Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer Reading 1

For lots of books to relish during the holidays, go to our summer reading list (which includes an archive of previous years). During July and August there will be intermittent posts on other books.

One of the books of poetry on this list is Anthony Wilson's recent superb anthology Lifesaving Poems (Bloodaxe). The best introduction of the moving spirit of the book is Wilson's own on his site.  Essentially, it his selection of poems (one per poet) which have meant a lot to him at various points in his life, followed by a personal explanation, each a page or so long. There are relatively few anthology 'regulars' here, and one of the delights of the book is the number of poems picked from magazines and small independent publishers. Another delight is Wilson's commentary: his pieces are highly accessible, passionate and persuasive.

Perfect for the summer: start the morning with or two poems and their commentaries over breakfast (we failed to keep to this discipline, but it's now time to revisit the poems in a more leisurely way).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Reading list, 2015

In 2010 we started issuing parents' summer reading lists after some requests (to match the ones we were providing for pupils - click here). Here is this year's (read it online below via Issuu: click once for a closer view, again for the closest, and download it directly here). Go past the 2015 picks and you have the accumulated choices over the last five years: 113 books over 21 pages. Enjoy.

The Oldest Person I Know

For her TY Work Portfolio, Robyn Brady wrote this piece, which she also read out at the TY English Evening last month:

The Oldest Person I Know

I don't actually know that many old people if I’m honest. I know “of” them, like my mum's uncle, and aunt, who I’ve heard stories of but never met in person. They’re old, possibly nearing their 80’s. But no one can compare to my to the little old lady who lives in the house in front of mine.

She’s a very mysterious creature. I’ve only met her three times. The first time was when we had just moved into our house after re-constructing it. She had the loudest dogs in the neighbourhood. Two enormous huskies. They barked all through the day and night non-stop. There was a little forested area between our houses at the time: it was overgrown and unkempt, much like relationships she had with all of her other neighbours.

Not many people try to get to know her: she isn’t pleasant on the eye, but also not unpleasant either. Her hair is mostly white, with a slight purple undertone. She keeps it under a clear hat, but this isn’t any kind of rain hat: this one is triangular in shape and she ties it under her chin. The skin under her eyes droops over the top of her cheekbones. 

The rest of her skin is worn with age, and she spends most of her summers abroad, giving her the appearance of an old leather bag with cracks. The rest of her face is very wide and bony; her jawline is speckled with hairs that make her face look like a peach, fluffy and round. Her eyebrows are always immaculately filled in, which surprises me because her hands shake all the time. Her neck is long and veiny, and constantly covered by her collection of rosary beads.

She lives alone in a large two story Victorian house. The house appears gothic to me, but it has an air of elegance. Its large white doors tower over her when she opens the door. I have never been inside the house but from my glimpses through the door I can tell she is a pack rat. Boxes overflow with trinkets and clothes. Her staircase is full of books. On a marble table beside the door sits a vase with dead sunflowers. They areher prize and glory. In the summer she grows them high enough for them to peek through the forested area, brightening up the dull browns and greens. She comes out of her house everyday at the same time, just before noon. She limps heavily to a battered red car that is covered with cobwebs. Then she leaves her house and comes back just before the six o’clock news.

When she talks she cocks her head to the left, and with a monotonous voice she slides her words together. She never shows any large amount of affection, except for two things: her dogs and her husband. Her dogs howling incessantly causes many of the neighbourhood disputes. One neighbour even tried to muzzle her dogs while she was out one day, which I thought was a very forward and disrespectful act towards a woman whom these people never got to know. This was the day that I heard her speak for the first time. As her mouth let out a hoarse croaky gasp, her eyes were just as amazed as ours, they slightly watered, but her bottom lip pushed up to her top lip to show her look of despite, and her eyes turned to slits. It was possibly one of the scariest moments of my life: her words didn’t slide into each other and as she roared at the man who had muzzled the dogs. Steam must have been trying to come out her ears because her face was so red. She screamed a lot of descriptive words in between her cursing. One line I distinctly remember was: “That flaming man will be the death of all of us.” Needless to say that man was just as flabbergasted as we were.  I was practically pushed into my house so I wouldn’t see what happened. All I know was that the police came by.

I said she was also affectionate towards her husband, this was towards a certain extent. He was also quite mysterious. He had a cleft chin with a little white stringy beard. He wore big round glasses that fell off the tip of his nose a lot. He had a very lop-sided walk that made him look like he was limping, but it was because one leg was shorter than the other. He left earlier than she did in the morning, and he arrived back way after my bedtime. 

