In Unit 1 of the senior secondary curriculum Literature course, students analyse (through detailed textual study) the significance of ideas and the distinctive qualities of texts, in order to develop their knowledge and understanding of different ways of reading and creating literary texts. Judith Beveridge’s poetry in Sun Music, with its distinctive and consistent stylistic qualities and preoccupations, is a rich and approachable body of work for students to explore in this manner.
This unit could also be used for the NSW Stage 6 Common Module: Reading to Write, focusing on responding creatively to Beveridge’s work through the creation of poetry and reflection on the process of drafting, redrafting and polishing work. It could also be used for the NSW Stage 6 Standard Module B: Close Study of Literature, or Advanced Module B: Critical Study of Literature, which both allow for study of a poetry text ‘which may constitute a selection of poems from the work of one poet’.
Many of Judith Beveridge’s poems – with their focus on animals/nature and short, sharply drawn portraits of people – could also be studied by younger students. Using appropriate selections from the poems and the activities in this unit, teachers could devise short units of work based on animal poetry, ‘portraits and landscapes’, nature poetry or poetry of social justice for students in Year 9 or Year 10.
Sun Music collects work from anthologies published over a thirty-year period, together with previously unpublished poems. Those studied in this unit enable students to both observe the distinctive and consistent stylistic elements and thematic concerns of Beveridge’s writing, and also to look for developments or shifts in her preoccupations. For example, a slight shift from the observational to the reflective is apparent in some of the later (previously unpublished) poems dealing with subjects like family, memory, grief and elegy. In her author’s note to Sun Music, Beveridge reflects on how the anthology represents both consistency and development; teachers and students will benefit from reading this note and considering the reasons behind selections.
This unit involves a close study of four poems, with several others suggested for wider reading (listed in the wider reading table [PDF, 94KB]). Together, they represent poetry that:
- spans Beveridge’s body of work (drawing from all previous anthologies represented in Sun Music and from the previously unpublished poems);
- expresses a variety of themes but also a remarkable consistency of preoccupation over a long period of time, enabling students to observe similarities and cohesion in the body of work;
- is rich in language and displays many of Beveridge’s distinctive stylistic traits (see the introductory PowerPoint [PDF, 803KB]);
- focuses on a mixture of both natural and human subjects, allowing for a critical approach from a number of perspectives (environmental/ecocritical and Marxist/social justice).
Beveridge has long been acclaimed for her deft, playful and evocative use of language, her richness of sensory detail, and her engagement with the natural world and the way humans interact with it. Students will notice the sharply observational nature of her poetry. They will learn much about her careful selection of structural features, subject matter and vivid (often surprising and unusual) imagery to lovingly portray beautiful and detailed landscapes and portraits of humans and animals, whose conditions are depicted with compassion, honour and dignity.
The four poems to be studied are:
- ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’ (originally published in The Domesticity of Giraffes, 1987)
- ‘Bahadour’ (originally published in Wolf Notes, 2003)
- ‘Herons at Dusk’ (originally published in Storm and Honey, 2009)
- ‘Sun Music’ (published for the first time in Sun Music, 2018)
Note: These will not be approached in strict chronological order. ‘Bahadour’ is a very rich text for beginning the unit (with a teacher-led annotation to model analysis), while other poems lend themselves to increasingly independent/student-centred activities.
See the wider reading table for other suggested poems grouped under broad category headings. These have been selected for their similarity in theme and some technical aspects, and grouped with a view to facilitating critical approaches through different lenses later in the unit – in particular, environmental/ecocritical and Marxist/social justice. Other poems in the table are drawn from the anthology Accidental Grace (1996), ensuring that all stages of Beveridge’s career are represented in this unit. Also see the introductory PowerPoint for initial descriptions of the selected poems, and an overview of their themes and stylistic characteristics.
Students will recognise the unique stylistic characteristics of Beveridge’s work and appreciate the careful craftsmanship for which she is renowned. They will be encouraged to emulate this in crafting their own poetry and analysing how hers is rich in both literary technique and values.
Activity 1: connecting poetry with personal experience
Ask students to think of their favourite place of natural beauty OR a wild animal that they love or are interested in.
- Direct them to write 5–10 adjectives or phrases that describe this place/animal.
- Then ask them to expand this work by adding movement. Discuss the power of verbs to ‘show not tell’. Choose a subject and model/brainstorm strong verbs that can bring this subject to life, before directing students to add to their own work.
