Teaching: How to use your Word Wall

Hello teachers. Presenting: a ready-made vocabulary starter kit, just for you, if you care to read on…

I was recently tasked with developing vocabulary across departments; specifically focussing on getting everyone to use Word Walls in their lessons. My solution was simple – ask every teacher to give me 10-15 words of relevance to their current unit of work and compile into displays such as this (from my own unit of work):

wordwall1 wordwall2

Then, to avoid simply having them up in rooms gathering dust, I compiled a simple list of activities linked to Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking  skills. See below:

Predict

  • Which words will be most relevant to the Learning Objective?

Justify

  • Rank vocabulary in order of importance

  • Group vocabulary into different categories

Compare

  • Take two or more words and invite students to find a link between them

  • Take two or more words and invite students to compare them. What are the main differences? Why?

Explain

  • Simply define the word. I like giving the class 5 responses to build the best definition.

  • Choose a word and decide which words are in its semantic field. Eg: ‘angle’ – corner, tight, bend, turn, sharp, shallow, etc

Describe

  • Taboo – describe a word without saying the word itself or other related words

  • Memory games. Study the Word Wall for a short while, then remove it and ask students to list as many words as they can remember

  • Repetition/ chanting

Create

  • Use a selection of words in a sentence (that must make sense)

As a result, each teacher now had ready-made ‘literacy’ starters linked specifically to their current schemes of work.

That’s it.

As ever, Enjoy. More later…

-Unseen Flirtations

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Teaching: The ‘Wally Zone’ (Introduction to poetry)

Hello again,

This week saw the start of a poetry unit with year 7. Exciting times.

I’m keen to embed the kind of analysis skills that I expect from A level students from a far earlier stage, so wanted to begin with an almost idealogical approach. What is poetry? Why do we write it? Why do we study it? How do we study it?

So, I came up with a little something called the ‘Wally Zone’, introduced in the lesson below.

Enjoy…

What is poetry and how/why do we study it?

Step 1:

  • Do now: Read through the statements about poetry.
  • Choose one or two that you like.
  • Be ready to explain why!

(I used the following statements, which students then discussed in a ‘Cocktail party’)

Poetry is…

Poetry is just the evidence of life.  If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.  ~Leonard Cohen

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.  ~Kahlil Gibran

Poetry is what gets lost in translation.  ~Robert Frost

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.  ~Paul Valéry

The poet doesn’t invent.  He listens.  ~Jean Cocteau

You can’t write poetry on the computer.  ~Quentin Tarantino

Each man carries within him the soul of a poet who died young.  ~Sainte-Beuve, Portraits littéraires, 1862

God is the perfect poet.  ~Robert Browning

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.  ~Carl Sandburg

Poetry is not always words.  ~Audrey Foris

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot, Dante, 1920

Poets are like magicians, searching for magical phrases to pull rabbits out of people’s souls.  ~Glade Byron Addams

To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.  ~Robert Frost

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.  ~Jean Cocteau

Poetry is nobody’s business except the poet’s ~Philip Larkin

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.  ~Robert Frost

You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some of it with you.  ~Joseph Joubert

 

Step 2:

Spend a few minutes writing your thoughts…

  • What is difficult about poetry?
  • How do you feel about poetry?
  • What do you like about poetry?
  • Dislike?

Step 3:

Supply a Where’s Wally picture. Students have to a) find Wally, b) find up to 5 interesting things happening in the picture.

Wembley Legends Join Where’s Wally? For 25th Anniversary

Step 4:

This is the good bit. I asked the kids:

What does looking at a Where’s Wally have to do with understanding poetry?

The results were fascinating. Some of the links my classes made include the following:

  • Poetry is confusing (like a Wally picture)
  • Poetry is frustrating (like a Wally picture)
  • Wally is hard to find, like the meaning of a poem
  • You have to explore a poem
  • Poems are busy
  • Poems are full of interesting things
  • Poems are abstract
  • There are connections between details within a poem
  • Finding Wally (the meaning) is satisfying
  • Poems are open to interpretation
  • Poems can appear simple at a glance
  • You need to concentrate to understand poetry

and so on.

I cannot stress enough how important it was to let the kids come up with their own links between Where’s Wally and the analysis of poetry. After that conversation, the ‘Wally Zone’ was a real concept that we could apply to our reading of poetry.

As a class, we  then experimented with the Wally Zone by reading a poem and looking for interesting things. The results were pretty incredible, largely, I think, because the class had an understanding of how to approach poetry. And with that, the Wally Zone was born.

That’s about it really. Until next time…

-Unseen Flirtations

Teaching: Creative Writing Word Palettes

It all started when I ran out of time.

My school was staging a mini project centred on ‘The Day the Waters Came‘, a visiting theatrical production based on events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. As Head of English, I was tasked with putting together a creative writing workshop in which students would produce poems, prose, whatever, about the themes raised in the play.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much time to assemble, but I was loathe to just ‘get the kids writing’. I wanted them to not only have a focus, but a self-generated toolkit of words and phrases that they could quickly arrange into effective creative pieces.

Hence the ‘Word Palette’ was born.

Below are screen grabs of my original slides (apologies for the simplicity). When I did this, I stressed the ‘palette’ concept and got the students to use coloured pens/ pencil to create theirs. Otherwise it’d just have been scratchy biro on lined A4. #Uninspring.

Anyway, steps and slides below. Apologies for the Comic Sans. Enjoy.

Step 1:

Pick three topics or general areas related to the main theme. In this example, I used Moments, Characters and Objects.

palette1

Step 2:

For each of these, the students then brainstormed a selection of nouns…

palette2

Step 3:

…before brainstorming a range of  verbs and adjectives. It’s worth breaking this down further and getting them to think of adjectives for each noun and adverbs for each verb.

palette3

Step 4:

I then got my students to focus on one area and find synonyms for their brainstormed words (in a different colour of course).

palette4

Step 5:

Then it was a case of experimenting with figurative language to make poetic phrases. At this stage, most of the kids were off writing.

palette5

That’s it really. Enjoy!

