USING POETRY TO INSPIRE DESCRIPTIVE WRITING

Alister came up and showed me a write-up by one of the students in his Friday class. I read with some disbelief that a second language student in this school could come up with such creativity in her choice of words and ideas therefore it has compelled me to share her writing on this blog in the hope that it will inspire other students to do the same.   Sometimes, we surprise ourselves by what we can do when we put our heart and soul into exploring and penning our thoughts.

The technique used in this lesson was to try to stimulate the student’s mind by the use of poetry, in this case “Clancy of the Overflow by Banjo Patterson.” Going through in detail and carefully explaining a poem can actually inspire students to write beyond the context of their lives and experiences. No doubt they will fall back on the ideas and words used in the poem, but they will also be learning how to write creatively by seeing how others have used the language.

CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW BY BANJO PATTERSON

CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW BY BANJO PATTERSON

INTERPRETATION OF ‘CLANCY OF THE OVERFLOW’

By:  Nur Azmina bt Noordin ( unedited )

Elliot Thompson.  That’s me.  A single 29-year-old man who has chosen law as a profession and swore to defend my client whether they are innocent or guilty.  Known when promenading in the public in suits which makes me look sharp and smart.  Also, I own a small office in a department somewhere in this big city, New York.  That is how it is like to be a lawyer.

It was 18th of July.  My day went on as usual.  Desk piled up with several files of cases to solve.  Darkness surrounded my small office as a little ray of sunlight seemed to struggle through the window having been blocked by the massive height of buildings ruining the perfectly round sun.  All of these things made me feel suffocated.  My space to think became limited.

I had enough for today!  I did not know but I was not in the mood to work and I decided to let boredom claim me.  So, I checked my schedule for my appointment and I sighed in relief when I saw none.

“A little rest would not kill me,” I thought to myself.

I leaned back on my black chair which was made of fine leather, hoping to get some shut eye.  As I closed my eyes, a memory of Clancy flashed into my mind.  Clancy, a friend of mine from a little village somewhere in Australia which, I went to for vacation years ago.

I remember the flow of the Lachlan river and the greenness of wide fields filled with stock which I witnessed at our first meeting.  He was shearing one of his jumbucks wool when I approached him.  Curious on what he was doing, which looked rare to a city man like me, I got to know him and learned that he was a drover.  I persuaded him to tell me the story of his life and he gladly agreed.  So, he continued to talk with a glint of excitement in his eyes.  I assumed life was a great enjoyment for him and I envied him for that because for me life was just a long period of hectic business.

These flashbacks of memories amused me and rose in me an urge to write a letter to him.  So, I straightened myself up and immediately took a piece of paper out of the drawer.  I wrote with full focus and left my work undone.

Unexpectedly, a reply came a few months later. It was a little difficult to read because the person who wrote this reply seemed to write using his thumbnail dipped in tar.  It said, “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving and we don’t know where he are.”

It was enough to make me understand that Clancy had been wandering again.  How lucky he was!  Then, I imagined myself being in Clancy’s place.

I had gone droving down the river where I could see other Western drovers and greeted them with small nods and a smile that graced my face.  I trailed behind a stringing of stock while whistling my favorite tune.  Having the pleasures of my life that the townsfolk would never understand.

Nature would greet me from every side, from the bushes which waved ‘hello’ and by the murmur of the breeze.  I would see the splendid vision of the sunlit at daylight and the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars at night.

However, here I was.  Stuck in my dingy little office in darkness.  My sense of smell was heightened by the foetid air caused by the dusty and dirty city that spread into my window.  Noises came uninvited to my ears.  I could hear the fiendish rattle of the tramways and buses making hurry down the street.  The unpleasant noises came from children fighting but all of that faded into the background sounds of footsteps created by the sea of people.  These sounds echoed through my pair of ears.

I went towards my window and viewed the hectic surroundings outside my office.  People walked hurriedly.  Not caring whether they bumped into each other’s shoulders in their rush.  Only eager eyes and greed are seen on their faces as city people like us knew there was no time to waste.

I compared the life presented in front of me with Clancy’s.  How I wish I could swap with him even just for a day.  I would face the beauty of nature with stock stringing ahead of me while he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and journal.

However, I doubt Clancy would suit the office.  I chuckled.

Oh Clancy, my dear free friend.  Clancy of the Overflow.

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A Writing Exercise for Descriptive Writing by Students

This was an exercise where the students had to read half of an existing story and conclude it themselves using the technique taught of Show, Not Tell.  The original story is Trip of Discovery.

