Monday, July 28, 2014

Shakespeare podcasts

A recommended resource and some interesting holiday listening: Oxford University has a series of podcasts from 2010-2012 called 'Approaching Shakespeare', with lectures by Emma Smith focussing on individual plays and an ePub version of the relevant text. 

Here is the iTunes link.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 3: One Summer

Appropriately, our next recommendation for summer reading is about a summer. Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927 is the story of a few months of scarcely credible drama, built mainly around the story of the Orteig Prize for flying non-stop across the Atlantic. Bryson tells the story of this summer with his characteristic brio.  It's also interesting for readers of The Great Gatsby; although that masterpiece was about the summer of 1922, Bryson's popular history gives a very vivid sense of the same culture.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

English Matters

Notes for teachers at this morning's English Matters session in TCD.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 2: Eyrie

This blog is a fan of the excellent author Tim Winton, whose writing about Western Australia is powerful and atmospheric (see comments on his short story collection The Turning and his surfing novel Breath). His latest novel, Eyrie, is also recommended. It tells the story of Keely, now living in a high-rise block in Perth's port Fremantle, in the aftermath of personal and professional disaster.  

Opening with one of the most memorable hangover scenes in recent literature, the narrative structure drives us on by parcelling out what happened in the past and marrying this with a page-turning compulsion to find out what will happen to Keely in the future. The other main characters are Gemma, a neighbour and figure from Keely's past and the other main emotional centre of the book, her grandson Kai. Among the novels many strengths is a vivid portrait of Fremantle.

Read a good interview with Tim Winton by Kim Forrester in Shiny New Books here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Summer Reading Recommendation 1: Americanah

Recently out in paperback is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, an intelligent and engrossing read for the holidays. Her first novel Purple Hibiscus has been on the comparative list for the Leaving Certificate in recent years, and her novel Half of a Yellow Sun, about the Biafran War, is also recommended, as is her TED talk, 'The Danger of a Single Story'.

In one sense, Americanah tells a single story, that of the enduring love of the central character, Ifemulu and her teenage boyfriend Obinze, ('The Zed') but from this central strand Adichie spins much more - keen and often funny observations on race in America (Ifemulu 'becomes black' on arriving in the US) and Britain, sharp descriptions of contemporary Lagos, blog entries and literal strands in the form of a recurring scene set in a hair salon in Trenton, New Jersey. In the latter, Ifemulu's uncertainty about her own identity is to the fore. When she returns home, cultural and romantic uncertainties provide the climax of the novel: "She was no longer sure what was new in Lagos and what was new in herself".
 
Americanah could have done with tighter editing, and the ending seems both hurried and predictable. But don't let that put you off: it's very enjoyable.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Holiday

And so finally we make it to the end of the academic year. This blog will go into semi-aestivation over the summer, but there will be some posts on good books for holiday reading, and a few more on things English. Now off to the beach, literal or metaphorical, to start reading...

Photo courtesy: Flickr User cmcgough. (CC)

Voices of Nigeria

Here are two poems from Iyobosa Bello-Asemota from this term's Senior Poetry Prize competition> Iyobosa writes:

These poems were inspired by the haunting voices of the marginalised and the vulnerable in my homeland Nigeria, especially the voices of those missing girls recently stolen from school and taken from their devastated families.





Nobody

Is Nobody okay
With nobody to care?
nobody to search
While Nobody lives in fear?

Nobody to lead
As Nobody cries
nobody to mourn
As Nobody dies

Nobody is gone
But not forgotten
As Somebody stands
Against a system gone rotten

If Somebody remembers
nobody will be lost
As long as nobody stops
No matter the cost



234


Amid national outcry, disaster strikes again.
Blood-red soil lines streets already flooded with tears
For those now forced to act older than their years.
The currency changed: pain in exchange for more pain.

What a bargain! What a find! 12 dollars for a life,
A future, a lineage, a slave, and a companion.
A nation on its knees yet raped with abandon.
Unity be damned. I’d divide it myself had I the knife.