The day of her husband's funeral was the last day I saw her. She looked even older than she normally did. Her hair wasn’t as purple and her lips were weighed down on the corners. Her wrinkles pressed together so hard that her face couldn’t even relax. The clothes on her shoulders just hug there aimlessly. She sat in the first pew alone. But if she hadn’t have been sitting alone, you could still see she was alone. Her presence was dim and unwelcoming, like she didn’t want anyone to fill the gaping hole in her heart. She’s the oldest person I know, and I think she's the oldest person she knows too, because with the few people that came to her husband's funeral, I began to see why she didn’t want anyone to fill the hole in her heart. There was only one person who could.

The Importance of Rugby

For his Work Portfolio in Transition Year, Luis Diaz Pines Cort wrote about the importance of rugby in his life (as a new pupil this year), an essay he read out at the TY English Evening last month:

Good morning everybody and welcome to “Luis On Air”. Today we’re going to talk about the importance of rugby in our own lives. Quite often people thinks that rugby is a hooligan’s sport and that rugby players are just big beasts without brains, but that’s completely wrong. Rugby is a very intellectual and complex sport that not everyone can play.

Rugby has taught me a lots of things, and not only things related to sport, but values and principles that are very useful for life. To be more precise, I have learned from rugby values like effort, humility and the desire to excel. 

To be honest I think that rugby has been more important in my education than various classes and teachers that I have had during the years. Once an Irish monk said: “Rugby is my main tool to teach the children a good way of life”. I strongly agree with this sentence because I think that if everyone has played rugby for a couple of years this world would be better.

Rugby plays a very important role in my daily life. My life is sometimes stressful, above all during exams time or when I have an especially important essay or whatever. Rugby helps me to relax and get out of my life for a couple of hours. When I’m down the pitch, whether playing a match or training I don’t need to think about my problems or responsibilities.  It’s just do my best and, after that, I feel really good and relaxed.

Actually the thing that makes me be more thankful is the friendships that I have made thanks to rugby. Almost all my friends play rugby and definitely all my best friends play rugby. This is not because I don’t like people who don't play it, it’s just because when you play rugby with someone that makes a kind of a brother relationship, you protect that person and you trust him completely, first on the pitch, and then off it. 
To keep playing rugby through the years is one of my goals for the future. In Spain the level is lower than here in Ireland so I think I will be able to join the Spanish Selection and play in a professional league to earn some money while I’m studying a career in the university, because I would also like to do so.

It’s pretty obvious listening to this speech that I think that rugby is a great sport that could help everyone and  make the world a better place to live. 

Thank you all for listening and I hope you enjoyed it! 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

'The Submarine', summer edition

The latest edition of the Library magazine, 'The Submarine', is now out online just in time for some holiday reading, and you can read it below via Issuu (click for a closer look, again for the closest, and use the arrows for navigation). 

In his editorial, Librarian Tom McConville writes engagingly about the importance of 'doing nothing' and of school leavers - in particular - not letting themselves being commodified during their adult lives.These wise words are followed by a series of individual pupil voices (evidently still very much themselves), including poems by Tania Stokes, Poppy O'Malley, Andrew Pollock and Johnny Pollock, reviews by Harvey McCone and Douglas Boyd Crotty, and essays by Valentina Munoz Ascensio (on going home), and Nyla Jamieson (on that 'other' recent referendum, on Presidential age).

Saturday, June 13, 2015

European Standards of Beauty

Transition Year are finishing their academic year today with the annual Actiontrack show. Some have already left, and they completed their academic work at the end of May. Coming up, some Work Portfolio pieces they did over the last two terms.

First, here is Seyilogo Braithwaite's 'European Standards of Beauty', which she read out at the TY English Evening:

As a child, I grew up thinking that my nose, lips and my tummy were too big, my hair too frizzy and ultimately, my skin too dark. I was exposed to television and media at a very young age and so were all the other children I knew.

All the television shows, cartoons, movies and even dollies depicted the same beauty standards: a slim woman or girl with long, straight hair, coloured eyes, a pointy nose and thin lips. As a young dark skinned girl, I obviously lacked all of those features and soon, I began to desire to resemble those beautiful women I saw on TV.

There was a point in my life when I aspired to be Caucasian. I was around the age of six. What I did first was convince my mother to let me relax the incredibly frizzy and curly mane of hair sitting atop my head. I remember thinking to myself that "no one on TV has curly hair so why should I?" I wasn't the only one who thought that. All my friends where perming their hair as well in our struggles to look more "beautiful". By the time I was eight, I knew just two people with unrelaxed hair. It was almost like a trend amongst us.