Conclusion to Trip of Discovery

By:  Mohd Firdaus  (SMK Muhibbah / 2013)

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Another flash of lightning struck across the dark void sky, accompanied with a bolt of roaring thunder. With a loud frightened scream, she missed her footing and experienced a free fall down the ravine. She held Kevin tight to her chest, shielding him with both of her arms, hoping that it will somehow reduce the impact of falling on her precious son. With what seemed like an eternity, she landed on a rocky surface on her back with a loud thud. Sharp rocks cut her clothes and pierced through her spine. Pain shot through her whole body and she yelped out in agony. She tried numerous times to flex her finger but her effort was futile. Panting wildly, she murmured soft nothing to her crying son. “Hush my little baby…” She rocked her body from side to side to comfort Kevin.

“Molly, where are you? Stay still, I’ll find you,” John’s somber voice echoed through the air.

“I’m so sorry, little Kevin. Mummy will always love you,” she whispered and gave her surrounding a last look before her heavy eyelids drooped. Her body relaxed and her mind wondered about her son before exhaustion took over. The corner of her mouth lifted up for she knew John would find their baby and she would finally be in peace.

Holding his rusty oil lamp over his head, he scanned the ridge frantically while his alcohol-fused mind cleared. He had never felt this lost and desperate in his life – he lost the Black Opal and his wife on the same fateful day. A piece of jagged fabric fluttered violently under the storm caught his eye. He ran towards it and tore it out from the huge boulder where it was stuck. He let out a shock gasp at the sight of Molly’s limp bleeding body and a crying Kevin thrashing aggressively against his baby blue blanket.  With great difficulty, he descended down the steep ravine.

Regret filled his mind. By the looks of Molly’s lifeless body, he knew her life was seeping out from her body. Gently setting Kevin aside on the ground, he held her dead body close to his and repeatedly chanted her name, as though that would bring her back to life. He looked at her beautiful face one last time and climbed out of the deep pit, with a crying Kevin in his arms. By the time he reached his cabin, the storm had subsided.

He paid no notice to the debris around the cabin and strode into the house with full purpose. He knew what he had to do. He peeled off Kevin’s wet clothes and dressed him in dry warm clothes. He put him down into his cot, stuffed him with his favourite dinosaur toy and lulled him to sleep. He undressed and lay on the floor next to the cot. He knew Molly had always felt uneasy with him sleeping buck naked, but what was there to be bothered about now since nobody will be seeing him? After all, Molly was already dead, probably on her way to heavens, leaving him alone to take care of Kevin. Sleep was hard to come by but he shut down his wandering mind and forced himself to sleep.

With renewed energy, he woke Kevin up and fed him. He stashed all the money he could find into his wallet and packed all Kevin’s toys and clothes into a bag while he only packed a few choices of clothes for himself. He was a man with simple needs; he needed no other complexities in his life. Hiding the house keys below the cactus pot, he headed towards his old beat-up truck. He was giving his cabin away to nobody. Whoever was unlucky enough to be stuck in Lightning Ridge with no house but smart enough to look under the pot could have it. He could not bear to stay there anymore; in it were all the memories he and Molly had created together. He knew she hated the place, but he was too blinded by the need to be rich to even care.

After driving for miles, he finally saw an average-looking house and thought that would do. He fussed over Kevin, feeding him and making sure his clothes were warm enough for mid-autumn before he put him down in a bundle at the doorsteps with a note. He rang the doorbell and made a hasty exit. He knew he would change his mind if he had stayed longer. He felt guilty, but most of all, he felt empty. He loved his baby boy, very much indeed, more than his own life, but there was nothing else he could give him. All he had left was a few hundred dollars with him, with no other possessions under his name except for his truck and cabin, which both were in bad condition. He was thinking of going back to Sydney, but the guilt he felt over Molly’s death was too strong that it engulfed him, eating his soul away.

With a sharp turn, he returned to Lightning Ridge, to where his wife was brutally killed, at the bottom of the ravine. Saying his last prayer, he jumped down the ravine, soul and body uniting with Molly’s. He had made a holy vow in the name of God to always cherish and love her on their wedding day. Now that he had failed to do so, he felt the need to punish himself by committing suicide. The last thought he had was regret and hope; he would never have the chance of seeing Kevin grow up and become a better man than he was, and he hoped that Kevin would be taken in by a good family who would love him unconditionally and take great care of him like their own flesh and blood.

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Conclusion to Trip of Discovery

By:  Fiona Aw Man Fei  (SMK Muhibbah / 2013)

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He darted towards where he saw the silhouette of his wife just to find nothing but boulders and pebbles along the road. He howled in tears while taking a blow of disappointment to the head.