- Ask students to look at the nouns they have included. Encourage them to add to or replace these with more interesting/varied nouns to create a more concrete and easily imagined scene.
- Since part of this unit’s focus is creating and reflecting on students’ own poetry, establish from the outset the need to reflect and refine. Ask students to replace the three least interesting words/phrases from their list with better, sharper, more expressive ones.
- Next ask them to add at least one simile or metaphor to enhance their descriptions. Encourage them to consider such aspects as size, colour, movement, beauty, atmosphere and other qualities that can be expressed by way of a comparison.
- Ask them to arrange their words and phrases into a small poem, add an illustration and publish their work digitally via a Learning Management System (or in hard copy for a wall display).
Activity 2: getting started with the text (‘five-minute flick’)
Allow students to flick or skim through Sun Music for about five minutes to get an overall impression of the type of poetry within. Using a collaborative mind mapping tool, students contribute answers to these questions:
- What sorts of subjects does Judith Beveridge write about?
- What other texts do you know that deal with similar subjects?
Activity 3: further familiarisation and preparatory reading
Students complete the scavenger hunt activity (PDF, 95KB) to increase their familiarity with the contents of the anthology. This can be done at home as preparatory reading for the unit.
Personal response on reading the text
Activity 4: Poetry TASTER
Ask the students to select any ONE poem from Sun Music (the four chosen for close analysis in the next section can be excluded if desired – see the wider reading table for these poems in bold type).
They should then complete the poetry TASTER table (PDF, 94KB) using the scaffold to record their initial responses to their chosen poem, including direct quotes from the poem (where necessary) to support their ideas. They can then share their work with one or two other students who have chosen different poems.
Note: This TASTER scaffold can be reused throughout the unit whenever a student encounters a new poem independently, or to support teacher-led analysis of the four selected poems.
Key elements of the text
Provide students with an overview of Judith Beveridge’s work, the anthology’s key elements and what is to come in the unit using the introductory PowerPoint.
Students will need to refer back to this resource, so either make it available via your Learning Management System or ask them to take detailed notes as they view the presentation.
Ask students to read the ‘Author’s Note’ in the text and make notes under the following headings:
- What Beveridge values about her own work
- How Beveridge sees her work as having developed over time
- Beveridge’s main areas of interest (key themes)
- What Beveridge says about how poetry is crafted
Encourage discussion about what makes a ‘good’ poem worthy of inclusion, and ask students to speculate on why the four poems in this unit were chosen to represent the poet’s body of work.
Comparing initial responses with the others’ observations
- Ask students to journal or blog about their initial response to Beveridge’s poetry so far.
- Ask students to read, in their own time, at least five of the following reviews. They should list words and phrases that the reviewers use to describe Beveridge’s poetry, and highlight those that resonate with their own initial impressions:
The writer’s craft: close study of four selected poems
This section of the unit focuses on four poems selected for close study, as indicated in the wider reading table (PDF, 94KB). The other poems in this table, grouped into categories that broadly resemble the main four poems, can be used for wider reading exercises or as substitutes for close study according to teacher preference.
Encourage students to see from the outset that these are not ‘hard’ categories: there is considerable overlap. For example, nature is important in ‘Bahadour’ and in all of the ‘love, family, loss, mourning’ poems; and the poems celebrating nature are as significant to an ecocritical perspective as the more explicit animal rights-related commentary in the animal poems.
The close study should begin with clear teacher direction in modelling the annotation of ‘Bahadour’, then progress to more independent student engagement with the poems.
Selected poem 1: ‘Bahadour’
Close analysis with teacher-led annotation
Note: As this first annotation will be strongly teacher-led, you could consider prerecording a video lecture and using a flipped classroom approach for this activity.
Ask students to annotate the poem, paying attention to the content suggested in the notes on ‘Bahadour’ (PDF, 121KB).
Depending on the cohort (either before commencing the close study or as the unit progresses), revise/explicitly teach/ask students to research poetic metalanguage, such as:
- imagery (including different types of sensory imagery – e.g. tactile, auditory, olfactory)
- dramatic monologue
- colour palette
- play on words
- free verse
- pace and rhythm
Activity 1: responding creatively to the poem
- Ask students to write a dramatic monologue (in prose or verse form) in which the boy reflects on his current life, his memories of leaving his family and the precious few minutes he can spend flying his kite.