Unseen Flirtations

The Poetry Man and the Biscuit Zombies

If you remember, a few weeks back, I recently decided to dip my teaching toe into Disney territory and introduce The Poetry Man to one of my year 7 classes. It was a mad old time, with balloons and mayhem aplenty. Read here. Anyway, with two weeks in between each visit I’d had some time to work out how to follow my own act – a tricky endeavour considering how quickly 11 year-olds get used to routines, no matter how odd. I started with a note delivered to the class on the previous afternoon instructing them to bring torches to the lesson. And so it began.

Tuesday morning: I vacate my room and a colleague gets the class in. Through the office door I can hear them asking whether or not the Poetry Man is coming. My colleague does a sterling job of feigning incredulity; she tells them to stop being ridiculous and prepare for a punctuation test. Shortly after, she ‘pops out’ of the room and cues me in. I don the mac and trilby, grab the brolly and harmonica, and… pause at the door. How do you make a second big entrance?

Easy. I just start knocking and don’t stop until one of the kids swings the door open. Takes about a minute and a half (which is a long time in knocking years).

The next 15 minutes is suitably bizarre. I shut out all sunlight and put some creepy music on, and with our torches, we read a poem I wrote years ago called ‘The Pigeon’. It’s a pastiche of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’ about biscuits. You can read it here, if you’d like. There’s lots of audience participation and shouting of “NEVERMORE”. Which is great. Then we get into it.

I reach into a drawer and retrieve about six packets of biscuits, rip one open and casually start munching. As I chew, spraying crumbs everywhere, I ask the kids if they’ve ever heard of Biscuit Zombies. Bless them, a sea of hands goes up and we have a chat about Biscuit Zombies; what they are (zombies), what they eat (biscuits), how they look (like teenagers), how to become one (by eating three packs of biscuits) etc.  Then I burst into a chanty song about Biscuit Zombies that the kids have to join in with. Scribbled in my trusty Moleskine below:

BISCUIT ZOMBIES

They creep around when it gets dark,

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

Nibbling biscuits in the park…

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

They stagger, sway and slowly stumble,

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

They never speak, but sort of mumble…

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

When you see them, please be wary,

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

When they’re hungry, then they’re scary!

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

If you see one, don’t be reckless…

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

When they get you, you’ll get peckish!

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

Biscuit treats they like to munch,

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

But they might have YOU for lunch!

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

Don’t eat biscuits when you see them,

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

It would be unwise to feed them…

“Biscuit Zombies, Biscuit Zombies”

 

During this, a new Teaching Assistant comes in. I leap up and, shining a torch in her eyes, instantly challenging her to a poetry-off where the kids have to give us words and we have to make rhymes out them. Why not ?

Anyway, long story short, the rest of the lesson is a hunt for Biscuit Zombies. Biscuits in one hand, torches in the other, we troop out and go slinking around the school. The emphasis is stealth on this one and not being seen, so whenever we see a member of staff we freeze.

“If we don’t move… they can’t see us…”

“OK Poetry Man!”

At one point, we go through a ‘No access to students’ area in the science block and round a darkened corner. I haven’t planned to meet any zombies, but even I’m slightly freaked out when I see a figure moving about in the shadows. It turns out to be someone from admin doing some filing and she looks less than happy to see a bunch of year 7s, with torches, trailing biscuit crumbs, in a part of the school they shouldn’t be in. We run.

In the stairwell, I slump, disappointed, to the stairs and we all sit down. I play a little tune on the harmonica and quietly admit that I got something wrong… You can only see Biscuit Zombies at night! The kids are suitably bemused until I have my Big Idea. Why not pretend to BE Biscuit Zombies and convince the rest of the school they exist? Here, I brandish an InstaMax polaroid camera out from my mac. Yes, two weeks is a good amount of time to plan one outlandish lesson.

The rest of the time is spent pretending to be biscuit zombies around the school and getting photographic evidence, which is hilarious. Then we returned to the classroom where we wrote ‘Warning’ poems to go with the photos, put them in envelopes along with the biscuit crumbs, ready to be posted off to various teachers of choice. At the warning bell, I did the same as last time and delivered a parting rhyme before spiriting myself away.

So. That’s the second outing for the now famous Poetry Man. I do feel as though it’s a mad thing to be doing at this unreasonably busy time of year, but hopefully these kids’ll have something cool to remember about year 7 as they move up the school. When I get a chance I’ll get some of their zombie poems together and share.

Right then. Next session will be after half term. Let’s see what happens…

-Unseen

The Poetry Man’s Balloon Song

So today turned out to be monumental day in my teaching career, in that I went all out Mary Poppins with a year 7 class I only see once every fortnight. Let me explain.

There’s a stray year 7 class I see once every two weeks on my timetable. Usually when this happens we just have a silent reading lesson, but in the past I’ve been frustrated by playing the role of glorified cover teacher. So, I decided to try something a bit different. One off poetry lessons. That should be fun.

After a chat with colleagues, we joked about creating a full-on persona called ‘The Poetry Man’, who would wear mad outfits, speak only in rhyme, wield a harmonica and other props and generally be the kind of character you only find in the pages of Roald Dahl. Well, I say ‘joked’, but after some wine, I thought, screw it, let’s go for it.

Now, the first Poetry Man lesson was supposed to be two weeks ago, but the class were on a trip, so I’ve been waiting patiently for today, for, well, two weeks. Here’s what happened:

After a colleague got the class into my room, she left and I was cued in. I burst into the room in full mac (covered in words/ poetic terms) wide-brimmed trilby, semi-automatic umbrella, harmonica and Moleskine notebook. I stand stock still and glare at these bewildered 11 year olds for a full 45 seconds, in pin-drop silence. Then I say “stand up”, and up they stand. And so it begins.

I won’t go into too much detail, but real life just isn’t like this. I got them to all respond to a line in rhyme (in order to earn the right to sit down), waved my brolly, jumped on tables, screeched on the harmonica and pranced around like mayhem. Anyway, (and here’s the main bit of this blog post, so pay attention), I eventually burst into a riddle poem for them to guess. It went like this:

WHAT AM I?

You can throw me,

Roll me,

Blow me full of air.

Punch me with your fist before you kick me down the stairs.

Tie a string around me and give me to happy people,

Or let me fly away towards the heavens like an eagle.

I come in different colours like a rainbow in the sun-

Adults put me in the corner, children think I’m really fun.

I like to go to parties and I stretch like bubble gum

And though I’m light enough to carry, I can lift about a tonne.