If the Janus-faced leeches in Aso Rock are our only hope,
Ours is a cause doomed before its start.
Joined with thousands in mind and heart,
To free the girls from the horror with which they’ve had to cope.

Free them to a life of slavery?
Where they would be viewed as damaged goods
Sold for less. Discounted for bravery?

And what about us? Who will free us?
Besieged by parasitic rulers, harangued by insurgents
Whatever the outcome, we are at a loss
We will never be free. Perhaps only in our heads
Count no man free until he is dead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

'The Submarine', June 2014

The latest edition of the Library magazine, 'The Submarine', has just been published, and it is, of course, the last of the year. It can be read above by clicking once, and again for closer view.

It features Mr McConville's editorial thoughts on key skills and information literacy in the new Junior Cycle, a list of the many new books in the Library in the last six months, Junior Poetry Prize entries, an appreciation of the late David Sowby by Dr Bannister, and one of the late Patrick Scott, artist, by Mrs Morris. Another more recent Old Columban, Richard Mosse, recently had his exhibition 'Enclave' on show at the RHA Gallagher Gallery, and several Transition Year pupils respond to it. There is also a report on the work of the Library Committee, and a feature on memorable characters in fiction. On top of all this, art by Pia Gromotka, Samuel Clarke, Leslie v Negenborn, Kitty Morris, Polina Shikina, Molly Dunne and Hakon Schug.

Actiontrack 2014

On Saturday evening last the Transition Year concluded their programme with an excellent Actiontrack Showbuild. See photographs here.  One of the participants was the winner of the TY English Prize, Hollie Canning, and here is her account of the week:

Our highly anticipated five days of Actiontrack began on the morning of Tuesday 10th June. Most of us were still wrecked and drained from our active time in Achill but the Actiontrack team brought much enthusiasm, which immediately boosted the mood. 

We began the morning with a name learning exercise. I was astonished to see how quickly each of the instructors remembered everyone’s name and got to know the relatively large group. We then played the famous game "Zip Zap Boing". This game never fails to boost everybody’s energy. We then did some improvisations in small groups. These improvisations would give ideas for our show on the Saturday night. We advanced our improvisations by altering them to different genres or styles. Ours was in the style of an action movie. We showed our improvisations to the rest of the group and they commented on things they liked, found quirky, or disliked. This was a critical stage in our Showbuild because some of the ideas from these improvisations featured in our show. 

On the Tuesday afternoon we did some writing exercises. We started by having 15 seconds to write anything we could think of to do witht the colour red. We then did some word association exercises. Some people ended up with extremely random lists but this was a benefit as we constructed some song titles from these words. I came up with the title "chocolate Euphoria" which was used in the show, and coincidentally I had to sing a solo on it. We then swapped around titles and tried to write songs. That night Nathan and Nick took these songs, altered them, and chose the best for our show. I found it strange how we had the songs we would use in the show because we didn't know what the show would be about. However, the improvisation exercises we did on the first day helped us to be able to link these songs together and form a somewhat crazy, random, brilliant storyline.  

On Thursday we all got our parts along with the script. After we had a quick read-through of the script, we put them down and made a start on the set design. We all did our part in the set design, whether it was collecting branches from the deer-park, painting canvases, or constructing props. Nobody was free to mess around or doss. That evening the soloists were taken off to rehearse our solos with Nathan or Nick. Penny also taught us some of the dances and Molly directed some scenes in the play. 

On the Friday we began our intense rehearsals. We ‘’blocked’’ the script. This means that we went through it very slowly and were directed where to stand or move. This took a while but with a lot of determination and motivation from Nick, Nathan, Penny and Molly, we got through it effectively. 

We spent most of Saturday just polishing off the dances and the set. However when we did a run through of the play we realized that many people didn’t know their lines properly. With the show being at 8 o'clock that night, we were beginning to freak out. When the time of the show came, we were all more excited than anything. We had all had such a great week doing the Actiontrack Showbuild that we were in good spirits. There was still that possibility that people would forget their lines or mess up, but we were ready to improvise if needs be.

