A Poem By Jeremy Harmer

January 11, 2011 § 14 Comments

These last few days, I had been getting the urge to write my first post in a while. I had in mind a number of topics, having heard some wonderfully enlightening programmes on television and radio, not least on the barbaric experiments by the behaviourists Pavlov and Skinner, and the research showing multitasking to be less efficient than focusing solely on one thing at a time. Then there was the programme on the South, the southern states of the United States, where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. “You can kill the dreamer, but you can’t kill the dream,” we were reminded. What spurred me out of inaction was reading English Raven’s comprehensive list of activities to go with Jeremy Harmer’s recital of his beautiful poem Knocking and Pulling from Touchable Dreams, with Steve Bingham on violin. The combination of poetry and music like this takes language input to an all together grander, more inspirational, spiritual level. The language plant at the start of this post is of this poem.

Language plants inhabit the huge void between having the full text at hand, and having nothing at all to support the ear. The A and B gapfills that Jeremy provides are another example of filling this, with a reason to listen and interact deeply ingrained in there too.

I love considering rewording things I hear and read, mixing and matching words and phrases, making use of cohesive devices like repetition, ellipsis, anaphora and cataphora. As soon as “and” is used for example, there’s an opportunity crying out for ellipsis or repetition, to speak what the author chose not to, and to change the original. As Jason observes, this poem has a lot of repetition, and is full of affordances for language work. Here are two:

“All this knocking and pulling and turning out”

could be:

“All this knocking and
all this pulling and
all this turning out”

Why did Jeremy choose the former and not the latter? Which do you prefer? Personally, I’m edging towards the second, it’s got a punchier rhythm, but the questions are infinitely more important than any answer. To know that both are possible is enlightening enough.

“Hey carpenter, make me a coffin,
a small coffin
of perfumed wood”

could become:

“Hey carpenter, make me a small coffin,
one of perfumed wood”

Here, I prefer Jeremy’s, but I’m glad I tried something else nevertheless; it makes me appreciate all the more his choice.

The poem has numerous more bits of language to get your teeth into, and using the language plant is a fluid way of trying them out. The new language plant maker is ever closer to completion. It lets anyone and everyone make language plants online really easily, well, not just language plants, but mind maps, or any other image one may wish to make with words. It’s eagerly awaited by some schools and local authorities, and in my mind’s eye, I can see them adopting it enthusiastically across all the curriculum, and blowing the seeds far and wide. That’s my dream.

You can kill the dreamer,
but you can’t kill the dream.

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§ 14 Responses to A Poem By Jeremy Harmer

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