Sunday, 27 October 2013

Charade (1)

The first, the mark of worth to those
Across the pond, the Yankee men.

And next, the ruler, lord, and who
In death will be replaced again.

The third, the lowest of the low,
The flesh that's eaten off the bone.

But when we put them all in one,
We find our ruler’s lovely home. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

'A Prayer for Owen Meany' - A Brief Review

I’m not entirely sure what spurred our school to hold a Great Read this quarter (it’s not as if we don’t read enough already), but I suppose it means that the few people that don’t read will have a motive for doing so. However, this was rather annoying for me because not only did I have to read A Prayer for Owen Meany, for the Great Read, but I also had to read Austen’s Emma, for English, both of which I was given a deadline for. This inevitably put me under quite a lot of pressure this half term to finish these two books, and, thankfully, I have just finished A Prayer for Owen Meany. I detest being forced to read certain books, particularly when I have a long list of other books that I actually want to read.

My school selected four or five books for the Great Read, from which each of the students had to choose one. Having read the ‘blurbs’ of each book on the Internet, I concluded that A Prayer for Owen Meany was my type of book, and so I chose it – what a mistake. How long is Slaughterhouse-Five? About 200 pages. How long is A Prayer for Owen Meany? About 700 pages. This is not to say that I don’t love reading, it’s just that I like to choose my own books and to read them in my own time and not to a deadline. And so I pushed Austen’s masterpiece (which I was very looking forward to) aside, and opened this gigantic tome.

The International Best-Seller, written in 1989 by John Irving (born John Wallace Blunt Jr.), tells the tale of John Wheelwright and what he learns from his best friend (who also killed John’s mother), Owen Meany. John is a perfectly normal boy; Owen is not. He is so small that even looking at him frightens people, his voice is peculiarly loud and high-pitched (as if he is always screaming), he has strange visions of the future (particularly about his own death), and, as we find out later, he was supposedly born of a virgin birth. Strange? I agree. And so it is no surprise that Owen Meany believes himself to be ‘God’s instrument’, and also that, in some ways, he sees himself as the next Christ.

John Irving has written a huge number of very successful books, and A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of his most renowned. The use of two narratives – both from John Wheelwright’s perspective, one in the present day, and one following his childhood with Owen Meany – adds a very interesting angle, although I have to admit that I found the part about his later life particularly boring. The reference to both present and past made it even more impressive that John Irving was able to let the plot steadily unravel, without accidentally giving any hints of the future. This is especially evident when we discover that Owen thought that he was born of a virgin birth – something that was hidden from us throughout the story.

A homage to Gunter Grass' famous novel The Tin Drum, A Prayer for Owen Meany tells of the spiritual journey of John Wheelwright, who realizes his faith following his experiencing of Owen Meany’s miracles. In fact, throughout the novel there is a recurring theme of the miraculous – for example, Owen Meany’s remarkable death. It is also very clear that religion is the main theme of the novel, and we know this for a number of reasons – the constant reference to churches, the likeness of Owen to Jesus, and John’s lifelong virginity, only revealed at the end.

My favorite part of the novel was when Owen starts to write for the Gravesend Academy newsletter, The Grave, and he becomes known by all as ‘The Voice’. I enjoy this part, not only because he always writes IN CAPITALS, but also because of how he suddenly, fully grows up and becomes the Owen Meany he really is.

Of course there are hundreds of ideas and themes that I haven’t touched on, and as it is such a long book, I think it would bore you if I did – I also don’t want to ruin the story. It’s a brilliant book, and I recommend it to anybody who needs something to read on holiday or after work. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

About My Blog

I started my blog in February 2010, after my mother insisted that I post my poetry somewhere. This was because, when I was 12, I was highly commended in a school poetry competition (the award being a master class with Andrew Motion, which, they told me, would be wasted on a twelve year old, and so I was excluded), and had started writing little bits of free verse (which, I can assure you, weren’t very good). And so in 2010 I posted three poems on my blog, which was originally called (embarrassingly) ‘Teen Poetry’, and didn’t look at it again until 2012 – in fact I had completely forgotten its existence. However, when I realised how many poems I had written over the two years, I decided to put it all on my blog, which I renamed ‘Tom Bailey’s Blog’, which it is called to this day.

And so in 2012 I posted about 10 poems, alongside a couple of blogs about things that interested me (Synaesthesia, a play review etc.). I only really began to cultivate my interest in writing this time last year, when I joined the local newspaper and wrote my first article for the school magazine. It was also then that I decided that I wanted to be a journalist, and since then I have been pretty set on that goal. And so in December 2012 I posted all of my articles for The Oundle Chronicle, which received some good reception, and then began posting every bit of writing I did – this included creative writing from English lessons, poems, and even my own Latin translations!

Up until March this year, I rarely wrote anything specifically for my blog, and I only started doing this after I attended a lecture at school by Bauer Media. They put a huge amount of stress on the importance of writing, and particularly blogging, in your free time, if you wanted to become a journalist. And it was after that that I started writing almost daily for a month or two – until, sadly, I was impeded by those terrible things called GCSEs. One of my blogs from this period was featured on the NoMorePage3 campaign page, which felt great, and I got a lot of positive feedback from this. Furthermore, all of my family began reading my blog, and this is also when I began posting it onto Facebook for my friends to see.

