At the start of February, a number of students attended a lecture at Cambridge University to listen to Dr Josie O’Donoghue, Dr Fred Parker and Dr Scott Annet speak about poems from the anthology “Poems of the Decade”. We each to write an account of their experience!
“On Wednesday the 1st of February, the English Literature A-Level students took a trip up to Cambridge to attend a lecture on poems from the anthology “Poems of the Decade”. These poems are part of the A level course. The outing was enjoyable and educational.
The first speaker, Dr Josie O’Donoghue, was enjoyable to listen to and brought to light some interesting points we had not discussed in class. This knowledge is useful as we can see the poems from a different perspective, a point Dr O’Donoghue was telling us to consider. Personal perspective is very important when it comes to poetry.
When we arrived in Cambridge, we saw the beautiful architecture around every corner, cobbled streets and houses with arches and spires. The old fashioned feel of the area produced a sense of history, literature, culture. The Cambridge Union Society building was incredible and inspiring. The room where the lecture took place was filled with hundreds of books. They had a collection of the satirical newspaper “Punch” dating from 1842 to 1983. There were bound volumes of Milton, Byron, and many others.
Dr Fred Parker, the second lecturer, is Director of English at Clare College. He discussed poems such as “The Chainsaw vs The Pampas Grass” by Simon Armitage, “Material” by Ros Barber, “Inheritance” by Eavan Boland, “Genetics” by Sínead Morrissey, “To My Nine Year Old Self” by Helen Dunmore, and “The Gun” by Vicki Feaver. He found common themes, including the passing of time and generations within these poems; what our parents give or leave us with. The theme of gender and gender struggle was pointed out in “The Gun” and “Inheritance” but not as forcibly in “The Chainsaw vs the Pampas Grass”.
The third and final speaker was Dr Scott Annet from Northern Ireland. He was, in my opinion, the best speaker there. He engaged with us really well, touched on ideas and made connections I had not thought of before. The poems analysed were “The Deliverer” by Tishani Doshi, “The Map Woman” by Carol Ann Duffy, “The Furthest Distance I’ve Travelled” by Leonitia Flynn, “Look We Have Coming To Dover” by Daijit Nagra, and “You, My Mum, and Shiva” by Ruth Padel. Common themes were how deeply the past is rooted in us and how we can change, how that change can be difficult. It was very enjoyable as he spoke clearly and picked up on interesting points. The poems chosen were not my favourites but my mind was changed on a few on leaving.”
– Roisin Spragg
“The University Debating Chamber, specifically the library, emitted a certain energy connected with academia and seriousness. It was the same sort of energy that I have always longed for, and the sort I was determined not to let go of on leaving the campus.
The poetry workshop only increased this sudden sense of seriousness and academia. However, it also opened my mind as to the way I perceived poems (in this case I’m referring mainly to the poems discussed at the workshop) and the immense power my past life has to affect the ways in which I view them”
– María de los Angeles Nucette Fabelo
“Dr O’Donoghue mentioned that there was a “Frankenstein’s monster effect” in the poem ‘Eat me’ This poem uses a disturbing approach to illustrate an idea about the ‘female body’. ‘She’ does not have any hesitation when ‘he’ asks her to eat. ‘She’ is his pleasure. The first speaker did not really explain the monster effect but I think that the woman in ‘Eat me’ can be compared to the monster in ‘Frankenstein’. Both of them destroy the ‘creator’ in the end, especially in the poem “Eat me”, where there is a reversal situation at the end which forms a contrast with the woman’s prior position. ‘I rolled and he drowned in my flesh./ I drowned his dying sentence out.”-
– Queena He
“The Union at first was impressive; the height of the ceilings showed the royalty of the architecture. The main room was bursting with ancient books; shelves upon shelves greeted us in the conference room. The side room had a table which could have easily accommodated at least two football teams! The sheer vastness endorsed the prestige that Cambridge University is widely associated with.
Dr O’Donoghue I thought was quite helpful with some of her ideas about the poems that we had studied; she talked about the changing pressures on society. An intriguing idea was explained in Patience Agbabi’s ‘Eat Me’ that the ‘he’ was not the villain but rather the speaker’s victim. This is due to the fact he was described as a shipwreck and the speaker, a ‘whale’. So therefore he went to the speaker for support and the ‘whale drowned’ him; switching the roles and showing an alternative interpretation.
Dr Parker gave some unique ideas for example in ‘To My Nine-Year-Old Self’ by Helen Dunmore, he brought to my attention the use of structure and especially enjambment within stanza two. He showed how split the stanza is. The last three lines employ enjambment. This sense of movement is a representation of the child Dunmore is trying to communicate with. The enjambment shows how carefree and how free-flowing the life of a child is. It can be seen as an ode to Dunmore’s nine-year-old self. Whereas, in contrast, the first three lines are end-stopped which could be seen as showing the seriousness that is required in adulthood. It could show how Dunmore has matured but wants to return to being free again.” –
– Nik Haria
“When we left it was still relatively dark and cold with a touch of rain. Small swirls of fog surrounded the mini-bus for the first half of the journey as if it were some divine shield protecting us.
On arrival the other students and I sat around on couches and chairs; eating, chatting and recovering from the long ride. We had arrived quite early, but after some time, were led upstairs by someone I presumed to be the manager of the Union to an old library which looked as if it had been taken out of ‘Harry Potter’. The appearance of the place was on a whole new level of vintage, but just the smell of the books made me feel I had travelled back in time and gave a sense of déjà vu which was odd.
The third and final speaker, Dr Scott Annet was very effective and efficient because when he shared the points with us, he gave us the much needed time to write everything down.
All in all, I feel the trip was extremely beneficial and was a great experience as I learned a lot that day and visited a place I’d never been to before, but only heard about!”
– Sulaiman Bahelmi
The Students and College would like to say a big thank you to Mr Richards who kindly drove the students to the event!