Saturday, January 20, 2007

Found via blogs

An interesting item on the antropologi blog on Maori tribal neo-capitalism led me to this NZ Herald interview with dissenter Elizabeth Rata. Constructive dissent must be encouraged: that's one reason I don't live in Singapore anymore.

Trawling the blogs (love those holidays) I heard about a Role Playing Game based on the Columbine Massacre that was kicked from a competition. Here we go the other extreme: what responsibilities go with personal freedoms? Do you have a right to make a sick game and profit from a massacre? (If only it was that simple--but then freedom of expression and art are hopelessly complex). Oh, yea, we saw the comet on Thursday from Princess Bay just after sundown. we lit a bonfire
waited for sunset, a late 10.30 PM
and we could see it in all its glory
comet mcnaught low above the south-west
horizon, gorgeous tail, a good arc
minute (that the span between your
thumb and pinky finger in an outstretched
palm, I think) the tail all fine candyfloss
fine cottonwool or spider webs, we
whoop with joy as a dark arachnid
cloud threatens to swallow our comet
oh lovely comet

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The essential montessori

I’m working on the fourth version of my first book of poems. In this version, a first sequence of poems exploring an astronomical theme is followed by a prose work Ziggy ’72 (already available online) and then a long sequence of poems on family, identity and, I guess, mythology/belief (ok, poems I’ve written which don’t neatly fall in a sequence but are still of value.)

School starts in a fortnight although classes so my mind turns towards writing up lesson and unit plans. Last night, I finished reading Elizabeth G. Hainstock’s The Essential Montessori, a concise primer on Montessori’s educational philosophy. Although Hainstock remains committed to Montessori’s pedagogy, she’s also critical of a dogmatic streak in some elements of Montessori’s thought and acknowledges that the founder was a difficult, somewhat dictatorial leader.

Much of the book focuses on primary education but many of Montessori’s ideas can be carried over into secondary education. Like most teachers, I’m interested in any ideas that can give my teaching a spark and get my students learning. Here are the five main ideas I’ve taken from Hainstock’s book that I’ll try to incorporate into my teaching:

  1. Prepare the environment. Make your classroom a place where learning takes place. Gather up the necessary materials and allow students freedom to move in class.
  2. Identify the student’s ‘cycle of activity.’ Organise classes around periods of concentration on a particular task that should be worked to completion.
  3. Ensure that students learn how to see their own errors in the tasks they have performed and know how to correct them.
  4. An ‘absorbent mind’ much be encouraged: pay attention to how students are unconsciously learning from the environment you have created.
  5. Remember: a school is not an assessment factory and you are a teacher not a grading machine!

I’d like to read more on Montessori and secondary education.

Billy Blogg

I’ve also been trailing around the blogsphere. Did you know Billy Bragg has a blog? And in a previous life, I was an information designer/architect for eight years or so. Here are two wonderful information design/interface related blogs:

Maeda’s Simplicity

Jeff on Games

And here’s a cracking blog on teaching writing in the digital age.

Rita Dove

At night I read Rita Dove. Even her name is a poem. Here’s a marvelous quote from her introduction to her Selected Poems:

“The mystery of destiny boils down to the ultimate—and ultimately unanswerable—questions: How does where I come from determine where I’ve ended up? Why am I what I am and not what I thought I’d be? What did I think I’d be? Where do I reside most completely?”

And I'm following Comet McNaught but it looks low on the horizon.

Images: International Montessori Society; CNN, Albany University.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

minuit after midnight

Minuit in action

I’m a little tired today as I saw a fantastic, high-energy performance last night by my favourite local act Minuit at Sandwiches. I got there at 10.00PM and was surprised to hear that the DJ opening night wasn’t going to start until midnight. Minuit came on at 12.45AM and played a stunning set that finished around 2.45AM. Ruth was dressed as a builder wearing builder’s shorts and a t-shirt promoting a drill bit. I was able to introduce myself to her just before the set as the author of busykillingabel and she was polite enough to say that she’d read it and liked the poetry. (I'd emailed the band about this experiment--all in the spirit of fun, and received reply which chuffed me.) Even though the show started late for me I don’t mind as it was more than worth the wait. I’d rank it in my top 5 gigs (Bowie ’72, Bowie Reality 04, Fall 1983, Echo & the Bunnymen 1980, Minuit 07). I’m fascinated by Ruth’s stage personae—she moves like a highly caffeinated puppet—and the whole Minuit crew look very comfortable with one another. They are a subtle band and their music which seems on first hearing to be just pumped up electronic breaks has all this texture and levels: politics (read ‘popularity’), ‘freaks’(which I read as ‘autism’), violence, relationships, identity and definition, religion, truth, nationalism. All of this sounds very heavy handed but it’s all more suggested than stated.

Unable to sleep after dancing I finished off Joy Cowley’s Hunter which won the NZ Post Junior Book of the Year in 2006 and got to sleep around 4.00 AM.

Images from NZ Musician and NZ Booksellers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mutuwhenua: the moon sleeps. Patricia Grace

My poems ‘Albedo’ and ‘Big bang’ (both part of a book of poems I’m hoping to finish this year) have been accepted by Takahe and will appear in either issue 60 or issue 61. I’m pleased because this means I have four astronomy poems coming out at the same time as Jaam are publishing ‘Moonshot’ and ‘Pluto’ in their next issue. I’ll also be able to read these at the Paekakariki Fringe festival.

