No.16 - Finding Voice/Refusing Voice
would I say in their Shoes?
New Time Scale
Grace of an Empty Building
Voicing the Self
of a Person
from Household Objects
Spider and the Fly
and Creating New Space
Emotion of a Flower
Plus Ways of Looking at a Poem
depth in space
Welcome to Edition # 16 of The Creative Teaching Space.
It feels like ages since I have written this magazine. I have been working on new projects and just haven’t had the discipline to sit down and get ideas rolling. I think all writers face this – the eternal battle of getting down to work; the guilt and the lack of confidence.
At times my muse has vanished. Last I heard it was backpacking in the Andes. A friend suggested it had arrived at a U.S. airport and was stuck in customs control. I think that it has simply gone quiet, pushed away by bigger forces. It is probably in a back room, like a cat, kipping on a couch. I’ll wake it, but hang on, why not let it rest? Sometimes I prefer to be quiet.
This edition of the magazine is dedicated to the idea of the ‘voice’. Sometimes people don’t want to speak. Sometimes I don’t want to speak. Sometimes I don’t want to enter into the role. Sometimes I just want to stand back, and watch, and listen. Summing up. Sometimes I don’t want to answer. If I had a dollar for every time people asked me why I moved to Tasmania! People want to pin you down, find a quick answer – always find a reason as if there is always a clear decisive reason. Okay here goes: I moved to Tasmania ‘because’. I like the word ‘because.’ It defines – and it answers. Now hopefully all the questions will cease.
A few words about my approach in this magazine penned from some time ago:
My approach in this magazine has been one closer to poetry than curriculum design. While I write resources in curriculum, and teach or conduct professional development when opportunities arise, I have always felt somewhat distanced by academic references to education. I get tired of the jargon and understand why, in recent times, Australian newspapers and websites are carrying articles about jargon in education.
I am particularly interested in new ways of talking about education – new ways in which the classroom, or learning itself, is made even more human. This is far removed from the language of psychology that so easily creeps into modern discourse. It is more an attempt, on my behalf, to re-examine the mysteries in learning and the many ways in which we can choose to explore the riches of the world. I am drawn to voices that are sincere and authentic. I shy away from language that is overly academic and seems to lack a human stamp.
I guess that is why I draw so much upon poetry and art within my writing. I love situations in which the human voice reveals itself – with its strength but also its vulnerability. I love getting a sense of a person. I love that feeling of intimacy in which I feel that I am engaged with a person, across time and space. How often can we say this about contemporary educational writing? Too often words seem to be shaped by theoretical cultures. Pragmatists play the game. Language is used to re-inforce one's place – and define yours!
I have never really felt part of those scenes and tend to work independently. I am drawn to voices that speak of humanity, with a humanity. I value words that inspire and make the world into a richer place. I try to listen to the world – to sincere voices coming from many fields. As a result in recent times I have explored many disciplines. I have been reading the poetry of the New Zealand poet Glenn Colquhoun and I have been viewing beautiful books on garden photography by the likes of Lyn Geesaman and Sally Gall. I have been inspired by artistic photography of old buildings. All these ideas will somehow, sometime, work their way into an edition of The Creative Teaching Space. Work with the ideas as you like. In some cases they may inspire. They may open doors. I find that artists often open doors for me.
Above all don’t fall victim to cultures that try to stamp or define learning. There is so much more out there! Beware of the reductionists. In the end we run the risk of being disempowered by them – the so-called educational experts who, in defining education, take away the joy and the mystery.
I still contend that how a school, or an education department, treats its teachers is just a reflection of how that system will ultimately treat its students. If we are really serious about opening possibilities in education then we should be really serious about the humanity of all involved – teachers, students, parents and the wider community.
We must take a broader view of education: see the language for what it is, see how certain ideologies and disciplines have tried to stamp our perceptions, see the politics involved and simply see how people are treated.
It has been interesting watching, at close hand, so called educational experts in recent years. Some have been the most immature and cold people I have ever met. Others have been very open.
