be bumper stickers declaring “If you can read this, thank a primary school teacher.”

I know there have been many debates about the value of writing courses, but as one writer observed, some of the most famous painters we know studied under a master painter or attended art classes, so why should writers expect to learn their craft in isolation.

I believe writing classes are here to stay and I’m happy a moderation process exists to always encourage improvement from teachers and courses.

Have you had a good or bad experience as a writing student? How do you think courses could be improved?