Tuesday, April 28, 2009

National Poetry Month: Prestwick House Recommends

The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot

As we approach the end of “the cruelest month,” we can’t let Thomas Stearns Eliot’s masterpiece of allusion, prophecy, and parody get by without a word, so my poem for the month is The Waste Land.

Link to full text.

I was a bit hesitant to choose it for the same reason that the college professors that put it on their syllabus all too often miss actually teaching it. The density of allusions, the shifting voices, and the changing styles all make this poem particularly difficult explore in a brief form like a lecture or two or a short blog post, so this will be far from a comprehensive look at the poem.

The title of the poem is taken from the myth of the Fisher King, in which a wounded king’s impotence spreads to his kingdom, rendering it a wasteland. Eliot’s waste land is the spiritual disillusionment of isolation and confinement in a modern world still reeling from the horrors of World War I.

With an original working title of “He Do the Police in Different Voices,” The Waste Land is told by a single narrator speaking in a variety of evocative voices, and at times it’s difficult to determine separation between the narrator and the voices that he speaks through. In addition to changing between voices, he often changes languages – speaking in Greek, German, French, Sanskrit, and Italian in addition to multiple English dialects. Each of those voices of the narrator tell a story of isolation, loss, and desire, from Marie remembering the loss of freedom of her youth to Tireseas’s recounting of a loveless affair.

The first section, “The Burial of the Dead,” opens with the famous lines:

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

The poem opens with an emotional reversal of the common poetic image of springtime regeneration and turns rebirth from a celebration into a lamentation.

When the narrator speaks directly to the audience, he speaks of the condition of the waste land and he invites the reader to see the world as he sees it—to watch the people coming over London Bridge like Dante’s dead walking into hell, to see selfish relationships and isolation, to consider that the audience is just as mortal as the drowned Phoenician sailor.

In the final section, we see London falling like ancient cities, dry rock with no water to quench the thirst of the traveler, images of hell and of the Castle Perilous, and mankind searching for divine interpretations, before the Fisher King finally asks, “Shall I at least set my lands in order?”

The poem’s final stanzas don’t bring much hope with them as they repeat the children’s rhyme of London Bridge’s collapse, a quote from Dante, a prince at an abolished tower, the madness of a father who’s son is murdered, are held as “fragments… shored against my ruins,” as the narrator repeats, possibly hopelessly, the dictum of the Indian advice of the thunder – Datta (Charity), Dayadhvam (Sympathy), and Damyata(Self Control) before signing off with a thrice repeated wish for peace.

While the poem has been criticized for being deliberately opaque, needlessly convoluted, and full of obscure allusions*, each time I come to The Waste Land, I find something new. By using rich allusions, the characters are given a depth that isn’t possible in just a few words and the hopelessness of the modern world is given epic proportions. Sure, The Waste Land isn’t an easy poem, but it’s not meant to be, and part of the joy is picking it up, time and time again, to find new details.

Find this poem and others in:

*See HP Lovecraft's parody, Waste Paper.

Tuesday Trivia

  1. What is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order?
  2. The word “girl” appears only once in what world-famous literary work?
  3. Which French novelist and playwright dabbled in the art of hypnotism?
  4. In what year was the first public library opened in America?
  5. Which celebrated Victorian novelist toyed with the names “Small Sam” and “Puny Pete” before settling on the well-known character name he chose?

Last Week's Answers

The first published drawings of what famous children's book author-illustrator appeared in a physics text entitled Atomics for the Millions?

Maurice Sendak. The text was written by one of his high-school teachers. Sendak received a passing grade and small fee for his efforts.

In the book Gone With the Wind, how many months actually pass during Melanie's' pregnancy?

Approximately 21 based on the battles mentioned in the text. When this was pointed out to author Margaret Mitchell, she reportedly replied that “a Southerner's pace is slower than that of a Yankee.”

What Alfred Hitchcock movie title is drawn from Shakespeare's Hamlet?

North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant feigns madness. The title is taken from Hamlet's words: "I am but mad north-northwest; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

What did writer Edgar Allan Poe and singer Jerry Lee Lewis have in common pertaining to their choice of wives?

Both married a 13-year-old cousin.

How did Voltaire rid himself of tiresome guests?