The performance itself went very well. The was a great vibe in the BSR and I even saw a few of the teachers tapping their feet to our groovy tunes! Overall I think that it was a great experience to use our own ideas and make a show and I would really urge people to take part when it's their turn. It’s a brilliant few days and I can honestly say I learnt a lot, and my dancing moves have definitely improved!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lucid Dreaming

Nevin McCone won the recent Second Form Public Speaking competition, and here is the text of his speech under the intriguing heading 'Lucid Dreaming':-



Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, today I would to share my knowledge and experience on lucid dreaming.

So what is lucid dreaming? It is when you know you are dreaming, in a dream.  This enables you to control your dreams and therefore do whatever you want in them.  How many of you dreamt last night? Well as a matter of fact all of you did. Everybody dreams every night but some people may remember their dreams. This is because your brain makes you forget your dreams after you wake up. 

Dream recall is one of the key things involved with lucid dreaming. As soon as you wake up in the morning think hard about what you dreamt of when you were asleep. Then write you down the details on a piece of paper. With practice this will significantly improve your dream recall. 

So how many people here can control their dreams? Most people can’t do it. Being able to control your dreams is called lucid dreaming. This can have some very positive effects. For example let’s say you are worried about a speech that you have to present. In your lucid dream you could dream about being in the Colisseum in Rome with a full house. Then, because it is your dream you can dream that the speech went perfectly, giving you the confidence to perform your speech when you are awake. Also, let’s say you had a fear of spiders, you could dream that you faced your fears and overcame them. 

So how do you lucid dream? The most essential part of lucid dreaming is being aware that you are dreaming when you are in your dream. Some people are just able to do it. Is there a technique that makes you realise that you are dreaming in a dream? Yes. The easiest technique involves performing reality checks. Reality checks distinguish the dream world from reality.  For example, the reality check that I use is to look closely at the palm of my hand. In the real world your hand looks normal but in a dream your hand looks blurry. If you keep looking at your hand and asking yourself if it’s blurry and if you are dreaming, then eventually you will do subconsciously in your dreams, but this time your hand will be blurry and you will realise that you are dreaming.

So what is it like to be lucid? I am able to lucid dream and have experienced lucid dreaming twice. Lucid dreams are much more realistic than normal dreams. As soon as you gain consciousness in your dream everything becomes much clearer and comes into focus. And if you don’t find it clear enough you can demand to make it clearer because it is your dream. Also at the start it isn’t easy to stay in a lucid dream for long. This is because you start getting excited in the dream because you have finally achieved lucidity. You know you start to wake up when the world starts to shake and things get blurry. Then you feel like you are being put to sleep and your eyes close. When you open your eyes you are awake.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Transition Year Survey 2013-14

On Saturday the 2014-15 Transition Year completed their course with the annual Actiontrack Showbuild (click here for pictures). A report follows soon.

A couple of weeks ago, IV formers completed online surveys on their experience of the English course. As always, we tweak the course after reading these comments. We encourage the pupils to be reflective and honest about their own development, and here are some of the comments made:-