I’ll carry you across the planet, hanging from a basket.

I’ll whoosh around the room and make a noise like someone farted.

Some people twist me into crazy shapes, just like an artist

(which is actually quite annoying really-

Especially when you haven’t asked for it…)

I can be large

I can be small

I can be short

I can be tall

I can be pompous and inflated

Or understated and deflated.

I’m squishy and I’m shiny

And I fly when you untie me –

You can bob me,

You can pop me,

You can find me, you can buy me…

 What am I?

They all guessed that it was a balloon (of course – keep up) and I ordered two of them to open the cupboard, out of which pours… thirty inflated balloons. I told you, two weeks I’ve been waiting for this. The two TAs in the room are completely baffled at all this by the way, especially when I ask one, at volume, blowing a harmonica: “why is this one bigger than the others?” So, each kid gets a balloon and a marker, and turns it into a face. To cut a long blog post short, the next 30 minutes is a balloon adventure. I send one tiny girl downstairs, outside and shout out of the window.

“Can you hear me, whoever you are?”

“Yes, Poetry Man!” she replies.

“Good!” I shout. “We’re sending down our balloons!”

Then I tell each kid to run up to the window, chuck their balloon out the window  and run down to retrieve it. Outside, we line up and go frog-marching round the school, umbrella and harmonica in full action, chanting away some fizztabulous (shout out to Roald Dahl) song that I was making up on the spot. LOADS of classes are coming to the windows to see what’s up and some teachers start telling me off (you couldn’t make this up), but I just blow the mouth organ and dash away. We kick the balloons in the goal, give them showers in the water fountain, slap them about, et cetera, then head back to my room to immortalise the adventure in a poem.

The kids write, I prance, we have an impromptu jam session when one boy breaks out his drumsticks and then I call it all to a halt. I draw the curtains, tell them I’m turning the mood “from happy to sad” and (this has to be the best bit of the day) I hear one kid whisper nervously, “I think he’s going to kill us…”. That’s fantastic. Anyway, I tell the kids that nothing can live forever and line them up against the wall, with their balloons. Then, I produce… a pin.

Yes, that’s right. Each child is forced to come to the front and kill their balloon, after a few parting words. Sad and exciting and everything in between. With the massacre complete, they have to finish their poems with that final morbid detail, and (at the warning bell) I deliver a rhyme about shedding a tear and disappear – leaving the class in a mild state of shock. Teaching can be far more surreal than real life, and the Poetry Man is far more surreal than teaching.

So! That’s why today was ever so slightly monumental. It’ll all happen again in two weeks and I have a fairly big act to follow. Below are some of the poems produced by the class. Enjoy!

-Unseen Flirt

Naïve Prostitute Twitter feed

Naïve Prostitute Twitter feed

A poetic analysis of the @NaiveProstitute Twitter feed. WARNING: Contains profanity and language of an extreme sexual nature that some readers may find exciting and others may find offensive

Form:

At the time of writing this, the @NaiveProstitute twitter feed is hovering at 372 tweets in total, which is relatively few updates in the Twitterverse. As usual, the feed supplies a continuous stream of tweets/ mini essays/ thoughts/ updates/ poems/ whatever you wish to call them, consistently delivered to reveal insight into the mind of the writer. What the feed doesn’t do, however, is provide a narrative. It begins with a philosophical, anonymous question as to the nature of prostitution and goes from there, neglecting to provide any kind of introduction, context or setting. As it continues the writer makes no effort to clarify a sense of time or place and subsequently, the whole thing feels like a small slice of eternity. We can dip into the feed at any given time without risking any loss of clarity.

I sell orgasmic happiness to the men who still believe in the orgasm.

I sell experiences to men starving for experiences.

I sell my time, I sell my flesh, I sell my well conditioned thoughts.

That said, it’s worth mentioning the slightly episodic nature of the feed, whereby a theme is explored over a number of individual tweets. A good example is the first few updates, in which the writer questions her existence and discusses the specifics of what she ‘sells’. Later, she tells little self-contained mini-stories that detail specific experiences in prostitution, here related to what ‘A man offered her’:

A man offered me his soul if I can give him my cunt for free.

A man offered me $600 to call his wife and tell her that he has been faithful.

A man offered me a thousand dollars if I would tell him while he orgasms that his life worthless.

A man offered me $700 if I allow him to shave the hair on my cunt.

Language:

One of the things that made me sit up and take notice of the @NaiveProstitute feed was its deep intensity of language. In her ongoing discourse on prostitution, gender politics, sex and morality, @NaiveProstitute makes absolutely no effort to dilute her thoughts. The language employed is almost confrontational, replete with profanity and direct references to sex, direct almost to the point of being sensational. She opts for the crudest euphemisms for sex, referring to ‘fucking’, ‘cock’, ‘cum’, ‘pussy’ and, the greatest taboo, ‘cunt’, never with any sense of  apprehension. The use of this taboo vocabulary is fearless and bold, lending the feed a sense of dominance and power.

I give them the image of the fallen whore who sucks cock for a living, who makes erections rise and fall.

A man offered me $700 if I allow him to shave the hair on my cunt.

I am lonely, the voice is lonely, the sex is lonely, when my pussy is not getting fucked I feel empty.

However, it would be wrong to get caught up on the feed’s propensity for naughty words. On the whole, it is written with a direct, unflinching simplicity, simple language undecorated by superfluous adjectives and adverbs. @NaiveProstitute writes almost entirely in simple sentences with bold main clauses, featuring a refined but not ornate vocabulary. The effect of this is dramatic. We are presented with a strong voice that is talking to us directly with no obvious subtext; she offers statements that disinvite conversation and our only option is to passively listen to whatever she has to say.

Following on from this idea, it is important to note that @NaiveProstitute writes entirely in the first person present tense. This might seem like a minor point, but there is an important immediacy that this narrative perspective creates. Also, the use of the present tense allows the writer to deliver verbs as clear, cold, imperatives, eg: ‘I enjoy’, ‘I call’, ‘I am’, ‘I give’, ‘I let’, ‘I offer’ etc.  The personal pronoun ‘I’ takes on a powerful resonance – we (ironically) feel subservient in her presence. A similar effect is achieved with the use of the word ‘whore’ which – in contrast to the plethora of synonyms she could have chosen (ho, skank, hooker, prozzie, slut, tramp, callgirl, etc) takes on a timeless sense of grandeur.

