Poetry: Introduction

I have my GCSE English Literature teachers to thank for my love of poetry. Before the age of 14, I found poetry pretentious and never felt that I could relate to it. As an aspiring teacher, I wanted to blog about my English teachers enabled me to discover and develop a passion for poetry.

It all started with a GCSE controlled assessment on Wilfred Owen’s poetry. I had studied the First World War in History the previous academic year and been on a school trip to the trenches. I thought I had been exposed to everything in relation to life in the Trenches. It turns out not so.

Reading ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ out loud as a class was my introduction to the emotional charge that poetry could carry. My granddad had died of a respiratory-related illness months earlier, and the lines

“But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.”

This was my granddad in his last few months. Before I had even come across this poem, I thought of my granddad’s coughing fits as him drowning in air. He was ‘helpless’ when he couldn’t breathe; the gas mask in the poem became linked with my granddad’s oxygen machine, without which he would die.

Wilfred Owen’s poetry is not meant to be comforting; it is reality, but not only the reality of the front line. Owen’s descriptions, or indeed those of any effective poet, can resonate with the everyday 21st century person.


The secularisation of marriage

It seems to me that the majority of objections to marriage equality in the UK and U.S. are religious ones and all of these objections are due to the secularisation of marriage. What I mean by this is the process by which marriage is separated from religion and the new phenomenon of civil marriage is created. Indeed no religious material can be mentioned even implicitly in such a ceremony. Despite the fact that civil marriage is supposed to be separate from the church, religious people still feel a sense of ownership of an institution which they view as theirs and this is where the problems lie.

Heterosexual couples have been able to marry in hotels, beaches and other non-religious places for a number of years now, yet I recall no objection from the church in these cases. This was most likely because the church did not feel threatened by the non-Christian heterosexual couple. However, the Christian LGBT couple present a challenging question to the Church of England of ‘changing with the times’, something that the church is not particularly adept at.

I have been following the tribunal of Jeremy Pemberton, a Church of England chaplain who married his partner and was thus denied a licence to accept a promotion. The dispute is over whether this is employment discrimination. To the majority of people, it blatantly is. The Church of England, as Pemberton’s employer, have denied him a licence to work as a chaplain simply because he married his partner. The Church of England even acknowledge that this was the sole cause of the licence retraction.

More recently, Jeremy Timm, a lay reader, has left the Church of England after being forced by Archbishop of York to “choose between marriage and ministry”. It appears that Dr Sentamu cannot comprehend the means by which someone can be married to someone of the same sex as well as a member of the Church of England. These situations are made all the more tragic by the acknowledgment that both Pemberton and Timm’s ministries were “much valued”, yet their licences are revoked simply by marrying who they love.

Christians view marriage as a sacrament, ‘a holy union of man and woman…ordained for the procreation of children’, according to the Book of Common Prayer. Some see non-heterosexual marriage as a threat to what they have always known to be a cornerstone of society. I understand that. However, the Houses of Parliament have made the decision that non-heterosexual couples should be allowed to marry in secular settings as well as those where the religious institution agrees. Everyone, even those who don’t agree, should respect that decision. It does not change the life of the Archbishop of York whether or not Pemberton or Timm spend an hour of their life pledging their commitment and love to their partners. It is the outward appearance of the Church of England which Sentamu and other clergy are desperate to preserve. They want the church to “set a good example to other Christians”, well I can’t see a better way to show God’s love to the world than to show your love for your partner. After all, the Book of Common Prayer compares the love of Christ to his church with the love of a married couple.

Some would say that marriage is unnecessary, leading to the argument of ‘why aren’t gay people satisfied with civil partnerships?’. The necessity of marriage is not up for debate here. The matter is simply one of equality. If either of these men were getting married in a religious context, then perhaps the opinions of Sentamu and other clergy may have more merit. However, these marriages are entirely secular ones. The registrar allows no mention of religion, however implicit.

The fact remains that the Church of England is denying these men the right to marry, separate from the church and religion, just because they cannot grasp the concept of a secular marriage.

Music education isn’t just for the talented

My thoughts on James Rhodes’ project ‘Don’t stop the music’

Celia Gould Music

My Director of Music’s philosophy was always “if you don’t get children to sing when they’re young, you never will”. James Rhodes, the acclaimed concert pianist, runs an excellent campaign entitled ‘Don’t Stop the Music’, which aims to improve music education in primary schools. This isn’t an elitist, recruitment drive in the slightest. Although it was founded by a classically trained pianist, supporters of the campaign include Tinie Tempah, Alison Balsom, Laura Mvula and Sir Tom Jones to name a few. The focus is getting children involved in music making, whatever genre or setting, from a young age.