  • I really enjoyed the Work Portfolio, because I was able to let my imagination run around and I love writing about tense and dramatic situations.
  • As a foreign pupil I was able to improve over the year massively. Through the Portfolio process I was able to improve my written English enormously. For the first piece I needed nearly two days, but in the end I was able to write an essay in 45 minutes.
  • Having to write an extended essay is very challenging and it improves your English a lot.
  • I think it was interesting to look into the books from another point of view, not just the story.
  • Overall I have learned loads. 
  • I think my creative writing has improved after the modules and I have a better understanding of English as a subject now.
  • We never had to do essays in my old school, and when we had to write something it was more than 300 words; I think the Extended Essay and the Work Portfolio helped my writing a lot.
  • The Portfolio was a great thing for me, because it forced me to write different kinds of essays.
  • I found analysing the books in the Extended Essay a good challenge, as I have never done anything similar before.
  • I really enjoyed the English TY; it was one of the subjects with the most work to do, but my essay writing and English in general improved. I also enjoyed reading the books, especially A Thousand Splendid Suns.
  • The books we read were interesting; they gave me the idea of what books I am into for further reading.
  • The way I talk, the way I write and the way I generally express myself has improved a lot this year.
  • (In my previous school) our English classes consisted mainly of copying notes about nouns and synonyms and other such stuff. We literally spent 40 minutes writing things down in our exercise books, with no time for the imagination or anything.
  • I think  the modules were very useful and a good idea. The change of subjects and aims was interesting and never got boring. I also found it good that we had a lot of opportunities to write about what we want, like for example the Extended Essay and the Work Portfolio. Completing big projects like these was challenging and I never really did something like that before over a period of time. I found that very interesting and I could improve my English a lot through writing and reading in class over the year. I especially liked reading A Streetcar Named Desire in class, because everybody could take part, read roles and we discussed the story a lot. 
  • I think I really improved my English this year. When I think about the beginning of the year I remember I was really bad at writing essays. We never had to do essays in my old school and when we had to write something it wasn't more than 300 words and I think the Work Portfolio and the extended essay helped me to improve my writing a lot. My speaking wasn't good as well and it was really embarrassing to talk in class but by the end of the year it felt better and wasn't embarrassing any more. This year really helped me to improve my English.
  • I feel I have both really improved my essay writing skills this year with both the Extended essy in the first term and the work portfolio in the second, and also my debating and public speaking skills. Even though it didn't seem like a good thing at the time, I am very glad now that Mr. Canning made me participate in the House Speeches competition. Unfortunately I feel I didn't take advantage of the extra time given for reading books. Especially in the last term, I only managed to finish one novel.
  • Through out the year I found the work load in English quite demanding but I feel like I have achieved something. When my work from the year was handed back to me it felt satisfying and rewarding even if I was disappointed with my mark. Reflecting back on the year I really enjoyed English in TY. I put everything I had into English so I hope I have improved. However it is hard to judge whether I myself have improved but we will see in the years ahead to come.
  • I think the fact that this survey is present reflects on the greatness of the English department.  I liked the solid stucture of the year so we knew what was ahead of us from the start. It was very well run and I feel like I have achieved something from it. The only improvement I can think of is that more of our portfolio work should be done in class, not in our own time. I would have also liked more feedback on my work.
  • I don't think I've improved much over the year. I enjoyed the reading the books and plays and became more confident answering questions about the books, and voicing my opinion. I have improved in my poetry writing from Ms Smith's module, but I believe that my creative writing and essay writing has not improved. I was too rushed with my work portfolio which was my fault; it just made me write bad rushed essays that I was not happy with. I like to think I took advantage of the opportunities, but my pieces were not up to par to the other pupils. 
  • I don´t think Julius Caesar was really useful, another play from that age would have been better to read.
  • I have enjoyed the English year; it's been interesting and fun. I've learned a lot throughout the whole year, in the way we've been doing work and building up our to the final term. I've tried to my best  to take opportunities in English and in TY. I took part in the TY English House Speech, which was definitely a challenge, I've never done anything like it before and I'm glad I did.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Letter to Romeo

Camille Lauron in Second Form recently studied Romeo and Juliet, and produced this letter from Juliet to her lover: -

Saturday, June 14, 2014

II form Public Speaking


Recently we held the annual Second Form Public Speaking competition. Here is Richard Dennis's piece, on stem cell science:

"Pretty much all animals can grow back something.   

We grow back our hair, finger and toe nails. Even ribs grow back to a small extent. All animals which have fur grow it back if it gets shaved off. A deer's antlers which are very similar to your nails fall off and grow back every year – at a rate 60 pounds of them in three months. If we cut ourselves, cells will duplicate and cover up the wound. 

But there are some animals that do this much, much better than us. The spiny mouse, a small, shrew-like mouse in Africa can lose almost all the skin on its back, close the wound and grow it back in three days a cut the same size for us would take around nine days if where lucky

If a lizard loses its tail it can grow back a new, fully functioning tail in 3 to 6 months and if that tail gets cut off it can grow yet another one. But if I were to have my hand cut off I would just be left with a little stump

Some fish grow back there eyes and parts of the brain. Under the right conditions one starfish limb separated from the rest can grow a whole new star fish because it has all its internal organs in one spike of the star.