In all of this @NaiveProstitute also uses a great deal of repetition to develop a theme or idea, turning a series of tweets into something of a manifesto or even mantra. At one point, she details what $20,000 would get you, and the list soon evolves into something more like an hypnotic thought experiment…

For $20,000 I would have sex with an entire village of 50 men, once each, discount rates apply.

For $20,000 I would walk on my knees, naked in the streets, I would appear naked on wheel of fortune.

For $20,000 you can use any hole in my body to achieve your inner, librated child, 50 times over.

For $20,000 you can fuck me 40 times, wholesale, 50 times.

Imagery:

So, @NaiveProstitute is a twitter feed that isn’t afraid to be explicit. The feed is fairly full of sexual imagery, sometimes graphic, that throws us into the world of prostitution, or, perhaps, sheds light on the concept of prostitution by detailing it with such raw openness. We are frequently made aware of the narrator’s sexual activity, be it literally (with plain description)…

A man once paid me $835 dollars if I allow him to fuck my ass ravagely; I did, and half way through he stopped and started crying.

…or figuratively (with metaphors like ‘the palace of my cunt’):

When a man enters the palace of my well-trodden cunt, does he find pleasure? Not at all, he finds death, the frequenter of death.

Despite this, the @NaiveProstitute feed is not defined by sexual imagery. Explicit as these images are, they are by no means the be all and end all of the feed, simply details of the narrator’s experience that she mentions as part of a far wider discourse.

Rhythm:

When I first saw this feed I scanned a few tweets, as you do, and soon realised that I was reading whole sections of text in order, as though I was poring over a poem. The rhythm of the feed has something to do with this. Where many twitter feeds can feel disjointed and sporadic, @NaiveProstitute feels solid and purposeful. Tweets are delivered in batches that focus on a particular theme or idea, mini-essays packaged into 5 or 6 separate updates. As stated above in ‘Language’, this steady build has a largely hypnotic effect. We are drawn into an even rhythm that makes it very easy to continue reading.

$50000 to have me willingly make out with you.

$20000 to take me on a vacation for a month.

$5000 to have me as your girlfriend for a week.

$750 for anal sex.

$500 for a rimjob.

$375 for a vaginal fuck.

$295 for a blowjob.

$200 to lick my pussy

$175 to watch me play with myself until I cum.

$150 to watch me play with myself.

Tone:

Obviously, the whole thing is highly sexually charged, at times just plain filthy and, as a result, pretty exciting if I’m going to be honest. I’m reluctant to say the feed is erotic however, because there are other things going on that prevent it from being a simple discourse on sexuality.

First, it has to be said that @NaiveProstitute is quite seriously philosophical. The writer has taken the persona of a whore, a whore that represents all of whoredom throughout the ages, and through her thoughts and experiences, discusses some pretty deep ideas about the nature of sexuality and humanity. In tone, the feed is extremely reflective and cerebral, dwelling upon the nature of prostitution and asking meaningful questions about sexuality and mankind. The fundamental experience of a prostitute is that of a profoundly subjugated woman, and this sets up a melancholic, sometimes disturbing tone. We may be excited by the taboo nature of her lifestyle and the brash way in which she details it, but we are also saddened by the extent to which she is used for sexual gratification. There are moments of shock and sadness in this feed, sometimes simultaneously. Indeed, the real world details we are presented with often seem designed to provoke an emotional response:

When an ugly, hideous old man is pounding his flesh into mine, what is the discovery? What does he discover?

However, there is also an intellectual response that the writer invites us to explore, which is as potent as the immediate emotional reaction we have. The writer sets up philosophical debates that are very much poetic, inasfar as they present the us with ambiguities. To fully appreciate this feed the reader needs to be as reflective as the narrator and look into the gaps and silences in meaning.

The point is that sexuality is revolutionary until you turn off the lights.

Things are complicated further by a pervading sense of gloom that borders of morbid. References to death, souls, the night, numbness, pickling, ‘the fallen’ and so on combine to establish a dark tone that quickly puts pay to any simple titillation.

It all belongs to the night.

My revenge is the way you tell me that you love me simply because your penis is pickling away in my cunt.

I enjoy swallowing the souls of men.

On this note, moments of genuine sadness also permeate the feed, where the narrator outlines the futility of an existence that is not only commoditised, but bound to the animal pleasures of ‘ugly men’. Deep stuff.

I spend my life waiting for a man to murder my instincts.

I am a prostitute and my voice is narrow, my body is thin, my lips are supple and my dreams are vain.

So, exciting, reflective, philosophical and dark – in many ways a good example of Romanticism. A key difference is that where Romanticism can come across as pensive to the point of insecurity, @NaiveProstitute is almost confident to the point of being triumphant. There is absolutely no self-pity, loathing or doubt in the world of this character, and she often takes delight in her mastery over male sexual urges. Subsequently, we can pity the naïve prostitute if we wish, but she definitely does not ask us to.

A man said that he would leave his wife for me, then he gave me $400 and went away.

My revenge is the way you tell me that you love me simply because your penis is pickling away in my cunt.

I am not some poor hapless girl who fell in the wrong way, I want to be here.

Subject matter:

Tricky. There’s an awful lot going on in this feed – gender politics, sexual potency and its effect upon morality, the commodification of women, the reclaiming of female sexuality in a misogynist world, the conflict between sexuality and spirituality, sin and sexuality, the oppression and sexual subjugation of women and the paradox of female sexual control/ submission, to name a few. The best thing to do is to read for yourself, see how you feel, think about why you feel how you feel, and drop me a comment explaining your findings.

Ultimately, the title of the feed is telling. For all the philosophising, triumph and sexual potency, this is still the narrative of a subjugated woman who is trapped by the very same circumstances that empower her. Perhaps naively so.

A truly fascinating piece of writing.

-Unseen Flirtations

I am the woman that can only find numbness from the overstimulation, through the fucking, the random useless fucking.

What am I then? The filthy fallen woman, I think not.

What am I then, if not the slut that attempts to turn her body against the machine by embodying the machine.

What am I then, but a female revolutionary in my own cowardly, epicurean way?

I am the difference between commodification and commoditization.

