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  #11  
Unread 09-14-2019, 05:36 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Mark,

I'd also wondered about the possibility of moving that line up. I do think the poem works better ending on "her". You might try it one line lower, though, I think. He meets the gaze, then speaks.

But my eyes are on him
and he meets my gaze coolly —
it's just a fucking laugh sir
with a look that makes me
want to warn somebody. Her.

Maybe you should keep the italics to show that it's speech. Although, I guess, without, it might not be spoken, but implied? The message of the gaze, rather than said out loud. So I dunno. I'd put a comma before sir, but that's likely just a prejudice on my part.

I guess I hadn't thought too much about what he'd say when he warned her, or what he'd warn her about, exactly. But thinking about it now, I wonder. Would he warn her to be more careful? To stay away from that boy, because he might do her harm? To keep her head down and not ask questions in class? Or to find ways to be more cool and popular? On my first reading, I'd taken it that he was concerned for her safety and well-being, and I still do. I guess there's something about warning her that seems to put the responsibility for her safety and well-being onto her, at least in part, rather than the teacher and the school. That said, I guess that reflects the teacher's relative powerlessness, which seems appropriate to what you've said about the situation. It doesn't sound like a great one to be in, for kids or the teachers. I'm glad you got out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark McDonnell View Post
I'd hoped the 'open book' line would give both readings that you suggest, yes: that she's carrying an open school exercise book and that her vulnerability makes her an 'open book'. You say you didn't read it like this, but in a way you must have done, because you saw the double meaning there.
Well, I read it as a metaphor/idiom, which is how it's written. Then, when I read that she was looking at her writing I wasn't entirely clear what was going on. I worked out from the context that she must have been carrying her exercise book to the teacher's desk (unless it was already there I guess), and that it was open, at least when she was staring at it. I can't actually read it both ways, though. Because what's written is, in effect, "she is an open book" and I can't read this as "she has an open book". So what I was saying is that you might find a way to word this so that 'open book' works literally as well as metaphorically, so that I can read the sentence both ways, which I can't at the moment, which would be neater, I think, and I'd also be clearer on what was going on. That said, it might not be possible to find such a wording. "She freezes, as open as her book" or something along those lines?

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-14-2019 at 10:54 AM.
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  #12  
Unread 09-14-2019, 07:20 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Julie,

Thanks. I'm glad the poem made you think, and that you consider that a success. And you're right that it isn't meant to be warm and fuzzy. Of course people's own biases will inform their reaction to the poem, or any poem. I'd also hoped that sympathy for the girl would be a large part of a reader's reaction. To me, she's the focus. I definitely hope the ending, or any part of the poem, isn't suggesting that the speaker is implicitly condoning the bullying by doing nothing. The poem is about one moment, then it stops. I suppose I could extend the poem into a description of all the stuff I rambled about in my last post, but it would be a different poem.

John - I'm sure it's fairly common.

Matt,

Have you heard of 'wet break', fellow Brit?

I added the comma, you're right. I think I may have been trying to recreate the speed he said it, maybe, but it just looks sloppy really.

I'm glad you think the italicised line works better further up. I want to keep it where it is because I like that he says it then 'meets the gaze' as if to challenge the teacher's reaction to what he just said. Also I don't think breaking up 'coolly' and 'with' works as well.

The instinct to want to 'warn' is just that, I suppose. An instinct. I didn't overthink the word when I wrote it, it felt like the right word, and I don't think the speaker is really thinking much beyond the fairly primal instinct to warn others when faced with something that seems potentially dangerous. To stay away from him, certainly, yes. It definitely wasn't meant to imply that she should keep her head down and not ask questions in class, or find ways to be more cool and popular. Do you really see those as possible readings there? I'm glad I got out, too. I felt exhausted every day. Teacher retention was very bad there, so 16 years was a pretty good stint.

I do like the 'open book' the way it is. I know grammatically it only carries the idiomatic reading, but the fact that she is clearly carrying an exercise book means that there is a little shadow of the other meaning. I don't feel like it needs to be forced into a simile.

Cheers.
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  #13  
Unread 09-15-2019, 05:00 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Mark,

'wet-break': When I saw it I didn't get it. I might have deduced it, I guess, if I'd more time spent thinking about, but I didn't make the connection that 'break' referred to that sort of break: maybe the hyphen disguised it? We didn't use that name when I was a kid, as far as I can remember.

With the warning, as I said, when I first read it I didn't think about it too much. I liked the unexpectedness of who he wanted to warn, and I took the desire to warn to come from a place of concern. But when I do think about it, though, I wonder about what he might say. What warning would he give her? The warning would seem to need to be some sort of advice, a suggestion to do something differently. So one possibility is that he suggests she stay away from the boy and his mates outside of class. But if she's been bullied before, which seems likely, she's probably worked that out one already and is already going out of her way to avoid them. So I wondered about what else he might be likely suggest, and all I could think of was something that would make her less likely to be the target of bullying. Were he to do this, I guess this would show the powerlessness of the teacher and his lack of faith in the school system to protect her.