Voltaire got rid of boring guests by pretending to faint.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Prestwick House Named 2009 AEP Finalist

A special thanks to all of the “Prestwickians” who worked on this year’s Distinguished Achievement Awards Finalists: Jeremy Clark, Jerry Clark, Darlene Gilmore, Douglas Grudzina, Larry Knox, Jen Mendoza, Paul Moliken, and Magedah Shabo.

Curriculum: Self-Guided Material (Grades 9-12)

Techniques of Propaganda and Persuasion is an essential collection of the most common propaganda techniques. Clear definitions, compelling examples, and engaging activities give students a solid understanding of the power of words and images to manipulate public opinion and behavior.

Curriculum: Self-Guided Material (Grades 9-12)

Discovering Genre: Drama boasts three full-length plays: Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Shaw’s Pygmalion, and Chekhov’s The Seagull. These classic plays help students to explore the unique aspects of drama as a literary genre. The book includes questions that will enable students to understand the choices a playwright makes in creating a work for the stage. The first book in this series, Discovering Genre: Poetry, won the DAA in 2007.

Curriculum: Self-Guided Material (Grades 9-12)

Writing an A+ Research Paper A Road Map for Beginning and Experienced Writers guides students through the entire process of writing a research paper with comprehensive sections on topics such as citing Internet sources and how to avoid plagiarism. Unlike other books on writing research papers that merely supply rules and examples, this new guide from Prestwick House helps students develop their skills by having them, step-by-step, assist two fictional students who are writing papers at the same time.

Curriculum: Reading and Language Arts (Grades 9-12)

Lead-Ins to Literature: The Great Gatsby is a comprehensive introduction to the book in convenient PowerPoint format. This informative, colorful, illustrated presentation contains more than 70 slides, detailing all of the rich background of the Roaring Twenties, a brief biography of Fitzgerald, a discussion of symbols, and many essential facts about the book. Its modern presentation is sure to appeal to today’s interactive media-savvy students.

Friday, April 24, 2009

When Music and Literature Collide.

by Larry Knox, Art Director

If you listen to contemporary music, there’s a good chance you will eventually come across a lyric, or a song title, that references a familiar work of literature. Always an enjoyable moment for me, I consider it a wink from the artist who is revealing a little bit about themselves and their creative process.

This can often work in reverse as well. How often have you stumbled across a book title, phrase, or theme that sounds familiar only to realize it was a lyric in a favorite song? The song often takes on a new meaning at this point. It’s as if you just heard it for the first time — a free download, if you will.

In some cases, band or artist names are derived from works of literature or even their authors that have profoundly influenced artists at some point on their artistic journey (Bob Dylan/Dylan Thomas comes to mind).Handfuls of these are fairly well known among music aficionados and pop culturalists such as: The Doors (Aldous Huxley), Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse), Soft Machine and Nova Express (William S. Burroughs).

There are also lesser-known bands and artists (many older or on independent labels) that take the literary route to give their particular vision a unique, but often hidden, voice. Here are a few. (And as always, feel free to add to more in the comments section below).

Soft Machine from a novel by William Burroughs

Nova Express from a novel by William Burroughs

The Doors, ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, All things would appear … infinite’– Blake then a book-title, The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley.

Flock of Seagulls, after the novel by Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

The Grateful Dead, although the story goes that it was chosen at random from a dictionary, the Grateful Dead is also a type of folktale in which a dead person, who has been mistreated in life or not been given a proper burial, rewards the stranger who rectifies his injustice–thus the term “grateful dead.”

Grace Pool, character in Jane Eyre

Ministry of Love, from 1984

Manhattan Transfer, title of a novel by John Dos Passos

New Riders of the Purple Sage, from the Zane Grey novel, Riders of the Purple Sage

Oberon William Shakespeare's play, A Midsummer Night's Dream

101ers, the torture room in 1984

Steppenwolf from a novel by Hermann Hesse

Sixpence None the Richer, phrase from Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Tears for Fears, book by Arthur Janov

This Mortal Coil, Hamlet, III, 1.

Uriah Heep -the villain in David Copperfield

Veruca Salt, the spoiled rich girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Weena Morloch, character from Wells’s Time Machine

The Fall, from the Albert Camus book.

The Dead Milkmen, from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

Level 42, from Douglas Adams' The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Modest Mouse, from the story "The Mark On The Wall" by Virginia Woolf:

"I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought, a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear their own praises."

Collective Soul from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead

Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, from the book by J.D. Salinger.

Silverchair, from the C.S. Lewis book The Silver Chair.

Bob Dylan, the Dylan, as mentioned before, is a reference to author, Dylan Thomas.