I am the future of humanity where sex can only be purchased with U.S. Dollars and gold.

I spend my logic on petroleum jelly, on the lubrication of that fine American dream.

I felt it, when I was young watching the Disney shows, being fucked by my inner Mickey.

I felt it, once when I was in my late teens, society was fucking me, expecting me to be, expecting me to behave like a mall bunny.

I am a prostitute and every day thousands of women are trafficked for the purpose of pleasing the sex starved workers.

I am a prostitute and I spend my days waiting for the perfect night.

Related post: A breakdown of the excellent @chilean_miner twitter feed.

Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

BENVOLIO
He ran this way, and leap’d this orchard wall:
Call, good Mercutio.
MERCUTIO
Nay, I’ll conjure too.
Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh:
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;
Cry but ‘Ay me!’ pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove;’
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nick-name for her purblind son and heir,
Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!
He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not;
The ape is dead, and I must conjure him.
I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us!
BENVOLIO
And if he hear thee, thou wilt anger him.
MERCUTIO
This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite: my invocation
Is fair and honest, and in his mistress’ name
I conjure only but to raise up him.
BENVOLIO
Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,
To be consorted with the humorous night:
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.
MERCUTIO
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open et cetera, thou a poperin pear!
Romeo, good night: I’ll to my truckle-bed;
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep:
Come, shall we go?
BENVOLIO
Go, then; for ’tis in vain
To seek him here that means not to be found.
Exeunt

Form:

Apart from the odd interjection from everyone’s favourite peace-seeker Benvolio, this entire scene is a Mercutio-launched verbal assault directed squarely at his lovesick best friend, Romeo. The scene is a short interlude that sits between the excitement of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and their exchange of love’s true vows in the balcony scene. Fair enough. On a plot level not much happens at all – all we get is Romeo being asked by his mates to leave Juliet alone for the night, which he promptly refuses to do and runs off to breach enemy walls, armed with love’s light wings.

Dramatically, however, the scene is a chance for Mercutio to do what he does best: hog the limelight, say some outrageous things and prance about.

Language and Imagery:

First things first, Mercutio is what we can safely call a Dirty Bastard. His taunting speeches are riddled with what we might nowadays call ‘dick jokes’, sort of semi-disguised in thin puns and double entendres. He starts off fairly tame, goading Romeo with images of Rosaline’s body – her ‘high forehead, scarlet lip, straight leg and quivering thigh’. When that doesn’t work, he takes it to the next level and goes balls out crude with sexual innuendo, starting with a sly reference to the ‘demenses’ (‘land’) that lies adjacent to her quivering thigh. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina.

And it gets worse. When Benvolio diplomatically says ‘and if he hear thee thou wilt anger him’ (translate: ‘man, shut the cuff up, you’re gonna piss him off!’) Mercutio responds with some fairly tasteless references to Romeo’s sexual frustrations:

This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite.

Here, ‘raising a spirit’ is a reference to ‘getting it up’, or having an erection, which Mercutio says Romeo wants to do in his mistress’ ‘circle’. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina. Now, while there is reference here to some mumbo-jumbo folklore about raising spirits from a circle drawn on the ground, Mercutio is actually talking sex. He is saying that Romeo would feel ‘spite’ if some other ‘strange’ guy got the chance to ‘stand’ in Rosaline’s ‘demenses’ before he did. And oh yeah, ‘spirit’ is 16th century slang for ‘semen’. So there you go.

The imagery in all of this is clear enough, but Mercutio ramps it up when he starts to get all fruity. Literally. Have a look at this picture of a medlar fruit:

A small, round fruit with an apricot-like cleft that opens up when ripe and ready to eat. Mercutio equates this with… lady parts, which remain closed until said lady is ready to ‘open up’. Yep, exactly. Now, Mercutio says that a) Romeo wants to be around medlars, (horny) b) Romeo wishes his mistress was like a medlar (ie: ripe and ready to ‘open up’) and c) that maids call their ‘fruit’ medlars when they ‘laugh alone’ (ie: in the privacy of their bedrooms doing what young men fantasise about girls doing alone). Are you getting how rude all of this is? Well it gets worse when he then goes on to state that Romeo wishes he was a ‘poperin pear’, which, to get to the point, is late 16th century slang for penis. Simply because the Poperinghe pear is reminiscent in shape of the male sexual member and looks like it would fit snugly into the medlar’s cleft. It’s worth mentioning that a particularly ribald player could pronounce it “pop her in” pear, for added laffs. Get it?

(also, ‘open et cetera’ is originally ‘open arse’ – the actual slang term used to describe the medlar fruit. I guess modern editors are just squeamish)

Rhythm and Tone:

During this short and undeniably filthy scene, Shakespeare ramps up the innuendo from fairly innocuous references to Rosaline’s body to full blown mental images of sexual organs, represented by bits of fruit. For an audience, little chuckles of acknowledgement could develop into yelps of shock as Mercutio’s puns get increasingly more base. The scene is brief and adds little to the story, but it injects a spike of humour into rapid plot development and makes for a nice contrast to the intensity of the balcony scene that follows.

Obviously, Shakespeare plays it for laughs, but the extremity of Mercutio’s taunts suggests something more complex in tone. We know that Romeo’s adventures in love are going to end in ultimate tragedy and there is a sense of desperation in Mercutio’s efforts to stop him from breaching the house of Capulet. Also, as Juliet later attests to, Romeo is literally risking his life to see her, a fact that Romeo’s mates would also be aware of. Yes, Mercutio is getting a few laughs and trying to get a rise out of his best bud, but he just might also be trying to protect him from danger.

Subject matter:

On the one hand, this scene is about sex and the strength of Romeo’s sexual urges, but it also highlights the conflict between different types of love in the play. Unbeknownst to his friends, Romeo has gotten over the melancholy of his ‘courtly love’ (medieval convention of unrequited love where you act like a moody teenager and write poems about lovesickness etc) and is not even thinking about the high forehead of Rosaline. He has developed a deep and spiritual connection with Juliet, a true love that is leading him towards his tragic fate.