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-15-2019 at 05:16 PM.
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  #14  
Unread 09-15-2019, 07:42 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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x
Mark: “I'd also hoped that sympathy for the girl would be a large part of a reader's reaction. To me, she's the focus. I definitely hope the ending, or any part of the poem, isn't suggesting that the speaker is implicitly condoning the bullying by doing nothing. The poem is about one moment, then it stops.”

I don’t know Mark… The speaker (teacher) is who I finally focus on -- not the bully or the girl -- and it leaves me with a pit in my stomach. He's not doing/saying/reacting the way he should. Warning her seems too little for a teacher to do in that situation. Is he that resigned to giving the bully his dominion over respect? Why is he not compelled to "do the right thing" and confront the bully who fat-shamed? Why no remorse? Why only a weak warning?
I don’t know why the fact that it’s indoor vs. outdoor recess that makes the situation ripe for bullying. Wouldn’t it be the opposite? In my memory, outdoor recess was like the Wild West on blacktop. It was too large a space for proctors to have any true oversight and besides, the bullies always worked the corners of the yard, out of sight and earshot. Indoor recess was a much more confined space, usually well-supervised, etc.. It put a crimp in the bully’s behavior.

The sentiment of this poem is difficult to reconcile with the new normal here in the U.S. regarding, well… a slew of things that historically have been acceptable behavior (or at the very least tolerated/ignored/swept under the fetid carpet).
Things have reached a tipping point of sorts with intolerance towards all kinds of bad behavior: school bullying, cyber-bullying, sexual-bullying/abuse by men of women (“Me Too” movement) and, with any luck, gun-bullying by NRA lobbyists. At this point in the evolution of things much of that kind of behavior is being met with zero tolerance. In many ways it is also being aggressively ferreted out of hiding and hung in the court of public opinion. It’s the second coming of the Wild West.

Fyi, Recently progressive talk-show/satirist Bill Maher engaged in a bit of fat-shamming and fellow talk-show host (and Brit) James Corden called him out for it here:


I know the poem “just ends” and it’s sometimes hard to see the facts from the fiction in any given poem posted here. I don’t know that it ends as you want it to. I don’t know how much of yours is “confessional” vs. a construct you’ve created to express the sense of helplessness of those in power (the teacher) to have any ability to confront injustice in the classroom.

Final thought: as I am prone to doing when I comment, my thinking about the meaning in a poem leads me to far-fetched literary associations. In this case, the bleak mood of your poem triggered these lines from Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The “best” in this case being the teacher and the girl. The “worst” being the bully fat- shamer. It's a stretch, I know, to compare the two poems; but I can see it.
If you are in fact the teacher in the poem, then it makes me think that you are also a poet. A teacher/poet. As a mentor of mine said once: “Don’t fuck with a poet”.
x
x
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  #15  
Unread 09-16-2019, 12:37 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Mark,

It looks like you got the fellow Brit's take on "wet break" you were asking for. I did a bit of googling and found a Scottish source: https://creativestarlearning.co.uk/i...angerous-idea/
It seems possible that it's a Northern term, I spent most of my fifteen UK school years (bar a year in Durham) in the vicinity of London.

Cheers,
John
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  #16  
Unread 09-16-2019, 02:36 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I'd say that it's modern school jargon that's commonplace across the UK, and that likely we just don't know it because it post-dates our time at school (either that or my memory's going, in my case that was a little over 30 years ago). Googling I see it used on my son's school website in scare quotes: "during 'wet break'" (appropriately enough, it was an agenda for the meeting of a panel on bullying), and on another local school's website (I'm in the South East), and also in the TES (also with scare quotes). I guess you need to say something to let the kids know it's wet enough that they're officially allowed to stay in, so you announce "wet break". I can't remember what happened when I was at school, I'm guessing we just said "it's raining".

-Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-16-2019 at 02:44 AM.
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  #17  
Unread 09-16-2019, 03:35 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Interesting, Matt. If it's current and not regional (or even if it's regional) it's pretty much fine for any poem IMO. Yeah, I left school for university in the UK in 1980, so some time back. I think when it rained in the UK in the 1970s, we just went outside and got rained on.

Cheers,
John
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  #18  
Unread 09-16-2019, 09:28 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi folks,

I'm pretty sure 'wet break' is standard enough, but I've cut the phrase anyway. Mainly because I want to avoid the possibility for confusion that Jim had -- the suggestion that the events take place during a 'wet break' rather than in a lesson.

Hi Matt - As I said, the 'makes me / want to warn' is more of an instinctive reaction on the speaker's part than a carefully thought-out plan of how he is going to move forward in resolving this particular incident.