- Ask students to create a visual representation of the poem that reflects the suite of circular and other images, and employs them to symbolically suggest aspects of the boy’s life. This could be a poster, an infographic, a series of PowerPoint slides or a digital story, depending on the time and skills that students have or need to develop.
Selected poem 2: ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’
Begin with a class or small group discussion of how the poem affects the reader’s attitude to the giraffes, and introduce the notion that some of Judith Beveridge’s poems have an environmental theme and agenda. The term ‘ecocriticism’ could be briefly explained here, although it will be further explored later in the unit.
Ask students to complete the questions on ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’ (PDF, 116KB) individually, as a class or in small groups, depending on their knowledge and capabilities. Also encourage them to annotate their poems as they go. Suggested prompts, and answers that could be used either by the teacher or the students themselves (if working in pairs or small groups), are available in the notes on ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’ (PDF, 117KB).
Activity 2: responding analytically to the poem
The questions worksheet concludes with an analytical paragraph writing exercise, in which students continue on from a supplied topic sentence to examine how Beveridge uses dichotomy in the poem. Give students time to gather their textual evidence and then plan and write this paragraph during the lesson.
As close analysis of this poem concludes, ask students to compare it with ‘Bahadour’ – although the poems have very different subjects, is there overlap in terms of theme/stylistic features? Are there similarities in perspective or tone?
Selected poem 3: ‘Sun Music’
Use this poem as an opportunity to discuss the impact of form. The dramatic monologue allows for a more intimate and direct engagement with the subject than the previous two observational poems. More suggestions for discussing the poem’s form, structure and language are in the notes on ‘Sun Music’ (PDF, 97KB), including some material on Beveridge’s extensive use of listing and naming.
Ask students to form pairs or groups. In each grouping, have two students to read the two parts of the poem aloud so that they hear the extent of the listing and naming, but also the beauty of the descriptions and the musicality of the work. Ask students to discuss the impact of the dramatic monologue form and the listing and naming.
Then ask students to consider how this poem is different from ‘Bahadour’ and ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’. Is there still any thematic overlap, even though the form and subject matter are both quite different?
Activity 3: practising analytical skills
Place students into groups of three or four. Allocate each group one of the following tasks, and allow time for them to present their findings while the rest of the class annotates their own poems (findings could be posted on a Learning Management System and annotations done in students’ own time if time is tight). There is opportunity for differentiation in this activity; tasks are arranged roughly in ascending order of difficulty.
Group 1: expressive verbs
Ask this group to list all the verbs used in the poem and evaluate the effectiveness of each one.
Group 2: vocabulary research
Ask this group to determine the meanings of the following words/phrases and, where possible, explain their effect on the mood and meaning of the poem:
- ‘quills taking shorthand’
- ‘gutturals and sibilants’
Group 3: similes
Ask this group to collect all the similes used in the poem, and discuss and record what they think the effect of each simile is.
Group 4: synaesthesia
Ask this group to find all examples of imagery that evokes more than one sense in an interesting or surprising way (in the same way that the title, ‘Sun Music’, combines visual and auditory senses).
Group 5: parallels
Ask this group to compare the two parts of the poem. What are the parallels/similarities (or differences) in content, structure, voice and preoccupation? What message does this create in the poem?
Group 6: motif of vision
Ask students to analyse the development of the motif of vision throughout the poem, collecting all words and phrases associated with seeing/not seeing, sight, observation, lenses/glass, perception and self-perception. They should then explain how these accumulate to create a metaphorical richness and explore an important theme in the poem.
Selected poem 4: ‘Herons at Dusk’
This poem contrasts with the other three in the intensity of its lyric qualities (although there are elements of these in the other poems as well). To emphasise the difference and observe something of the form’s heritage, students can compare this poem with some earlier lyric poems such as ‘Frost at Midnight’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ‘A Noiseless Patient Spider’ by Walt Whitman, or ‘Autumn’ by T. E. Hulme. There is also more recent Australian poetry in the same tradition, such as ‘Cherry-picking’ by Rosemary Dobson or ‘Stars’ by David Malouf.
Activity 4: colour-coded annotation
Ask students to annotate their poems (independently at first) and highlight, using four different colours, all the imagery used to create:
- a sense of movement
- a sense of stillness
- a sense of quiet
- a sense of sound
Once they have attempted this, fill any gaps with some teacher-led annotation, starting with the suggestions in the notes on ‘Herons at Dusk’ (PDF, 119KB).