Mercutio may not know that it will all end in death, but he has a deep-seated fraternal love for Romeo. This makes it difficult for him to accept Romeo’s decision to choose a girl over his mates, and it is unsurprising that the strength of his feelings is manifested in wild and outrageous sexual banter. So, as always with old Billy Bard, there are serious undertones at play, even during a seemingly ‘light’ scene. You could even argue that Mercutio’s feelings towards Romeo go beyond fraternal love into something more intimate – feelings that he can’t express openly.

On this note, it is telling that the scene ends not with a crowd-pleasing punchline, but with sober resignation. After all the laughs and energy, Mercutio simply gives up, accepting that any efforts to help Romeo are in vain. From ‘haha’ to ‘eww’ to ‘aww…’, in 40 lines.

-Unseen Flirtations

Click here for a detailed analysis of Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss: Act 1, scene 4.

Never Let Me Go: A review in tweets

Never Let Me Go: a review in tweets

Finally got round to reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘Never Let Me go’. A run down of my thoughts on the film in reverse chronological order, as posted on Twitter.

Not yet… Curious to see what a decent cast could do with those characters RT @gtpodcast Have you seen the movie version? Good stuff.

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Perhaps sadly, the main characters’ warmth stems from their ache and deep-rooted trauma #neverletmego

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Text is secondary to context, which itself is secondary to subtext #neverletmego

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For Ishiguro, relationships are s battlefield of human interaction, subtly painted, but emotionally exhausting #neverletmego

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Plot takes a deserved back seat to the careful revelation of character, which makes the story all the more engaging #neverletmego

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He has the gift of creating infinities out of fleeting moments. It’s special. #neverletmego

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Moments of real intensity arrive unexpectedly, then are pored over with the focus of a vivisection #neverletmego

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Ishiguro’s is a painful detailing of life crammed into too small a vessel #neverletmego

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Ishiguro never asks us to pity his characters, but he does insist that we live through their most challenging moments #neverletmego

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In his novels Ishiguro never lets us forget that human relationships are capital C complicated #neverletmego

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Ishiguro is a master in quiet devastation and unafraid to deliver trauma #neverletmego

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Part character study, part sci-fi thriller. A completely compelling thought experiment #neverletmego

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One of my 13s that read Never Let Me Go: She kept shaking her head, repeating it’s a “bad book, bad book”. Almost weird.

What I forgot to say:

Form:

As I tweeted somewhere up there, it’s difficult to say exactly what this novel is, form-wise. After the first chapter or so I was all geared up for a careful character study of the narrator a la ‘Remains of the Day’, which, to be honest, the novel delivers. But it soon diverts into more sensational territory as little hooks of plot get thrown in there and the science-fiction premise becomes apparent. Then philosophical ideas are introduced and the whole thing begins to feel like a thought experiment. First off, thank god Ishiguro is an accomplished enough writer to avoid falling prey to plot while all this is happening. He manages to continue the careful analysis of character whilst developing a thriller of a plot, without having the whole thing become clumsy. This is less a novel concerned with what happens than with how people cope with what happens, reminiscent in tone to Pale View of the Hills (Ishiguro’s first offering).

Language:

Stark, plain, unfettered, direct. He writes with minimal poetry but high impact, detailing all the silences in communication where powerful experiences reside. At uni I remember one of my tutors making a lot of the fact that Ishiguro is Japanese, but writes in a very ‘English’ register. Whatever. You can ignore post-colonial subtext here; he just uses the English language with economy and discernment. That’s all.

Imagery:

Despite what I said above in ‘Language’, Ishiguro does have a knack of detaining a scene. Especially at reflective moments of emotional repose, he stops to set the scene and evoke a mood. This wouldn’t be worth talking about but for the fact that he does it so bloody well – be it a description of an overcast day, some rural backdrop, or some kind of rainfall that in the hands of some other writer would be chalked up as simple pathetic fallacy.

Also, he sometimes lets the narrator get figurative (for example Kathy realising that Madame sees them all as ‘spiders’). Subjective and illuminating of character, yes, but also useful imagery that adds depth overall.

Rhythm:

An Ishiguro novel is the definition of a ‘slow build’. It’s the mark of a confident novelist for him to take his time with the exposition of plot, but (as tweeted), that’s probably because plot is so secondary to the development of character. One of his slightly irritating stylistic quirks is his setting up of the next big plot development at the end of each episode, literally separated by a line break, which gets a bit heavy handed at times, but to be honest, that might be necessary evil. Ishiguro does things like: but the real surprise was to come later, after what happened in the wardrobe, which would stay with us all forever.

The wardrobe incident began in the summer after we started to blah blah blah (yes I’m making this up by the way). It keeps the momentum up, but feels a bit clonky at times.

What is noteworthy is the skilful manner in which he bases his narrative around key events/ moments in his characters’ lives, building the narrative around crucial moments of tension of realisation or trauma or joy or relief or whatever. It’s truly beautiful that these moments can be as massive as a death or as innocuous as finding a cassette tape in a charity shop. Important moments are entirely subjective, meaning that when they occur is as important as how important they are.

Tone:

It’s safe to say that Never Let Me go is almost uniformly tragic throughout. It’s a slow release of trauma and strained human relationships that becomes increasingly poignant as we are fed details of the main characters’ existence. By the half way mark, it’s been made pretty clear that this is a story of doomed lives, and all the little rifts and skirmishes of social interaction take on a different kind of poignancy. These characters are alive, and their worries are literally of life and death importance, but they are also pathetic, in the truest sense of the world. Kind of like the toys in a ‘Toy Story’ movie, battling to survive a journey across the road that the rest of us can complete without a second thought. It’s poignant, and sad.

Subject matter:

Well, humanity. The pain of what it means to be alive when life is finite. The sci-fi, dystopian premise amplifies this for the novel’s protagonists, but the novel’s central concern is one we can all relate to. Like ‘Remains of the Day’ (which, I think, is altogether more accomplished) ‘Never Let Me Go’ is also about life lived in delusion, or realisation come too late, from which stems a lot of the novel’s poignancy. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m guessing it will focus largely on the ins and outs of hyuman relationships and the ‘love story’ element, but maybe that’s just me being prejudiced against Hollywood. Will watch and report back.

-Unseen Flirtations



Ps: I’m still 20 pages or so away from finishing the novel. I know, I know… When I’m done I’ll re-read this stuff and amend/ add to as appropriate.

Pps: I’ve had a third of a bottle of wine, so not as lucid as I have been.