The Boo Radleys – character from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Genesis - The Bible

Moby (singer/songwriter Richard Melville Hall) According to Hall, his middle name and the nickname "Moby" were given to him by his parents because of an ancestral relationship to Moby Dick author Herman Melville.

Humble Pie is a phrase used often in English Literature, most famously by Uriah Heep in Dickens' David Copperfield

The Caulfield Sisters, named after Holden's sister Phoebe from Catcher in the Rye

Secret Goldfish, also from Catcher in the Rye

Rollerskate Skinny, from Catcher in the Rye

Faith No More, from the 1983 book by John Shelby Spong

Judas Priest, The Bible John 12:7: "From the heart of Judas, a priest born to be." (Actually the name is derived from a Bob Dylan song, which was most likely taken from the above source...)

The Feelies, from Brave New World

The Ophelias after the character in Hamlet

The Catcher in the Rye seems to win the prize for the most used source (no surprise there).

I would imagine a list of song titles and lyrics inspired by literature would be considerably longer,but I’ll save that for another blog post.

Rock on...literally.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The American Shakespeare Center

Earlier today, I mentioned that we published ShakesFear by Ralph Cohen, Director of Mission of the American Shakespeare Center. We've also partnered with the ASC in the production on most of our Shakespeare Literary Touchstone Classics. The ASC is a fantastic theater organization for anyone who lives in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Located in beautiful Stanton, VA, the ASC has a reproduction of Shakespeare's Blackfriar's Theater where they perform Shakespeare all year long. Spring's a fantastic time to visit, as they're located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, and they have a great season going on. Right now, you can see Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Comedy of Errors if you head down for a weekend -- three of my favorite plays.

In addition to the school group rates, special matinee performances, and teacher programs that they have for people who visit their theater, they're also provide Study Guides for each play in their repetoire and have a regular podcast and blog with useful information for those studying and performing the plays.

Kurosawa and Shakespeare

What do I like more than Shakespeare?

Shakespeare with Samurai!

One of the world’s greatest directors, Akira Kurosawa directed a two films based on Shakespeare -- Ran, based on King Lear, and Throne of Blood, based on Macbeth.

Ran is one of Kurosawa’s first color films and is one of the most beautiful movies ever put to cellulose. The transfer from England to feudal Japan works perfectly, and this is my favorite version of Lear.

Throne of Blood is a unique take on Macbeth. While the story remains the same, Kurosawa blends Shakespeare with Japanese traditional Noh drama. The heavily stylized movements of Lady MacBeth mimic and other characters give this a distinctly Japanese feel. In the above photo, you'll see Throne of Blood's version of Lady Macbeth, Asaji, horrified and trying to "wash this blood clean from [her] hands." Throughout this scene Asaji holds this terrible look on her face like a Noh mask.

If you’d like to give your students the chance to compare a few director’s interpretations of Shakspeare, I’d recommend picking up these movies at the video store to show a dramatically different take on Shakespeare.

Talk Like Shakespeare Day

Taking off of the idea of Talk like a Pirate Day, this year, people are pushing today as “Talk Like Shakespeare Day.” A rather lofty goal if you ask me – to practice speaking like the greatest author in English? Or you could just sprinkle in a few “‘tises” and ‘Zounds” into your vocabulary and be happy with the small effort.

Tips and Tricks to Focus Students at the Beginning of Class

by Paul Moliken

Senior Editor and Former High School English Teacher

During the twenty years I taught High School English, primarily to slower students, who were unmotivated and resented being in class in the first place, I found some techniques unrelated to what my classes believed were English-oriented could be used to begin a class period; employing these sometimes settled down some of the distracting issues students had. Certainly, it didn’t work all the time, but the bored, the hyperactive, the angry, the jilted, etc., could at least have something other than “work” to look forward to, at least for a few minutes, before their “actual English” class began.

Cryptograms are useful, and these can be enjoyable, as most kids like to solve puzzles, especially if the solutions contain some element of humor. You can make them up yourself or have a computer organize them for you. Puzzles about topical subjects, people in the news, or odd bits of information are good ones for students to decipher. Google “cryptogram-generator” if you decide to pursue the computer route; many exist, and some will offer a hint that will aid students in completing the cryptogram. My students appreciated those with apostrophes, double letters, or one-letter words in the puzzles. Sometimes, if the day called for in-class compositions, the cryptogram could provide an impetus.

