All entries for Friday 04 November 2011

November 04, 2011

Taken Away, Teacher's Notes for a Workshop

Writing about web page http://sounds.bl.uk/resources/teachersnotes.pdf

This document is taken from the British Library website cited in the entry below this. There are also some good workshops based on poetry by Mimi Khalvati, Moniza Alvi and Saradha Soobrayen.

Teacher's notes

Taken Away

OVERVIEW

David Morley’s... writing often addresses Romani culture and uses Romani language. Frequently he writes poetic narratives which blend traditional story-telling with the hard concrete realities of urban life, writing about difficult situations with the lightness of a magical realist touch. In this activity students will think about tone and language, updating a fairytale to a twenty-first century context, and mixing contemporary diction with archaisms and clichés.

INTRODUCTION

This poem’s title ‘Taken Away’ helps the content of the poem work on many levels. It is about a child who has been taken away from his parents, but the exact details of the story are murky – is this about death (even possibly murder) or the taking away of a child by others who fear the parents can’t look after it? Ask the students to work through the poem, making a list of narrative events. What do they think is happening? When is the poem set? The same poem contains ‘fairy baby’ and ‘postman’; the child is ‘like a seal’ and ‘drinking whiskey’ – what happens when we mix language, time and situation like this? What’s the mood of the poem?

TASK

Bring in a pile of children’s books that contain nursery rhymes and fairytales. Also bring in lots of newspapers. Firstly give out the children’s books and ask the students to open them randomly and write down ten words or phrases that they think carry the tone of the story or rhyme and make us feel like we are in a magical world. Then give them the newspapers and ask them to choose ten words or phrases that are totally contemporary and put us in the twenty-first century. The students then have to choose one fairytale or nursery rhyme and find a story in the newspapers that somehow relates to it. They should then write a narrative poem, updating the fairytale to the modern day context and make sure it contains at least 5 of their magical words / phrases and at least 5 of their contemporary newspaper words / phrases.

If they want to really push themselves and help their poem gain momentum, they should write the poem in 4 line stanzas, with an alternate line rhyme scheme XAXA XBXB XCXC etc.

However, the poems will also be fine, unrhymed and in a different shape - perhaps try copying David Morley’s poem using long lines and irregular stanzas.


Between Two Worlds: Teacher's Notes for David Morley's 'Taken Away'

Writing about web page http://sounds.bl.uk/resources/teachersnotes.pdf

Taken Away

 

Taken Away

The mother places her baby at the waterfall’s brim.

She waits for the moon’s climb.

They’d been hard at the hay with a blunt scythe between them

circling and slashing for hours under blanking sunlight

with the cradle nestled and nooked on the one hayless place.

They’d had their breakfast, porridge and milk and tea,

scones, cheese, whatever they had. Their picnic things

were scattered on the green knowe around the cradle

as if plates and pots and pans had been tossed out by the baby.

The wife shadows her husband with a wide wooden rake

weaving and whirling his handwork as he worries the hay loose.

You know how a man makes bouts of hay with a scythe

and round and round the field in close and closing spirals

he rounds on the hayless knowe and that one white cradle

with cups and greaseproof wrappings pallid with butter;

like a maze of mauve leading into a green eye and an unseen

staring gap among the eye’s blades. Some small wind shoves

the grass as if a snake were sidling.         The parents are heads down.

Their muscles move with each other as if they were making love.

Round he goes, and round she goes, a buzzard’s marriage

on a thermal. Then a cry goes up as if the soil were screaming

or the wind were wounded on nails of brittle straw. A cry

neither parent has heard and cannot stem with any known thing,

not milk or love or kiss or words or food. The young doctor

from across the glen hears the child’s call across five miles.

He rides towards it as if the cry were a fire rising in the fields

but all his knowledge’s clear water will not quench the child.

And so it goes for the fever of three thickening months

except at the wick of midnight when the baby closes down

as if his switches had been thrown, or some wires scissored

in his throat. Tethered by their child, the parents thaw into sleep

only to freeze awake at dawn as the cry bursts back alight.

Folk keep away. Folk catch that cry in their cattle’s eyes; taste

its scum in their milk and mutton.   

At summer’s flow, the postman

deaf with listening to a lifetime’s stories, strode into their cottage,

downed a dram, and drank the scene into his memory: salt water

damming a child’s throat, a cry that would not cease for love.

He stayed with him all day. The parents scrammed for provisions

and the cure of quiet. As the door slammed and their footfalls

slapped into the lane, the postman turned to the baby and the baby

sat up asking if they had gone and, if his parents had gone

would that now mean he could get up at last—and get up he did

as if he were a young man sternly sick of his own board and bed.

He could stand and speak. The child’s voice was dark and thrown

as if four corners of the room were talking with him or through him.

The child clenched the whiskey bottle and downed enough to throw

a horse. He drew a long straw and slit it to the note of a flute.

Then he played the long day through, making the postman drink

deeper and harder than he had the head or height or heart for.

A moon widened on the windows; a garden gate squeaked

cringing on its hinges; the parents poured through the door

to find their child crying in his cot like a seal left on some low ledge

of the Atlantic; and the postman pointing at him, adrift or bereft.

‘He’s not here, your child. He’s not anywhere. He’s taken away.

He told me everything, how you left him to the cloud and sky,

left him to the harebell and the grasshopper and the cow parsley,

left him in grazed gaps between grass, to skylark and to hoverfly,

while you worked, if that’s what you were doing.’       They knew

one cure, one pure matter passed from their grandmothers.

When midnight massed itself over breakers and shore,

when the tide of the day had flown, mother, father and friend

headed by torchlight up the headstream on the high moor.

The mother slides her fairy-baby towards the waterfall’s brink,

taut-shawled, his baby arms pinioned like a wrapped cat.

The child’s mewling, breathing the breath of the chilled spray

slaping up from the trout-brown pool at the fall’s foot.

The father and their friend are behind her, egging her on,

baying that it’s for the best, that their child isn’t in the child.

The moon bends a bow behind a cloud-castle then shoots

its light-arrow through a slit across the waterfall’s rim.

 


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