As I said earlier, I barely wrote anything while I was revising for my GCSEs, and only reinitiated my blogging in July. It was then that I made my Facebook page, which now has 640 likes, and my Twitter profile, and also when I started interviewing interesting people I knew for blogs.

However, while I was doing all this, and writing all these blogs, I had slowly stopped writing poetry, and I think I got rather bored of it. It was only when my English teacher set us the assignment of writing a Shakespearean sonnet that I really started writing poetry again, and learnt of the joys of iambic pentameters etc. Since then, I have begun to dislike my old free verse poetry, and all the poetry I write now has a fixed metre, which I much prefer.

Nowadays I try to write a blog or a poem every day, mainly in the hope of improving my writing, and also in the hope that some people are actually interested in what I have to say, although I often doubt that. But with sixth-form work looming over me, I have less and less time to actually write. I often find myself in bed on my laptop, late at night, trying to piece together a poem, or otherwise to finish my C1 Maths prep. Anyway, I hope that you have enjoyed reading all of my blog posts, and don’t get annoyed by my constant posting – and if you do, I’m not going to stop!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

'The Mirror' - A Brief Interpretation of Plath's Poem

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
What ever you see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful---
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

The beginning of 'The Mirror', which was written by Sylvia Plath two years before her suicide, is very straightforward, and its title immediately notifies the reader that it is about a mirror, and that the poem is written from the perspective of the mirror – this is the ‘I’. The mirror is personified, and it has ‘no preconceptions’ and nor is it misted ‘by love or dislike’. By telling us this, Plath is setting the scene and explaining that the mirror is completely objective in what it shows. It may have its own opinion (and this is suggested by the words ‘I swallow immediately’ – another bit of personification), but it certainly doesn’t present it – it is ‘only truthful’ and ‘not cruel’. However, this is a slight contradiction – surely it is cruel to tell an ugly person they are ugly? Or to point out the bad traits in people, when they are unable to change them?

The personification of the mirror presents the reader with a paradox – unlike most people, the mirror is unaffected by what it has seen in the past, and so is, in a way, more honest than the average person. We must remember that this is all from the mirror’s own perspective, and this self-appraisal could be seen as arrogance. Our dislike for the mirror is increased when it explains that it ‘swallows’ what we see. Unlike the word ‘reflect’ (which could be used instead), ‘swallow’ is rather ominous, and therefore the mirror becomes slightly scary and perhaps loathsome. The self-appraisal is continued when the mirror says that it is like ‘The eye of a little god.’ This, again, is rather arrogant, and possibly makes us dislike the mirror even more. It then says ‘four-cornered’, and the idea that a mirror is a four-cornered eye is, to me, rather frightening.

The mirror then goes on to explain that it ‘meditates on the opposite wall’ for the majority of its life, which suggests that it has become rather attached to it. This is highlighted by the line ‘I think it is a part of my heart’. We now begin to warm to the mirror slightly, and we feel sympathy for it. Our sympathy is increased by the line ‘But it flickers’ and ‘Faces and darkness separate us over and over.’ This is sad because the mirror is not able to see the opposite wall, which is possibly a metaphor for a lover.

The second stanza is very different from the first, and the narrator is now ‘a lake’. In this stanza, however, we meet a woman, presumably Sylvia Plath, and she is searching the lake for her reflection (‘searching my reaches’). Here the mirror/lake is presented as rather spiteful, referring to the moon and candles as ‘liars’ because they make people look more beautiful – the narrator is proud of its honesty.

Many people believe that the lake in the second stanza is meant to portray Ted Hughes. Sylvia Plath has spent so long with him in order to find out ‘what she really is’, but is unable to find out. She then ‘rewards’ Hughes ‘with tears and an agitation of hands’. This could be a metaphor for her long depression following her separation from Hughes. Again, Plath portrays the narrator (presumably Hughes) as arrogant and proud by writing ‘I am important to her. She comes and goes.’ In a way she is admitting that she ought to forget Hughes, but finds it hard to leave him, and continues to come and go. Finally, she writes ‘In me she has drowned a young girl’. Plath suggests that she has wasted her youth with Ted Hughes, and she is now ‘an old woman’. This theme is seen in many of Plath’s poems, and it is clear that she believes that she wasted many years with Hughes. Finally, the idea of the lake resurfaces with the line ‘like a terrible fish’. The contrast between the words ‘drowned’ and ‘rises’ symbolise the idea of losing youth and gaining age, which Plath appears to have experienced.

The poem ends rather abruptly, and leaves us feeling particularly melancholy. Plath, in just 18 lines has explored a huge amount – aging, truth, love, depression. By using the metaphor of the lake, she was able to subtly take a dig at Hughes, by presenting him as arrogant and proud, while presenting herself as his victim. The poem is also a way for Plath to say goodbye to her youth, which she believes that she has long lost, due to the time she spent with Hughes. Finally, and in a slightly funny way, she suggests that she now looks ‘like a terrible fish’ – lovely!

Also, please have a look at my two recreative poems of 'The Mirror':


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pascal's Wager (2)

Pretend that you believe in him;
it’s hard for me to do, as well.
Although the Church may seem so grim
at least you wont be burnt in Hell .