Related to cryptograms are anagrams. Compose a phrase and see how many words of more than three or four letters students can locate. The question I always had to answer was similar to, “Can we use a letter more than once?” Of course, the answer was, “Only if it’s in there more than once.”

Another quick, easy beginning that I used was to place an interesting, complicated, amorphous, or even extremely specific and concrete picture in front of the class that students would see immediately upon entering the room. I would survey the class and ask for captions, titles, or general reactions. These, like the cryptograms, could also inspire or stimulate creative student writing.

Simple puzzles that are word-related stimulated the students’ thought process also. Some examples, both old ones and a few I just looked up:

a. What’s a common eight-letter singular noun that has only one vowel?

b. Change punctuation and capitalization on the following text message so that it means the opposite of what is intended. It is from a Governor to a prison warden about a prisoner: “Pardon impossible! To be executed tomorrow.”

c. Take the letters ERGRO. Put three letters in front of it, and the same three letters behind to form a common English word.

d. What singer’s name can be made by rearranging these words: Western Video

e. Place the same three letters in front of these words to make completely different words: sport, time, sage, sword.

f. What common word contains a double C, double S, and double L in that order?

g. Name ten parts of your body that have only three letters each. [For this one, you need to make sure to eliminate slang and any vulgarity as possible choices.]

h. Place the same three letters in the missing spaces to form new words: T­­E_ _ _ER and EAR_ _ _E

i. What popular TV show’s title can be formed by rearranging these words? A PERSON SHOT

j. What do these three sentences have in common?

· Eat to live; never live to eat.

· All for one and one for all.

· You can cage a swallow, can't you, but you can't swallow a cage, can you?

Many more word puzzles can be found online simply by searching for “puzzles,” “word games,” etc. The answers to the questions appear at the end of this blog entry, by the way.

A quick game of “hangman” to start a class may seem like a waste of time, but solving the puzzle within a five-minute time limit can give reluctant students something to be proud of—at the least, many will enjoy seeing the cartoon figure hanged.

Use the Internet to generate your own crossword, word find, or other types of popular puzzles, hand these out, and see students who wouldn’t usually be interested show some spark. It’s certainly easier nowadays than when I tried to find them last century.


The Answers

a. Strength

b. Pardon! Impossible to be executed tomorrow!

c. UNDergroUND

d. Stevie Wonder

e. PAS

f. suCCeSSfuLLy

g. arm, lip, ear, gum, rib, leg, toe, eye, hip, jaw

h. teACHer, earACHe

i. The Sopranos

j. They are all “word palindromes”; they read word-for-word the same backwards as forwards. Don’t confuse them

with actual palindromes, which are spelled the same way backwards as forwards: toot; Otto; Madam, I’m Adam; A

man, a plan, a canal, Panama.

ShakesFear Reviews

First up, we’ve recently been getting some great press on Ralph Cohen, of the American Shakespeare Center’s book, ShakesFear: and How to Cure It.

Kirk G. Ramussen of The Rocky Mountain Review writes, “If you are just starting your career, or have been assigned to teach Shakespeare for the first time and are suffering your own form of 'ShakesFear,' Cohen’s Handbook will provide cheerful assistance in your time of trial. Cohen is a wise and logical man whose book will become your friend immediately… Cohen’s book will become your desktop (not bookshelf) “go-to,” no matter how many years you have taught Shakespeare.”

Link (Subscription Required)

Julian Lopez-Morillas of playShakespeare.com writes, “…Cohen’s approach is refreshing…. His techniques stress the vitality of Shakespeare in performance, emphasizing the openness of the works to alternative interpretations…. The reader is left with the feeling that Cohen's students have been unusually fortunate to study Shakespeare with a teacher whose unconventional approach, born in a sincere love of the plays, seeks to keep them accessible, relevant and inclusive.”


We’re proud to have worked with Dr. Cohen on this book, and if you’re teaching Shakespeare, you owe it to your students to check it out.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare!

The study of Shakespeare’s life is full of assumptions, best guesses, and wild conjecture. Was he a secret Catholic spy? A nobleman hiding his identity? Sir Francis Bacon? Or the son of a minor civil servant and glove maker?

The first of many mysteries of Shakespeare’s life, the date of his birth is unknown, but we celebrate it, today, April 23rd, 3 days before the recorded baptism of a William Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

So, today in honor of the birth of the greatest author in the English language, we have a handful of posts today that celebrate Shakespeare.