Tape worms, can regenerate an entire new tapeworm from one cell.  That would be handy, if you cut yourself and spilled a drop of blood, - OH LOOK, it's a whole new me!

There is a organization called Euro Stem Cell which is working on making regenerative medicine help us able to regrow internal organs. Stem cells are cells that can be told to duplicate themselves to create body parts.

But this could go further! like taking a stem cell from a pig and growing bacon or making a steak out of cow stem cells. You could breed the perfect sheep and make thousands of tons of the exact same wool.

This is not science fiction. They've grown a burger; admittedly it had no fat and it was pure muscle and it didn't taste as good. But it was a burger all the same. And you can buy this synthetic burger for a all time low of only €250,00. So it's not cheap to be a vegetarian and eat supposedly the best meat supplement in the world. 

But if this was mastered you could get any meat for the same price as any other venison (deer meat) for the same price as beef -  it would be the same stem cells. No more huge pastoral fields or road blocks because of cows crossing. The countryside would die ; imagine how hard it would become for farmers.

So maybe it's not a such a good idea. Maybe it won't take off. Anyway it's pretty odd, the idea of  synthetic meat.

Thank you for listening - and no, I'm not a vegetarian".

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Transition Year English Evening 2014

On Tuesday 27th May we held the annual TY English Evening (the first was in 1994). As usual, several pupils read out pieces from their Work Portfolio to their peers, teachers, III formers, parents and the guest of honour, Ms Tania Banotti, Chief Executive of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland, former CEO of Theatre Forum, and Chair of the College's Arts Committee. The evening was presented by Mr Girdham, Head of the Department. 

After hearing eight pupils read from their work, Tania Banotti commented on these pieces, and also made some general points. She pointed out the centrality of writing in her two professional areas of expertise, and said that putting words on paper made things real; feelings were translated into coherence (she cited Julia Cameron's book The Writer's Life). The habit of writing is particularly important, and pupils should keep this up; it will stand you in good stead in life generally to be able to stand back and write about what really matters. 

She said that all the writing she had heard was real and authentic, and not at all derivative or showy. Darcy Maule's 'My First School' showed a vivid eye, especially with small details, such as colour. It was a confident piece of writing, in which images were undercut by reality. Keeping on the educational theme, Harvey McCone wrote about his experience of learning Latin: this was a very real and touching piece, with the satisfying shape of a complete story, and an insight into a world most of us know little about.  Next came Laia Casas Abella, who produced an impassioned persuasive essay about abortion; this, said Tania Banotti, was strong, provocative and well-structured. A second piece about a first school, this time in Sweden, by Louvisa Karlsson-Smythe, was incredibly rich and densely written, an elegy to a vanished world that was a most sophisticated piece of writing.

Valentina Ascensio Munoz came next, with a sensitively written personal piece about 'Escape'. This was about creating your own world of the imagination - virtually a manifesto for being a writer. Freddie Morris's piece about his hobby, hockey, give a real sense of the sport, and was a strongly individual essay. 

The penultimate reader was Eleanor Moffitt, with a vivid and often funny account of her family's annual holiday in County Sligo, which started in media res, and could well have been broadcast on RTE Radio's 'Sunday Miscellany'. Finally, Hollie Canning's 'Last Supper' was richly described, and a model of how not to leave the favourite things in life to the end.

Ms Banotti commended the English Department teachers on the work of this year's Transition Year, and announced the Premier Award winners:- Elizaveta Kozhevnikova, Hollie Canning, Andrew Holt, Darcy Maule, Harvey McCone, Louvisa Karlsson-Smythe, Laia Casas Abella, George Perceval, Ciaran Chisholm. Congratulations to all.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Voices of Poetry 2014

The annual Voices of Poetry evening, one of the highlights of each year's weekend events, took place on the evening of Sunday 25th May, again expertly marshalled and presented by Mr Swift. 