Can you imagine six year olds hating themselves and their skin purely because of what the television shows them? It's awful. Women of colour are so underrepresented by the media and it is so unfair. Whitewashing was so common that even the dollies that we were supposed to have fun with imposed European standards of beauty on us forcing us to feel inferior. All the Barbies I owned were white with blonde hair and blue eyes and I too wanted to look like them. I remember the first black doll I had. I thought it was incredibly ugly and wanted to throw it away. When my mother asked me why, I told her I thought it was ugly. The only reason I didn't want the doll was because of its colour. If the doll was white, I would have taken it with open arms because the only reason it disgusted me was because it was black. A doll the same colour as me disgusted me.

Thinking back, I am horrified by those actions and how much I wished to wake up white and beautiful. It wasn't my fault though. It's what the media depicts as beauty. It is unfair to subject black children to just those standards of beauty. The lack of black actresses, models and dolls in my childhood taught me to hate my skin. Not everyone is like me. I was able to get back up from that there is nothing wrong with me but some girls aren't so lucky. I have friends that bleach their dark, beautiful skin in an attempt to be lightskinned. People don't really understand the psychological damage these beauty standards can do to young, black children. They grow up hating the skin they're in because they aren't taught to love themselves. The media etches images into our heads of what we should aspire to look like instead of teaching us how to love ourselves.

It took me years to accept myself and I am finally at that point where I love myself. My skin is dark, my hair is curly, my lips are big, my eyes are a dark brown, and I love it. I am sick of subjecting myself to the European standards of beauty because I am not European. I am black and I am beautiful.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

English Leaving Certificate Paper 2 2015

Candidates across the country have now staggered out of their exam centres after their 3 hour 20 minutes marathon. At Higher Level they should have found their paper fair, with one or two trickier elements. Our pupils did The Great Gatsby as their single text, and aas in 2013 the questions were ones they were well prepared for - Nick and Gatsby's friendship (it is really a friendship? They meet only a few times in a short period) in one question, and in the other the matter of idealism and corruption. Most of the country will have done the Othello question (Desdemona and Emilia being weak, and a mushy question about 'values' which may have puzzled some).

In the comparative section there was a real difference between quite challenging theme questions and very straightforward genre ones (the sort of undefined questions common in the early years of this course and which we thought had fallen by the wayside). In particular A1 was probably one to avoid: 'Some texts leave readers with a largely idealistic impression of a theme or issue, while others leave readers with a more realistic or believable impression of the same theme or issue' - very wordy and unclear (an 'idealistic impression of an issue'?).

The attractive unseen poem was by the fine contemporary Irish poet Peter Sirr, 'Peter Street' (listen to him reading it here). The four prescribed poetry questions (Montague, Hardy, Frost, Ni Chuilleanain) had a sameness to them and were quite dull.

At Ordinary Level (only a handful of our candidates too this) Nick's 'friendship' with Gatsby was again asked on, and as usual the comparative questions (Relationships, Hero/Heroine/Villain) were straightforward. Vivienne McKechnie's Today as the unseen poem might have stretched some candidates. The prescribed poems were Montague's 'The Locket', Liz Lochhead's 'Revelation', William Wall's 'Ghost Estate' and Ni Chuilleanain's 'The Bend in the Road', overlapping with two Higher Level Irish poets.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Leaving Certificate English Paper 1 2015

As has become the case in recent years, there was nothing to frighten any candidates in this morning's language Paper 1 in the Leaving Certificate, at either Higher or Ordinary Level.

Higher Level candidates had the topic 'Challenges', and the three comprehension texts were: Bono's graduation speech to students from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (above), followed by a good B task (disagreeing with a school Principal's decision not to hold a graduation ceremony); novelist Joanna Briscoe writing about ghost literature 'in an age of reason'; an extract from Penelope Lively's memoir Ammonites and Leaping Fish: a life in time. So, no fiction extract this year.

Fiction did of course feature in the Composition titles, with a short story 'in which the main character is transformed when faced with a daunting challenge' (quite defined, and giving a clear narrative structure to the candidates) and another 'in which a closely guarded secret is gradually revealed' (one wonders how often that 'gradually' was ignored). Issues to be discussed included the importance of privacy in the modern age (Edward Snowden, Facebook...?), the importance of romance and the 'defining struggles of our age' (zzzz). And a fairly straighforward option to lots of candidates would have been the personal essay about 'ending/s' in life, which presumably drew out a lot of essays on ending school.

The Ordinary Level paper (only 6 of our 75 candidated took this) was on 'parents/guardians' and the comprehension texts were an extract from Roddy Doyle's story 'Animals', one from a biography of Brendan O'Carroll and an extract from Christine Dwyer Hickey's novel Tatty. So, plenty of Irishness and plenty of fiction. The Composition titles provided plenty of scope (though even at Ordinary level they have also become more defined in recent years).