John H Davies: Fractured Limb

John H Davies: Fractured Limb

John H Davies is a poet I stumbled across via his ‘Daily Bread’ poetry blog, in which he writes an original, new poem, each day and will continue to do so for one year. A quick glance through what has been posted so far confirmed that this was one to watch and Mr Davies has kindly granted me permission to feature his work on Unseen Flirtations.

I highly recommend browsing his blog – there are some real gems on there and the whole poetic journey is fascinating to watch. Below are one recent poem and a quick flirts. Consider your appetite whetted.

-Unseen Flirt

Fractured Limb
It struck the bough half way along its length
at the moment I chanced to be looking out
across the field towards the old oak.
Rather a forlorn tree, not the majestic
symmetrical shape you see in books
and standing alone at the head of a ragged hedge.
And yet it framed the window perfectly,
and it seemed unfair that it should be singled out
for such a ferocious, random attack. The lightening
felled the branch with a fizzing crack, and it
maintained a horizontal attitude as it fell
to the ground in slow motion, as the rain
hammered against the glass pane, the whole event
seeming oddly detached from reality,
and I searched for some divine meaning
but found none; a random act of nature;
and returned to my work, looking up some
half hour later to see the tree slowly burning
from its base, the flames eventually dying
to a pyre of smoke, doused by the still
teeming rain, and realizing I had witnessed
a random act of nature defying nature.
The tree lives on, still rather forlorn,
but every inch a king.

-John H Davies, 4th February 2011

Form:

The free-flowing form of the poem invites the reader to focus on the narrative, which unfolds in something of a prosaic style. An unfussy, direct structure asks us to concentrate on the story being told rather than the poetry in which it is expressed. That said, self-contained subordinate clauses in the first eight lines of the poem almost create a sturdy list of observations/ assertions as details are heaped on top of one another. Each of the first eight lines makes sense on its own terms and can almost be taken in isolation. This soon gives way to a more erratic enjambment which is altogether more fluid, forcing us to run ahead with the narrative. It is telling that this happens at the moment when ‘lightening’ enters the story, left hanging at the end of the ninth line. We literally have to trip onto the next line to make any sense of what the relevance of this lightening is.

What I find particularly effective is the lack of  line break at the pivotal moment of lightning striking. In fact, it all happens so quickly that the poem doesn’t have the chance to regroup, already having moved on to the aftermath of the event before it has completely subsided.

Language:

The opening sentence is completely stripped of decoration, presenting a scenario that is unembellished, free of adjectives and adverbs. All we know is that ‘it’ struck the bough when the speaker was ‘looking out across the field’. As the poem progresses its vocabulary expands to give evocative, sometimes emotive detail, with powerful adjectives (ragged, ferocious) and onomatopoeic verbs (fizzing, hammered). The effect of this is to give the poem a jolt of vitality that parallels the impact of lightening on a tree. In all of this there is an air of gravitas in the speaker’s lexicon. Words such as ‘pyre’, with its connotations of ritual and ceremony, nod to the intensity of the event for the speaker, while ‘witnessed’ suggests that what has been seen is something far more than casual.

Imagery:

The tree’s journey is detailed in a storyboard of powerful images, from ‘forlorn’ (not majestic), standing alone, falling in ‘slow motion’, slowly burning and ‘doused’, back to forlorn, and ultimately a ‘king’ (so majestic after all). In this sequencing of events we are given a range of images that create empathy between us and the tree. The final lasting image of the tree as ‘every inch a king’ elevates the forlorn figure to something greater and , like the poet, we have ‘witnessed’ it happen through each dramatic stage.

Generally speaking, the poem is replete with natural imagery, described in some detail. Within this, there are noteworthy contrasts that are 1) striking and 2) highlight the volatility of the natural landscape. The poem starts with quiet, almost dull calm, then spikes into the ‘fizzing crack’ of the lightning strike, contrasting with the subsequent slow burning and ‘teeming’ rain. In terms of imagery, this is a fairly busy poem that only rests once the majesty of the tree is restored.

Rhythm and Tone:

As stated above (see Form), enjambment keeps the poem moving but those initial self-contained clauses allow us to pause and digest each new piece of information. The rhythm fluctuates when the lightning strikes and clauses begin to be split between lines (The lightening / felled the branch with a fizzing crack, and it / maintained a horizontal attitude as it fell). Naturally, this creates as shift in tone from calm to urgency. After this peak in action, the poem takes another shift into more contemplative zones, as the speaker begins to reflect upon what he has witnessed before concluding that the tree is regal.

Subject matter:

In all of this, the poem achieves a balance of reverence and philosophical meditation. As the speaker states, this poem is a reflection upon ‘nature defying nature’, a documenting of something rare and remarkable that highlights the potency of nature and understated beauty of destruction. There is nothing grandiose about this, even if the event itself is extraordinary. There is no ‘divine’ meaning, despite the fact that what has happed is ‘detached from reality’. You could argue that this is one of the central tensions in the poem, between the spiritual and the terrestrial, but I don’t think this is entirely fair. Nature just is. Things happen. Mythical oaks get felled by lightning, and all we can do is watch on in quiet awe.

If there is any overriding message it has to relate to the constancy and resilience of nature, which, symbolised by the tree, can even defy itself. The tree can be destroyed, felled, burned and left smouldering, but still lives on in a forlorn yet regal glory – damaged, but not defeated. As the title implies, this is a meditation upon a ‘fractured limb’ that will mend and, ultimately, persevere.

-Unseen Flirtations


Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

A poetic analysis of Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis, written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin, released in 1993.

Form:

Groundhog Day follows a clear narrative line, with plot development, a climax, resolution and all that good stuff. However, what sets it apart from other films (and what makes it so damned special) is its quirky central premise – that the same day is being repeated over, and over, and over (and over) again. What we get is a film that is stuck in its tracks, failing to get much further than its own introduction. Narratives can be loosely broken down into five sections: Introduction – Development – Complication – Climax – Resolution, a format that is playfully manipulated to create circular plot that the protagonist is required to break out of. Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is introduced and developed, but the complication is that his story becomes stuck and he literally can’t go forward. Meanwhile, his narrative (his personal development) continues apace, and this is what the audience is watching. In this sense, the film operates on two levels; the circular, time loop plot and the linear narrative. Phil is trapped in the former and the audience can watch his development in the latter until the cycle is eventually broken.