The proof is in the pudding. The most interesting people are the practitioners who put their ideas into practice. We should be looking to this consistency, finding these stories and celebrating them. We should be watching and listening for authenticity as well as inauthenticity. We should be alert to the nature and feel of language – in particular becoming more sensitive to the sound of authenticity. That is why I love the arts. It so often expresses authenticity. Find and sense the authenticity in a work of art and it will train you to authenticity in so many fields. It has certainly helped me.
Enjoy the reading and the scanning.
Out of dismay at the nature of modern political speech imagine if we could rewrite the speeches of politicians. Imagine if we could say what we really wanted to hear. Imagine if we could go beyond the rhetoric, find words that really inspired, find a truth that heals and opens new possibilities for advancement. The following speech by the actor John Howard, same namesake as the current Australian Prime Minister, was broadcast a few years ago on the satiric television series The Games. The television show satirized the politics behind sports administration. It also took the opportunity to imagine what John Howard would say if he had the courage to apologise to the Aborigines of Australia – a grand gesture akin to the power of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
In another gesture the writer Harold Pinter, in his excellent and hard-hitting Nobel Prize acceptance lecture imagined a speech by George Bush.
Imagine taking political speeches and rewriting them – the real speech compared with what could otherwise be said. One only has to go to press releases from the offices of politicians to explore possibilities.
Here is another interesting example. In his film The Great Dictator, Charles Chaplin’s character – a Jewish barber – makes a speech when he is mistaken as the leader Adenoid Hynkel – Chaplin’s satire on Hitler. No doubt Chaplin would have hoped that Adolf Hitler could have been capable of such a speech.
In his song "Why Must I Always Explain", on my favourite Van Morrison album, Hymns to the Silence, Van Morrison sings:
why must I always explain
Van Morrison is obviously alluding to the ways in which media critics are often looking for answers to why people do what they do .It is as if we have to always look for an explanation: ‘that person is that talented because of the way he was treated by his father.’
Biographies, and general criticism, so easily get trapped by the theories of modern pop psychology. Rarely do they step back and consider their theoretical perspective. Rarely do they consider how trapped they are by ideologies that seek to explain human behaviour in such simplistic terms. One only has to read the recent biography Chronicles by Bob Dylan to read how mystified he was by his own talent and how horrified he was by the others’ perceptions:
While Dylan’s skills partly developed from a deep immersion in music and literature one gets very tired of the endless need for people to pin down others like butterflies in a display case. It is as if we are restless in accepting talent. It is as if we have to find something to pin down that talent. This puts our minds at rest. We feel that we have an answer.
Why can’t we simply accept the mystery? Why do we have to pester for an answer?
The following poem by Thomas Hardy says it all. Having spent much of his career writing words he talks about speaking no more.
He resolves to say no more
My soul, keep the rest unknown!
load men's minds with more to bear
Time roll backward if it will;
if my vision range beyond
Reflect upon this approach – the refusal to explain or speak. Throw light on the questioner or the public that seeks an explanation. What power is there in remaining silent? What power is there in accepting the mysterious and the unexplainable? You can even listen to this: "Ain’t Talkin’" by Bob Dylan.
I really admire the poem "To the girl who stood beside me at the checkout counter of Whitcoulls bookstore in Hamilton on Tuesday" by the New Zealand poet Glenn Colquhoun. Read it and see its beautiful way of exploring time. A lifetime is compressed into a few seconds. A few seconds become a lifetime.
Use it to inspire discussion and reflection about time. How can one take a short period of time and use it to explain a longer scale? Play with time's mystery and beauty.
I was recently entranced by the website called New England Ruins by Rob Dobi. I had been looking through websites and books containing images of old building sites. A number of these have been referred to in previous editions of the magazine.
Whether it is a group of light bulbs left on the floor of a building, a broken clock, a lone bath tub, Rob’s photographs are extraordinarily beautiful. They have a dignity and a grace that speaks of the past. Images are beautifully arranged. Discarded objects become rare relics, the past is suddenly evoked, beauty is found in even the most abstract of objects.