The first reading, in English, was by Eleanor Moffitt, of Ifueko Bello-Asemota's poem 'Chibok', about the recent kidnappings in Nigeria, followed by Ugo Onwurah's excellent rendition of a pidgin English poem from the same country. We then zoomed over to Scandinavia with pieces from Louvisa Karlsson-Smthye (Swedish) and Nora Langguth (Norwegian) and continued on the Northern European theme with our staff visitor from the Netherlands Daan Dirksen, and a poem in German by Goethe, 'The Stolen Child', from Alanna Kerr (who leaves us this term). From the English Department, Ms Duggan went for Frank O'Hara's 'Animals'.

Some exotic locations followed: Ukraine (Anton Lysenko), Russia (Roman Sharykin) and Armenia (Kristina Danielyan), followed by a first - Farsi read by MJ McMullough.  The originator of the whole concept, our former Head of English John Fanagan, then gave a brief account of the reasons he had started Voices of Poetry many moons ago after experiencing a similar event at the University of Exeter International Summer School and read Seamus Heaney's fine sestina (which you can hear the poet himself reading at the following link) 'Two Lorries'. More English followed: Nyla Jamieson with her Junior Poetry Prize winner 'The Tear', and James O'Connor with the poem he recited at this year's Poetry Aloud competition, Robert Frost's 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'.

We moved back into non-English languages then, with Siobhan Brady (Irish), Nicholas Russell (Italian), French (Valentina Ascensio Munoz), Catalan (Laia Casas Abella), Indonesian (Aisha Burke), Korean (Sun Woo Park) and Cantonese (Tim Cheng).

The final group consisted of four leavers: our retiring Head of Geography, 'Ted' Sherwood, with Yeats's 'The Fisherman', a poem which, he said, has pursued him throughout his years in education, the Senior Prefect Alex Owens (Carol Ann Duffy's 'Valentine'), the winner of the Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry (Sadhbh Sheeran, for the third year in a row, with 'The Blight of Sunday Mass') and lastly Mantak Suen, with a memorable impact in Mandarin.

Many thanks to Mr Swift and all the readers for another lovely evening.

Friday, June 06, 2014

'Chibok'

A poem by Ifueko Bello-Asemota, entered for the recent Peter Dix Memorial Prize for Poetry, and written in response to recent events in Nigeria...

Chibok

It could have been me,
It could have been her,
The luck we receive,
So slim, so far;
It was them.
Bring our girls home.

Cries from the north,
Heard in the south,
Buildings burn,
Their faces we see.
Bring our girls home.

A mother cries,
The nation weeps,
Mothers cry,
The nation drowns?
Just bring our girls home!

Explosions, shots,
The language of the new age,
Anger, fear,
The smiles we are forced to wear,
Madness and chaos,
No beginning,
Searching for an end,
A desperate dream.
Bring our girls home.

276, only new to the world,
276, full of life,
276, if they knew this could happen,
276, our prayers will always be with you.
The constant plea, the cry, the mantra,

Bring our girls home.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Leaving Cert English Paper 2, 2014

This afternoon's Leaving Certificate Paper 2 has just finished, and there were a few grey-looking faces coming out of the exam hall. This was a demanding paper at Higher Level (which almost all our pupils sit); in this, the vast majority of candidates take Macbeth as their single text (the recent Chief Examiner's report commented on this). The limited number of key characters in this second-shortest of Shakespeare's texts may account for the absence of other named characters in the questions this time, with a testing question on Macbeth's relationships with others and what they reveal about power struggles, and a more straightforward question on 'dramatic techniques' (there might be a few responses dealing entirely with the soliloquies).

It is clear that those who study the other single texts tend to face easier questions (as was the case last year with The Great Gatsby). So there were straightforward character questions on Pride and Prejudice and Empire of the Sun, for instance, and a typical 'vision and viewpoint' one on the bleakness of Never Let Me Go. Perhaps some schools will reconsider tackling Shakespeare as the single text.

The two modes in the Comparative section were Vision and Viewpoint and Cultural Context (at the expense of the probably more popular Theme). There were fair questions here.