“Molly! Molly! Where are you? I’m truly sorry, Molly. Come back home with me. Please…”

He continued to shout for his wife. His deep voice outmatched the beating of the rain and could even be heard by the townsfolk. Suddenly, a strike of lightning accompanied by a burst of thunder lit the sky like a chandelier. Then, something unusual happened that left the  towns people filled with questions. After the frightening burst of thunder occurred, none of the villagers heard anything more other than the beat of rain pouring down their rooftops. John’s voice was never heard again.

While Molly, on the other hand, took shelter at a nearby bus station. She quickly reached into the pocket at the side of her dress and pulled out a lighter while collecting newspapers around the bus station and created a huge pile of newspapers. The baby cried out while she was trying to work the lighter. She patted the back of the baby in hope of calming him down and ignited the newspapers to warm both of them. When she was about to leave, she stumbled across the only person whom she knew in the town. A newly graduated doctor, Caitlyn Johnson. Caitlyn was startled when she saw Molly alone with the baby at the station.

“Here, take this,”  as she took off her jacket and gave it to Molly who was now trembling in cold. Then she asked Molly what had happened to her.

The Doctor told her that she was about to leave for Sydney and offered for her to come along. However, Molly declined. Before Caitlyn could even ask why, Molly quickly requested, “Could you please bring Kevin with you and raise him as your own son? There is nothing for me left in Sydney but there is still hope for my baby. So, please give my son a happy and secure life”

Caitlyn nodded, her lips quivering and her eyes welled up. Molly lifted the innocent baby and placed him in Caitlyn’s arms. She struck her hand into a hidden pocket at the back of her dress and pulled out an envelope containing the money she had saved for Kevin.

“Please take this, it’s all I have,” she stretched out her hand while offering the envelope to Caitlyn.

“No, you need this more than I do,” Caitlyn explained while rejecting the offer, but Molly kept on insisting that it was for the baby. Caitlyn finally accepted it and ambled carefully to her car with the baby in her arms.

“Thank you!” Molly screamed with tears pouring down her cheeks.  A very sorrowful situation indeed.

Four months later, Caitlyn came back to the village with Kevin. Caitlyn smiled the whole journey in the anticipation of  seeing Molly. However, when she was driving just before arriving at Molly and John’s house, a miner stopped her and inquired why she was going to the house.

“Nobody lives here and the town is in the opposite direction,” the miner stated

Caitlyn was confused and was left speechless for a moment. She tried to explain about Molly and John to the miner, but he kept on denying their existence. The miner let her passed to show her that there was nothing at the end of the road but boulders and rocks. Unfortunately, it was true. Molly and John’s house had became a pile of rocks. Caitlyn drove back to town. She thought that they might have moved into a new house. When she arrived, she asked everyone she knew of Molly and John’s whereabouts but all of the townsfolk gave the same reaction. They all paused for a while, stared at the distant location of where Molly’s house used to be and left without a word. Caitlyn then headed towards the town head in hope of finding the answer. He told her everything, about what happened on that night.

A few days after the incident of the stormy night, Molly and John went missing. Nobody really knew what happened to them. Caitlyn felt upset and staggered towards her car. She burst into tears. Then, she turned her head and stared at Kevin. She knew what she had to do. After a night of rest at a nearby motel, she left the village determined to take care of Kevin as her own son.

“The library is open now!”

A shout from a librarian suddenly surprised Kevin who was about to fall asleep on the bench.

“Aren’t you coming in?”

Jack stood up while staring at the 60 years old Kevin. Kevin turned his head, facing Jack and smiled. His smile left Jack confused in utter silence. A smile that had a thousand meanings.

DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPHS

Short descriptive paragraphs written by Form 5 students at SMK Muhibbah, Sandakan, Sabah. It was a series of 3-double period ‘Show not Tell’ lessons getting students to describe emotions through observing body language.
1.  The first lesson engaged students in categorizing ‘show’ phrases under different categories of emotions.  Students, working in groups, were assigned two adjectives related to feelings and they had to identify as many phrases as possible from jumbled-up slips of paper.
An interesting observation made was that students were able to understand some difficult phrases by looking up keywords in the dictionary to help them put the words into the correct categories.
2.  The second lesson had the students demonstrate emotions through body language while other students shouted out suitable words or phrases to describe the actions with a group representative to record the words or phrases on the board.  Kind of like a game of charades.   It really helped them  to understand and differentiate between a telling and a showing sentence.
At the end of the lesson, they produced a descriptive paragraph based on the telling sentence assigned to them.
3.  In the third lesson, they revised and proofread their paragraphs by rephrasing vague verbs with strong action verbs, general adjectives with specific ones that appeal to the 5 senses, adding dialogues and further information.
Descriptive phrases on circle map

Describing phrases on a circle map

 

Writing 'show' paragraph

Writing ‘show’ paragraph

Writing descriptive paragraph

Writing descriptive paragraph

 

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