“If you get an instrument into the hands of a kid who wants to learn it, and you provide a place and the means for them to learn it, you will see an undeniable impact in every other area of their life.” – James Rhodes

Learning an instrument as a child teaches…

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Church of England trans naming ceremonies

When I heard that the Church of England were considering introducing trans naming ceremonies into the liturgy, I was excited and optimistic. Finally, some progress for the LGBT community within the Church of England. Perhaps same sex marriage in church wasn’t too far away?

Unlike gay marriage, there is nothing forbidding such naming ceremonies to take place in the Church of England. However, this bubble of optimism was burst soon afterwards. I discovered considerable opposition by a number of religious figures including the Pope. He objects on the grounds that transitioning is committing a sin against God, in that a person is ‘going against God’s plan of creation’. The most frequent passage of the bible quoted by such opponents is Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Such fundamentalists believe that God doesn’t make mistakes and therefore, being trans is not natural or ‘part of God’s plan’.

It is important for clergy to recognise the significance of a trans person’s transition. Transitioning bears a number of similarities to being baptised, for example a sense of rebirth and self-discovery for the person concerned. Many Christians gain a name on their confirmation, so thus, why can there not be a means for renaming in a similar service?

The Church is supposedly founded on diversity through mutual faith. It is time for the trans community, as well as everyone else, to be welcomed into the institution.

Reclaiming slurs: ‘Queer’

Regaining slurs is an area of controversy within the LGBT community. For example, ‘dyke’ has been regained by the gay women/lesbian community simply as a method of describing a butch gay woman/lesbian. However, were that word to be used by a non-LGBT in the same context, I suspect that opinions would be different.

When my parents’ generation were teenagers and young adults, the word ‘queer’ was deemed hugely offensive.  However, now in 2015, ‘queer’ has become an identity alongside gay, lesbian, bisexual and many others within the LGBT community.

There is one clear advantage of reclaiming ‘queer’. It is a more appropriate umbrella term for the LGBT community than the frequently used ‘gay’. The use of ‘gay’ in this context only precipitates the already existent concept of binary sexuality – gay and straight, leading to erasure of bisexuals and other sexual orientation minorities.

In addition, the LGBT community is becoming more diverse than it was when the gay rights movement began. Whereas it used to be the case in the Stonewall riots that gay men (and perhaps lesbians) made up the majority of protesters, now there are many other groups that represent different labels: bisexual, pansexual, transgender, gender non-conforming – the list goes on. Whilst it may still be in terms of percentages that homosexuals make up the largest sect of the LGBT community, others are gaining awareness and publicity. Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Ruby Rose have increased the representation of minorities such as the trans and gender non-conforming communities within the public eye. YouTube has proved instrumental too: Alex and Jake are two trans, gay men who are in a relationship and produce informative and honest videos about their transition and life as a trans man.

However, using ‘queer’ as the umbrella term for the LGBT community is not as ideal as it might seem. The connotations of the word are those of sticking out, the opposite of blending into society. Some members of the community just want to blend into general society and not be picked out for who they love. Some people are also simply not comfortable with regaining the slur: perhaps the word reminds them of childhood bullying, or else they cannot forget its use in society during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Finding your identity is what’s important. If ‘queer’ summarises how you are, then self-identify as ‘queer’. No label is more respectable than another – we are all equal.

Misgendering a trans person

There are not many actions more offensive than deliberately misgendering someone, in my opinion, and thus undermining their right for the outside world to recognise who they are.

Lucy Sutcliffe, a YouTuber known from Kaelyn and Lucy and Rosweglyn, has made the point that, when you deliberately misgender someone, you send the message that your desire to address someone how you wish to address them is more important than respecting their wishes in that regard.

By choosing to opt for your own names/pronouns instead of their requested ones, you are directly invalidating their identity. You’re telling them you’d rather hurt them repeatedly than change the way you speak about them. You’re saying that offending them is fine because it makes you feel more comfortable.

Lucy Sutcliffe

I accept it is difficult to adjust when someone you know transitions and asks you to use different pronouns and names. Slip-of-the-tongue or auto pilot mistakes are not what I’m talking about, however. What I am addressing is those people who refuse to adapt, after persistent reminders.

It is difficult for a non-trans person to comprehend the emotional pain associated with a trans person’s birth name. The connotations of a previous name, perhaps in the case of pre-coming out, can be of self-hatred and disassociation. Someone’s name pre-transition can become the epitome of their struggle, a daily reminder that they are trapped in the wrong body.

In the case of people who claim that they weren’t sure and happened to call them the incorrect gender, asking is always best. Trans people would, I am fairly sure, prefer to be asked which pronouns to use than be misgendered.

This is fundamentally an issue of respect. We all deserve for the outside world to recognise how we self-identify.

Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Mark Haddon

I read very few books in a single day, but this book is one of them. Having spent time with autistic children, I was inquisitive as to the effectiveness of Haddon’s depiction of Asperger’s syndrome in Christopher Boone. Autism and Asperger’s syndrome in particular are such complex disorders that I was sceptical as to whether the novel would paint autism in an appropriate light. Continue reading