This year I’m hoping to work my way through a number of books in the English Resource Room at school. I’ve enjoyed Patricia Grace’s short stories—especially the Electric City collection and so I decided to read Mutuwhenua: the moon sleeps, her first short novel published in 1978. Grace writes in a sparse, clipped style that reminds me a little of Hemmingway’s prose. Like Hemmingway, her narrator is unreliable and not fully self-aware. Mutuwhenua is narrated by Ripeka, a passive, somewhat frustrating, though believable, character who never knows clearly what she wants. Her Pakeha boyfriend and later husband, although well-meaning and loving, has no real understanding of Ripeka and her world. In the end, the call of her family and of her turangawaewae pulls Ripeka back home where she decides that her son will be raised.

Patricia Grace

I’ve been in an ‘interracial’ (perhaps 'bi-cultural' is better and less frightening) marriage for twenty years and I think Grace does touch on problems that go beyond some of the issues facing a Maori-Pakeha marriage in the 1970s. Two aspects of the relationship although understated in the novel rung true for me: Pakeha often think that people are ‘all the same’ when actually cultural differences mean that we are far from all the same in our assumptions, values and experiences; secondly, families ties are much stronger in many non-English cultures. And a moon sleeping is still a moon.

Images courtesy of NZ Book Council.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Stardust. Neil Gaiman

I’ve started writing a short introduction to blogging and egroups for the New Zealand Poetry Society. I was asked to write a piece on poets and blogging for the Members’ section of their website. I do have reservations about Members’ only sections. They are a good idea if you want a select group to have access to restricted information (say a database for doctors of certain types of drugs). But otherwise unless you are dealing with R18 material—or unless you invite everyone to sign-up for a free service—I’m not sure that your users or members will actually bother to log-in to your site. I, for one, have never visited the Poetry Society’s Members’ section even though I’ve been a member for three years or so. Still, I’m happy to write the piece.

Last night I finished Neil Gaiman’s Stardust which I read quickly. In Stardust, Neil Gaiman has writing a delightful, enchanting fairy story set in a Victorian past. The doors to the world of Faerie are closing and traffic between the two realms although once common is drawing to a end. There’s a touch of the medieval tradition in Gaiman’s wonderful story of Tristram’s search for a fallen star; in Faerie you could be captured, or lost for years, or fall, like Tam Lin, in love with a Faerie. Gaiman’s Faerie is a realm of magic, intrigue, ghosts, powerful enchanters and their victims. (There's a touch of Tam Lin in Stardust). In a sense, Faerie is the realm of fantasy literature: through Faerie we see the possibility of a different world from our own, a world that follows different rules. Gaiman makes it clear that Faerie is a realm of order: “For these things have their rules. All things have rules.” Many thanks to Mary for lending me this wonderful book.

Oh, yea, I read an interesting piece (via Ron Silliman's blog) by SLAVOJ ZIZEK on Iraq.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Picture of an Astrolabe

This year, expect more pictures as I'm using the blog as a personal scrapbook.

A Year in the Life

This morning I reworked ‘Puriri’ again, trying a different versification. I’m trying something different for me in this poem so it’s required quite a few revisions.

I’ve finished James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare. What a great book to start the year with—I hope all my reading this year is as rewarding. I certainly don’t expect 2007 to be as a productive or exciting year as 1599 was for Bill. Shapiro writes in a clear, engaging, entrancing manner—you are drawn in Shakespeare’s world. The focus on a single year means Shapiro doesn’t overwhelm you with too much historical background. I was fascinated by Elizabeth, the headstrong Essex, the poverty in Arden and the folly and misery of the war in Ireland.

Rosalind Rocks

Shapiro throws new light (for me at any rate) on Shakespeare—what does it mean for his audience to have As You Like It set in
Arden? What kind of resonances would Julius Caesar have for Shakespeare’s audience and why the heck is Hamlet so complex and so long? I dawdled reading the last chapters because I really didn’t want to finish the book. I thank Shapiro for spurring me to read As You Like It and thanks to our marvelous Wellington Public Library I was able to watch the 1978 BBC production starring Helen Mirren as Rosalind. As my students would say “Rosalind Rocks!” This is a must read book.

Images from Allen&Unwin and BBC.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Soapbox (groan)

Photo: The Guardian.

After dutifully reading The Guardian Weekly, Time magazine, Harpers, etc for the last three months I feel that I have a better understanding of the reasons for the war in
Iraq and its immediate consequences. We all have our own interpretations of the war—but who is pulling the strings? After reading The Guardian Weekly’s ‘year in review’ and noting that there is no immediate international action to prevent global warming or environmental depletion (still, tragically, seen as a ‘green party issue’) or even to address the poverty and misery of the developing world I’ve decided to just stick my head in the sand and have a ‘news break’ for a month and not read in-depth analyses etc as there is bugger all I can do about it. If we covered the weather and the environment as the main story then I might have more hope for 2007. But there is a bright side: Bush and Blair’s careers are at an end even if their family coffers are full. You can’t buy your reputation.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Year's best/Happy New Year

A Happy new year to you all. I’m up early working on ‘Zeus’ which I’ve now renamed ‘The Family Album.’ And, er, blogging…


Hourglass. Sue Wotton
Your Secret Life. Harry Ricketts


Mister Pip. Lloyd Jones
Learning the World. Ken Mcleod
Thursbitch. Alan Garner
Of Mice and Men. John Steinbeck
A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole

Young Adult

Coraline. Neil Gaiman
Millions. Frank Cotterell Boyce


Lawless World. Philippe Sands
Big Bang. Simon Singh

The weather here in Wellington is unusually cold and windy for, er, Summer. Isn’t there a Love song called ‘Bummer in the Summer’?

Idea for a bumper sticker: ‘What Would Nietzsche Do?’