Tediously, of course, most of the talk will be about poetry (70 out of 400 marks), and the setters threw another curve-ball here after yesterday's Heaney essay on the language paper. His poem 'The Peninsula' appeared as the unseen poem - a very tough and perhaps disconcerting choice for candidates under pressure. This is no 'Mid-Term Break', with some dense language (particularly the winding final sentence) and ideas.  Heaney did not appear as a prescribed poet, and it is clear that the SEC is sending a message about 'poet-spotting' (Plath came up again). Perhaps of more concern is the very wordy and sometimes tortuous nature of the questions' diction itself. It's entirely possible that many candidates will not have understood 'evocative' in the Yeats question. The Larkin question was the most 'loaded', with an awful lot to think about and deal with : 'a perceptive observer of the realities of ordinary life in poems that are sometimes illuminated by images of lyrical beauty'. And the three 'd' words in the Dickinson question (four!) will have taken plenty of intellectual energy too: dramatic, disturb, delight.

At Ordinary Level, there were no such demands, with straightforward questions on Macbeth and the comparative, and Heaney's 'The Underground' and Plath's 'Child' being given accessible questions. The unseen was 'Coming Home' by the Welsh poet Owen Sheers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Paper 1 Leaving Certificate 2014

This morning's Higher Level English Paper 1 had a strong (and recent, and male) literary bent in the comprehension sections, with the opening pages of Richard Ford's superb 2012 novel Canada (here's our short review), talks by Alan Warner (The Sopranos, The Stars in the Bright Sky) and John Lanchester (Capital, Family Romance - our review here), and a personal essay by Seamus Heaney which starts by analysing Thomas Hardy's poem 'The Garden Seat'(read the full essay on History Ireland here).

It's the last of these that will be prompting most talk around the country right now, since the annual un-necessary tizz-fest about which poets will be 'on' tomorrow afternoon will be stirred up still further by Heaney's inclusion - does this mean that he won't be on the literature paper? Since he died recently, does this mean that they'll have him on both papers? Let's hope our candidates are not distracted by this.

The comprehension questions were well-written throughout, though the third one on Richard Ford (asking about 'engaging narrative, lyrical beauty and concrete realism') might intimidate some candidates. Text 2 was a good choice, with both Warner and Lanchester looking at non-literary influences (pop music and video games). Text 3 had Heaney writing at his most powerful and in some ways demanding (an inherited possession becomes 'a point of entry into a common emotional ground of memory and belonging').

The three B questions were quite wordy and defined, and it seems the examiners are directing candidates more fully; the questions certainly needed careful reading, so that elements were not missed (for instance, the Canada B question had at least 4 elements that needed attention). The B question for Text 2 was more predictable and perhaps a bit dull (but candidates won't be concerned about that). The B question following the Heaney text was more imaginative.

The main task of course is the Composition, worth 25% of all marks across the two papers. There were attractive personal essay questions on 'interesting or unusual people and the impact they made on you' (their English teachers?), a standard dull question on 'current issues' and a good one on the influence of the weather. Over recent years short story questions have become more and more defined, as they were here - a ghostly presence in one story, a Science Fiction genre story in question 7. It is certainly difficult to pre-package a short story these days (and it remains difficult to write a good one under such strict time conditions).

As usual, the Ordinary Level paper will have frightened no-one. It's stretching things to suggest that one of the men of the moment, Roy Keane, was on the paper due to his news currency; Malala Yousafazi featured in Text 2 (as she did on a recent commercial company's Higher Level paper, so anyone who did that and then dropped down for the real exam will be distinctly pleased); Patrick deWitt's 2011 Booker Prize-shortlisted The Sisters Brothers was an interesting third choice (the tone might have tested some Ordinary Level candidates). The B questions were all straightforward.

Finally, the Ordinary Level composition questions provided plenty of opportunities (as in the Higher Level paper, the short stories were again clearly defined - on overcoming difficulties, on undergoing a lucky or unlucky experience nad on 'an apparently charming character revealing a less attractive side to his/her character').

Certainly the language papers this year (and for the last couple of years too) are less bland and more challenging than in the early years of this 'new' course.