The photographs on this site indicate how a sensitive photographer’s eye can breathe new life into a place. Abandonment becomes beauty. An eye finds form within fixtures now deemed worthless. Our imagination is set to wonder and wander. What happened in this building? What stories could be told?
The camera is like a ghost passing through the echoes of a past world. Imagine the questions. Imagine the answers.
There are many sites that deal with the photography of ruined urban space.
Rob Dobi’s site is one of the more beautiful that I have found. Each photo is beautifully composed with a wonderful sense of balance. It is one of the best websites I have ever found – a salvation after receiving so many spam emails and experiencing so much dross on the web.
It is worth stepping back from the constraints of outside forces. Funding bodies and publishers are governed by forces and trends that can be extremely limiting and limited in their scope.
If you have a dream to write then simply write. If it never gets published then so be it. This doesn’t mean that it is bad. If you wish to explore and express your inner world then take the journey. The journey is important in itself regardless of whether one gets published.
The following account by Gao Xingjian in his Nobel Prize lecture celebrates the value in following the inner muse. It speaks of the importance of the individual voice. It takes us back to the truth of literature – an authentic voice, feelings, an individual wanting to express him or herself.
I find speeches of this sort very inspiring. It is so easy to get caught up in pressures of the marketplace. Funding bodies can be so destructive. If it is true for you then follow it. Whatever happens is beyond your control. Just think of the Max Brod and Kafka saga. Reflect on the wonderful words of Harold Pinter at the start of his Nobel Lecture – what a beautiful and simple description of the process of starting writing! Nothing daunting here! Simply a beautiful description of the steps one can take in starting to write a play.
A time may come for publishing. Your work may never be published. Think of the journey. Feel the journey. Enjoy responses from friends. Enjoy those moments, like I do when a friend comments on my photography, or a reader comments on my website. Find solace in what is true for you – the nest, what is home, what can never be taken away from you.
In a previous edition of The Creative Teaching Space I referred to the song This Old House and how it was once thought to be an analogy of a body breaking down.
The following song Sweet Thames Flow Softly by Ewan MacColl explores a relationship through the reality and the metaphor of the River Thames. This makes me think of the many possibilities that we can use to explore geography – a city as the body, our relationship, as the place in which we meet, its many parts reflecting emotional states. Explore such possibilities. A place is more than a place name. It evokes memories. It works on us. We work on it. Geography and the body can combine. Art meets geography. Land resonates with a power that is part geography but part something more.
Sweet Thames Flow Softly
met my girl at Woolwich Pier, beneath the big cranes standing
the Thames into a crown, flow sweet river, flow
the bells of Greenwich ringing, flow sweet river, flow
Putney Bridge to Nine Elms Reach, we cheek to cheek were dancing
her Hampton Court to twist, flow sweet river, flow
fog is on the river, flow sweet river, flow
I recently heard a radio show on the ABC that explored the topic of chairs. One reference was to the text Certain Chairs by Barbara Blackman. Having borrowed the text from a local library I am really impressed by the lovely way in which it uses furniture to tell the story of Barbara Blackman’s life. Like Seamus Heaney’s lovely poem A Sofa in the Forties in his text The Spirit Level, Barbara Blackman is equally aware of the power of furniture – how we wrap meaning around the objects that we live with or have lived with.
Her chapters explore a range of items: The Thin Blue Chair, The Carver Chair from Norfolk, The Swinging Mirror, The Good German Stove and The Monkey-Circus Table and One Woolworths Pudding Bowl.
What a beautiful way of presenting a memoir.
Imagine letting the objects from our past speak. What will they tell us? Where are they now?
The following tale The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt shows us how stories can be moral tales warning children of the suspicious nature of the adult world.
Explore how concepts such as power, or manipulation, can be explored through fantasy tales. What other animal relationships, and fable forms, allow us to explore important ideas? How might we set a tale? What animals could we choose? What relationship could we explore? How might we use a fable form to powerfully express an idea?
