Derek Mahon

Ten of Derek Mahon's poems are available for selection to students of Leaving Certificate English students this year and again in 2004. The poems are as follows:

Grandfather, Daytrip to Donegal, After the Titanic, Ecclesiastes, As It Should Be, A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford, The Chinese Restaurant in Portrush, Rathlin, Antarctica and Kinsale.

Students who are studying the higher level course are advised to study at least six poems (Syllabus 6.3.) while two of the poems, Grandfather and After the Titanic, are also prescribed for students taking the ordinary level course.

The following possibilities are offered as suggestions for work that might be useful with two of the above mentioned poems.


Approaches to the poem:

Photographs: This is just one picture of an old person. Ask class to bring in photographs / pictures of other old people, either their own relatives or someone else. Begin a discussion of old age and how it must feel to be getting older.

Tensions: There is a tension in the poem between the childlike man and the cunning, cute man. Make a list of the words/phrases where this is suggested and say what is thus implied about the grandfather.

Language: Examine the words that describe the grandfather and say what picture emerges from this scrutiny.

Imagery: Make a list of all the images in the poem and say what picture of the grandfather these create in your mind.

Possibilities for Writing
1. Choose one old person you know, possibly your own grandfather/grandmother. Picture this person in your mind and do the following activities. You may choose words in the poem, or suggested by the poem, if you wish.

- Think of words to describe the physical characteristics of the person you've chosen

- Think of words to describe your own feelings towards the person

- Think of words or an image that sums up the individual

- Think of 'doing' words for the person
Now write about the person you've chosen, capturing the essence of the individual and describing your own relationship with him/her.

2. Spread out all the photographs brought in by the class on a large table/desk. Each person chooses one (not your own) and takes on the persona of that character. You should first give yourself a name and then tease out your feelings and thoughts today.

Now write a narrative describing your feelings and the reasons why you are feeling thus at this particular time.

3. Read lines 9 - 12 and use them as a model to create three lines of verse about a 'four-year-old' child. Choose language and imagery appropriate to a child of that age.

After the Titanic
Approaches to the poem:
What do the class know about The Titanic? Use photographs, or clips from the film to create the context. Perhaps use the soundtrack from the film to create a sense of the 'pandemonium' and panic.

If you could talk to Bruce Ismay what would you like to ask him? Many questions suggest themselves e.g. Why was an inquiry necessary? Why is he lonely? Why does he continue to live beside the sea? Etc. Are there answers to these questions in the poem?

Language: Look at the language used in connection with the speaker. In particular list the verbs and say what they suggest about the speaker and/or his situation.

Sounds: List the sounds that you detect in the poem. What do these sounds contribute to the atmosphere or mood of the poem?

Heroism: What qualities do you expect to find in a hero? How does Bruce fit in/not fit in with your picture?

Possibilities for Writing
1. You are a magazine reporter who is going to Bruce Ismay's house to get his story. He has agreed to give you an interview.
Before the reporter arrives the scene should be set. Freeze-frame the speaker. What does he look like? Where is he sitting? Is he in the front room? What is he doing? What are his thoughts? Perhaps you could 'thought-track' Bruce Ismay. Put your hand on his shoulder and let him tell his thoughts at this point. Is he anguished, lonely etc.?
Write his story for your newspaper or magazine.

2. Imagine that you are Bruce Ismay's lawyer representing him at the Court of Inquiry. How would you defend his actions?

3. 'Include me in your lamentations'. Give your reasons for including or not including him in your lamentations.

Comparative Links: What links can you make between Grandfather and After the Titanic? Write a paragraph showing the similarities between the two poems and a second paragraph drawing attention to the differences you find.

Which poem do you prefer? Give reasons for your preference

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