Thursday, July 22, 2010

AGTO Day Four: All the Other Stuff

Wednesday was a packed day, we had three lectures instead of two. The first one was with former Poet Laureate of Britain, Sir Andrew Motion. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1999, and it's usually a position that last the person's life, which is why it's usually given when the person is older. They're moving away from that now, and having terms like the U.S. Sir Andrew said he would do it for ten years, because he felt that anything he could do could be done in ten years, and if he hadn't done it by then he probably wasn't going to.

His main project while Poet Laureate was the Poetry Archive. The poetry archive is an online resource with educational materials. 200,000 people use it per a month. So don't let anyone tell you that no one reads poetry anymore. In fact, people read poetry more than ever before. The Internet has been very good for poetry.

Sir Andrew read us a number of his poems. The first series he read to use were about war. The second series were love poems about his wife, but they were all kind of wryly funny. I especially enjoyed "The New York Planetarium." The last series he read was about his parents. Sir Andrew had a very nice reading voice; quite and calm. I guess I don't really read a lot of poetry. I don't dislike poetry, but I also don't sit down to read a book of it. I liked his poems though.

Second lecture of the day was Jim Basker, who is the founder and president of Oxbridge Academic. He's been at all the events and is really nice. In his actual life, he's an English professor at Barnard College and Columbia University. His talk was called "Literature Makes History: How Poets Helped End Slavery." It was fascinating. He's made a study of slavery literature in the 18th century, and has published a book called Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems About Slavery, 1660-1810. Get it.

He gave us a packet of poems and discussed them. The first one was "Amazing Grace." Jim talked about that when he does this poem with his students, he asks them what comes to mind when they think of this poem. They say things like, "church music, Black community, gospel music, funeral music, etc." "Amazing Grace" was written by a white Evangelical preacher named John Newton, who at one point was involved in the slave trade. He used to be a slave ship captain. He had a conversion in his 20s, renounced the slave trade, among other things, became an abolitionist and a preacher. Knowing that and reading the complete poem sure made me think about it differently. Jim used this to explain that slavery is not just a Black subject.

We went through most of the packet with Jim talking about the different poems and the significance they held. There were lots of them, the poems were really interesting and it seems like a great opportunity for some cross-curricular work, right? English and history? It was great.

At dinner we played a game ingeniously titled, "Name that Inspirational Teacher Movie." We went around (there were five of us playing) and each person had to name an inspirational teacher movie until you couldn't think of any more. Movies about inspirational coaches counts if the coach had an effect on the student's academic achievement. Examples: Dead Poets Society, Mr. Holland's Opus, Freedom Writers, In and Out, etc. You could play this game for hours.

After dinner we heard David Benedictus speak, who is the author of Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, the Winnie-the-Pooh sequel. Benedictus is teaching at Oxford Prep right now. He told us a bit about his life before he wrote the book, which was fascinating. He's done a lot of really cool stuff. He wrote his first novel in 1962, and it was a best seller. His second novel was turned into a movie and he worked on the screenplay. He's worked for the BBC and channel 4, invented a horse racing system, wrote a lot more books and went into audio book publishing.

At first they worked on a series called "Poets for Pleasure," but they never sold any. Then they decided to do an audio book version of Winnie-the-Pooh. At first the trustees weren't sure, they want to have actor approval. So Benedictus went out and found fabulous people, like Judi Dench to do the voices and it was approved.

After they did the audio book, Benedictus wrote a couple new Pooh stories. The first one was about Christopher Robin coming back from boarding school. The second one was about Rabbit going a bit mad and thinking he was a pirate. The trustees didn't like the Rabbit one at all. Eight years later, the trustees asked Benedictus to come in for a meeting about writing a sequel. He said that the hardest part wasn't writing the stories, which wasn't hard at all, but coming up with the plots. the original Pooh stories are really well plotted. You have an emotional connection to each of them and keep asking what comes next. He also said writing the hums was difficult, since they have to be deliberately not very good.

Benedictus also introduced a new character to the 100 Acre Wood, which the trustees weren't sure about, but which he felt was important. It would give the other characters someone new to play off of. At first he suggested a snake, but the trustees didn't like that. It ended up being an otter called Lottie.

Afterward he signed books, and yes, I got a book and got it signed. Because if there's one thing I need it's more books.

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