The Spider and the Fly
you walk into my parlour? said the spider to the fly
no, no, said the little Fly,
sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high
no, no, said the little Fly,
the cunning Spider to the Fly,
no, no, said the little Fly,
creature! said the Spider,
thank you, gentle sir, she said,
Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Thinking only of her crested head, poor foolish thing!
now dear little children, who may this story read,
The work of Shimon Attie shows interesting ways of exploring urban space, history and photography. Imagine finding old photos of a city, locating the exact spot and exploring interesting ways of using that modern space to evoke the past. Old photos can be recreated by actors. In this case Shimon Attie uses large projectors to project old photographs onto modern spaces. The past comes to life. We see the person standing in the doorway. The past has returned. The creative use of technology allows us to link the present with the past. What other creative ways can one use technology to evoke the past? History merges with art. History becomes a public project.
In a recent exhibition at the State Library of Tasmania, The Language of Flowers – exploring the ways in which people throughout Tasmanian history have related to horticulture – reference was made to the text Language of the Native Flowers of Tasmania: Harris and Just 1867.
Based on an English tradition called Floriography, the act of attributing emotions to the reference and giving of flowers, it is an attempt, at that time, to project similar meanings onto the somewhat foreign world of Tasmanian flowers.
This list details some of the emotions attributed to flowers. By giving another person a cutting, or pasting or drawing flowers into a diary, one helped to evoke emotions in what was the rather stuffy world of the Victorian era.
Explore why people chose to project emotions onto flowers. In what other ways do we project humanity onto nature? Perhaps we can take trees or animals and explore how a taxonomy of emotions can be created.
Here is an interesting website dedicated to the Portugese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1925). Inspired by his life, and the extraordinary resource of 25,426 items left in a trunk after his death, it presents one poem in over thirteen translations.
Have a look at the poem Autopsicografia and read the many translations. Compare them. Which translations work the best? Discuss the effect of translation. After all any foreign work must go through this process in order to be read by English readers. I think that we can lose sense of this fact. We take words as gospel without realizing how they are changed by journeys such as editing or translation.
Trompe L'oeil is French for ‘deceiving the eye.’ Going as far back as the ancient Greeks it has evolved through Renaissance painting to the current day. Based on the premise of deceiving the eye into a sense of illusionary space – as though someone can pick something out of the painting – one can see it on the walls of old churches, in computer art and modern day murals. Explore the work of Richard Haas and works in Australia.
The website Urban Legends gives details on a series of truck images that have been circulating in emails in recent years. A form of illusion insofar as they are not real – they are computer generated images as part of an advertising campaign – they at least show us how Trompe L'oeil can still impress today. Look at these images and explore this fascinating field in art history. One that challenges the viewer and what is being viewed – a form of play that predates postmodernism and all its pretences.
I have been listening recently to the lovely album Travelogue by Joni Mitchell. A swansong in her career, she recorded it shortly before she retired, it contains orchestrated reworkings of her songs. Many of the songs are wonderful. They are performed with a grace and a tenderness that brings the songs even more to life. And with orchestration by Larry Klein and appearances by the likes of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Billy Preston, it is a lovely swansong – beautifully packaged with Joni Mitchell’s paintings.
One of the songs in the package is "Borderline". Not one for wanting to diminish music by writing about it – isn’t it Elvis Costello who once said that writing about music is like dancing to architecture? – I want to at least refer to the beautiful ideas within this song. "Borderline" talks about the many lines or barriers placed between people: distrust, defense, vulnerability, conceit, convictions, nationhood, age, income, etc. It is a lovely exploratory song that carries a range of tones – even the lovely line "Every swan caught on the grass will draw a borderline."
I refer to it because I feel that it approaches an interesting topic in a highly creative way. It makes me think of the creative writing that students could do as they explore a concept from a variety of perspectives. It also takes me back to the beauty and surprise in music – how words mean one thing yet how music and singing can take meanings even further.
Hoping to cross borderlines shortly I now take a clipping of a wild daisy and carefully paste it into a greeting card.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009