Language:

One of the reasons that Groundhog Day is so distinctive and memorable a film is that it plays around so delightfully (can I say that?) with film language. Ramis sets up a fairly average sequence of events that structure Phil’s day. It’s just a normal day. But, with the repetition of these events – waking up to ‘I Got You Babe’, meeting Ned ‘bing’ Ryerson, having lunch with Andie ‘blood sausage’ McDowell, et cetera, the film is given a grid of circumstances for Phil to inhabit. Every shot, every pan, every edit, becomes a familiar cue for the audience and we eagerly anticipate the next variation of Phil’s day. The writers have given themselves what I think is the greatest source of creativity: boundaries. Literally repeating itself, Groundhog Day works off a limited vocabulary of scenes and set pieces and the writers are subsequently forced to be as inventive as possible to prevent the narrative from being as redundant as the plot. The creativity comes from Phil’s varying responses to this and the limitless possibilities his changing moods throw forwards. Clever stuff.

Imagery:

As stated above, the repetition of key scenes/ images is what gives Groundhog Day a sense of drive, but the subtle variations of these repetitions is what makes the film so fascinating. Because Phil is the one variant in a relentlessly unchanging landscape, the audience finds themselves scrutinising him with an unusual level of intensity. We notice his increasing scruffiness in the first two acts, as he gradually gives up hope, and his sharp return to form as he plans for redemption fall into place. We notice small details of background that become increasingly important as Phil begins to explore the town of Punxsutawney. The puddle he keeps forgetting to avoid, the game of Jeopardy on TV that he develops a sixth sense for, the ‘background’ characters he eventually shares intimate moments with, and so on. This is a film about the ordinary becoming extraordinary, a theme that is played out with subtlety through increasing focus on various images.

Rhythm:

I can’t quite work out if writing this thing would have felt like the most exciting thing ever or chore. Probably both. As stated in ‘Form’ (above), Groundhog Day is a film that sticks, skipping like a scratched record very early in the plot. Naturally, an uneasiness is created by this as we realise that the film is quite literally going no-where. At the end of every day, Phil will indeed wake up, again, at 6.00, midway through the second verse of ‘I Got You Babe’. Thankfully, the character of Phil is so compelling that we don’t simple abandon his narrative, but actually become drawn into it, keen to see how he will cope with purgatory. However, while the plot is even and cyclical, the events that unfold are not. The film takes us through confusion, boredom, crisis, tragedy, comedy and more, with careful editing of each day to fluctuate the rhythm as is necessary. Some meetings with Ned (Bing!) are longer than others for example. The writers have given themselves enough flexibility to ensure that each repeated day is a completely new experience (despite being same ol’ same ol’…).

Tone:

I’ve kind of touched on this in ‘Rhythm’ (above). For me, Groundhog Day is a truly complete movie experience, largely due to the range of moods it throws forward. The over-arching tone is comic, watching our pathetic anti-hero battle with his own fate and negotiate various funny situations. But, within that, we get a tangible sense of tragedy throughout. Phil is trapped, in a heaven or hell of his own creation and this is deeply disturbing. In the film’s third act we see Phil take himself to the brink of oblivion and beyond, deciding to end his life in spectacular fashion (driving off a cliff in a high speed police chase having taken the town’s groundhog hostage). The high drama of this is met with what I feel to be the coldest response the writers could muster – waking up again, to start the same day. The pain and joy this creates is summarised in that beautiful/tragic montage of Phil continuing to commit suicide in every way imaginable, culminating in a graceful slow-motion fall from the top of a building. This is joy and pain, release and tragedy all rolled into one. On the one hand Phil can live like there’s no tomorrow (which is great) but he’s faced with an infinity that will be shaped by his own imagination (which is terrifying).

What’s all the more remarkable is that the writers do not shy away from the comedy that underpins this tragedy, or vice versa. Phil’s suicides become a running gag of sorts, and when he eventually opens up to Andie McDowell in the café, he does so with a casual sense of indifference that invites us to laugh. “I’m a god” he says, and we have to smile. If not, we might cry.

Ultimately, the film, for all its comic moments and saccharine-sweet “let’s live here” ending, is actually quite dark. Phil is forced to dismantle his entire person and discover the meaning of love and face his own mortality, before he is allowed to move on. The over-riding tone of this resolution is relief, but a relief swathed in joy. We have seen the trauma he undergoes for his ‘happy ending’, and I don’t think the writers are asking us to question the validity of his redemption.

Subject matter:

Reading back over what I’ve just written, I don’t think that it’s an accident that there are scattered references to religion and spirituality in here. For me, even as the 11 year-old I was when this film was first released, Groundhog Day felt important because it is a discourse in what it is to be human. One of life’s greatest challenges is routine; the simple fact that as we age, life becomes a cycle of stuff that we must negotiate and deal with whilst attempting to work out what it all ‘means’. From a pessimistic point of view, life is exactly like a broken record – a grid that we inhabit until we die. And how do we prevent this grid from defeating us? Do we bludgeon forward and do the same thing we did yesterday, hoping change will greet us tomorrow? (like Phil’s first few repeated days) Do we indulge in hedonism with bad food, money and sex? (like Phil experiments with) Do we admit defeat and let our lives die? (like Phil). No. Phil tries all of this and none of it works. So, what is this film fundamentally about?

Sounds cheesy, but the answer is love. Phil can only move on in life when he gives himself up to love completely and without equivocation – the love of art (literature and music….), the love of others (helping as many people as he can, trying to save a dying homeless man he used to ignore, catching a falling boy from a tree…), self love (learning an instrument, reading widely, learning to ice-sculpt…) and, of course, true romantic love. The film culminates in a ‘perfect day’. Phil’s deep, rich, new-found love, puts his own well-being as secondary to that of the people around him, and as a result, he doesn’t even have to try to woo Andi McD. She comes to him.

One of the film’s most poignant lines is, ironically, one of its most cheesy, when Phil announces ‘let’s live here’. He makes his own heaven out of what could very easily be hell – a deeply profound and spiritual idea. We create our own fate and shape our own destinies, regardless of how restrictive the grid of living may appear to be. What a film.

-Unseen Flirtations