Hi Jim - So, when you say

Quote:
Is he that resigned to giving the bully his dominion over respect? Why is he not compelled to "do the right thing" and confront the bully who fat-shamed? Why no remorse? Why only a weak warning?...The sentiment of this poem is difficult to reconcile with the new normal here in the U.S. regarding, well… a slew of things that historically have been acceptable behavior (or at the very least tolerated/ignored/swept under the fetid carpet).
you seem to be getting the same thing from the poem that Julie got when she said this

Quote:
Situations like this one are why so many girls and women don't report sexual, emotional, and physical abuse: over and over again, starting in childhood, authority figures who are aware that ill-treatment is going on implicitly condone it by doing nothing. The unspoken message is "Mistreatment of you is so normal that it's unremarkable, and if you get offended because you can't take a joke, there's something wrong with you, not with the abuser, so you need to just toughen up and say nothing."
In other words you see the 'sentiment' of the poem to be that the speaker is complicit in the bullying by doing nothing about it and not seeing much wrong with it. If this is how it's coming across then it's being read in a way that I really didn't intend.

Here's how the poem plays out in my head: the class are disruptive and disengaged, the girl walks over to the speaker's desk with her book (maybe to ask a question, or because the teacher has called her over to look at her work) and as she is walking a boy shouts an insult. The teacher glares at the boy and the boy responds with 'it's just a fucking laugh, sir'. The teacher's immediate, instinctive thought, in reading the boy's expression, is to worry that he might be dangerous. I had intended the time-scale of these events to be a matter of maybe 10 seconds.

And the teacher is me, yes. Now, I don't claim to be the world's greatest teacher, but I'm certainly not the worst. The situation described here would not have been unusual in the school I taught at for many years, and from hundreds of conversations with colleagues I know that this kind of open bullying and defiance wasn't unique to my classroom. There are some 14 year old boys (and girls) for whom the idea of respect for authority and the ability to control their own behaviour or conform to the 'new normal' is non-existent. For whom rousing a teacher's anger or disapproval is an actual goal, a win, in any given lesson. Many wouldn't be able to read, spell or sometimes understand the phrase 'respect for authority'. This sounds like a bad joke, but it isn't. They often have reading and comprehension ages, and emotional intelligence, way way below their actual ages. They have been failed by parents, governments, society, and yes, the education system. This is incredibly sad, but true, and these issues are bigger than this poem. Sometimes you can get through to them, engage them in something, but often it feels like a losing battle. In a situation like the one described, a teacher has to decide what to do. Drawing more attention to the insult by immediately and loudly confronting the perpetrator runs the risk of further humiliating the victim, particularly if the 'bully' is a popular kid. In post 8, I tried to describe how the actual situation might continue, after the 10 second timescale of the poem ends.
But if the poem seems to be suggesting that the speaker will do nothing about it, and is content to do nothing, then that could be a problem, an interpretation of the poem beyond any I would want.

What if I were to add a few lines, like these in bold?


A Laugh

The thin boy is the worst,
gurning by his mate whose eyes
are hooded egg-whites.
This lot are butter-knife poised —
a house of cards waiting
for one piss-bored joker
with a pantomime sneeze.
And here it is. Fat mess!
In slow motion vacuum
as she moves to my desk,
this girl's body sucks
the aimless rage of the room
to a needle point. She freezes,
an open book, stares
at her careful lettering,
controlled and small.
Sad counterweights.
There will be emails now
and stern but quiet talks.
Tolerance and expectations.
For now,
my eyes are on him —
it's just a fucking laugh, sir —
and he meets my gaze coolly
with a look that makes me
want to warn somebody. Her.


Thanks folks. Sorry for rambling about my job.
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  #19  
Unread 09-16-2019, 09:59 AM
Julie Steiner's Avatar
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I like Matt's idea of scare quotes:

"wet-break" cards

That would also allow for Definition 6 of "card," here:

Quote:
(informal) An amusing or entertaining person, often slightly eccentrically so.
(Another online dictionary tells me that this usage is "DATED," though, so maybe it only means that to old farts like me.)

I like the bolded additions a lot. The use of the no-nonsense administrative passive ("There will be"), as if these things perform themselves, connotes that the teacher feels just as powerless before the inevitable deployment of inadequate measures like "Tolerance and expectations" as he feels before the inevitable antisocial behavior from this group in this situation. His lack of faith in the disciplinary policy to deal with a true psychopath is underscored by the teacher's compulsion to warn the girl to protect herself, because he knows that the educational system (of which he is a part) won't really be able to.

No apologies necessary, Mark. The poem is worth fighting for. There's a big difference between fighting for a poem and fighting against the critics who aren't reading something the way you want, and as one of those critics I never felt that you were doing the latter.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 09-16-2019 at 10:04 AM.
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  #20  
Unread 09-16-2019, 10:20 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Mark,

There's a whole lot I like here that's already been pointed out ("hooded egg-whites," "pantomime sneeze," "needlepoint," etc.).

My one hang up is the end. I've read it a few times and like it sonically and it moved me the first few times I read it...but the more I've read it the less I understand it logically. Why does the girl who has just been insulted need a warning? She clearly knows this kid's a jerk. So, what would the warning add?
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