In what ways is this poem similar to the other three poems already studied? In what ways is it different? Consider the effect of language, tone and form, focusing on contrasts in mood and how different moods are created in poetry.
There are opportunities for different teaching approaches and differentiation of content as this close study concludes. Depending on your cohort:
- have the above discussion in small groups and create a mind map/poster for display
- have a teacher-led class discussion, with students taking notes
- allow students to form pairs, brainstorm, then collaboratively write a practise paragraph in which they compare ‘Herons at Dusk’ with one other poem studied, focusing on subject/purpose, tone and mood
- give students the opportunity to write individually, creating a mini-essay/one to two paragraphs comparing ‘Herons at Dusk’ with another poem (see previous dot point)
Emerging themes: synthesising activity
Ask students to work through the following steps to consolidate their understanding of the main themes in Judith Beveridge’s work:
- Revisit the introductory PowerPoint (PDF, 803KB) and the notes that students took while reading the ‘Author’s Note’. Revise Beveridge’s background information and key concerns.
- Decide as a class what the main themes of her poetry are.
- Label large pieces of paper with one theme each and create ‘workstations’ around the room. Students rotate around the stations, writing down relevant quotes from each of the four closely studied poems. To adapt for online learning, this could also be done via a mind mapping tool, with a separate mind map for each theme.
- Ask students to read at least one poem from each category in the wider reading table and add relevant quotes from these to their workstations/mind maps.
- Divide students into five groups and allocate each a section of the text (according to the four previous collections and the ‘new poems’ represented in Sun Music – see the book’s table of contents). Each group is to read a selection of poems from their allocated section and present their responses to the following questions back to the class (with presentations occurring in the order the poems appear in the anthology):
- What themes come across most strongly in the allocated section?
- Which poem or poems are the best examples of this theme being explored, and why (students should prepare to read one or more excerpts and explain how they express the theme(s) in question)?
- During and after the presentations, ask students to contemplate whether there has been a development or change in subject choice, thematic preoccupation or attitude over the course of Beveridge’s career.
Rich assessment task 1: creative task
Students are to embark on their own process of writing poetry, reflecting on and redrafting their work until they have a poem with which they are satisfied. The emphasis in this task will be on process as well as product; while each student’s final poem can be published/displayed, the assessable part of the task is a PowerPoint presentation outlining both process and product to the class.
Judith Beveridge is known for her meticulous craftsmanship. Ask students to briefly revisit her note in the front of Sun Music to develop their understanding of her craft and what she values about it.
To further prepare for their own creative and reflective process, ask students to read Beveridge’s fascinating account in Phoenix (‘The Evolution of a Poem’, pp. 21–25) of how her poem ‘The Shark’ was composed. Also direct them to read Rebecca Hazelton’s very useful article, ‘Learning the Poetic Line’, on line breaks and their effects.
Ensure that students are given the Rich Assessment Task 1 rubric (PDF, 95KB) early in the process so that they know what they are working towards.
Step 1: preparing to write
To scaffold the development of their own poetic expression, language selection and structural choices without having to develop a subject ‘from scratch’, have the students create ‘found poetry’ using an extract from Tim Winton’s Blueback (see also the Reading Australia teaching resource for Blueback). Direct them to click on the ‘Look inside’ button and read through the extract, collecting words and phrases that they find especially appealing or evocative of the underwater landscape. They will then arrange these words/phrases into lines in a free verse structure, creating a ‘found poem’. Encourage students to think about lineation, enjambment and division into stanzas.
Step 2: choosing a subject
Direct the students to choose either a human or animal subject. Supply them with some stimulus ideas for writing poetry (PDF, 118KB). Allow time in class (as groups or individuals) for students to explore ideas, choose a subject and then create a collage of associated visual images and descriptive words/phrases (a ‘mood board’ of sorts). This should be retained as evidence of process and may form part of the final presentation.
Step 3: drafting, reviewing and finalising
Direct students to start arranging their preliminary thoughts into potential lines of poetry. Revisit the idea and impact of form, and ask students to consider which form will best convey what they want to express about their subject. Encourage them to experiment with different ways of arranging stanzas and lineation, and remind them to use a variety of engaging sensory images and literary techniques as Judith Beveridge does.
Ask students to submit a draft poem for teacher feedback while also seeking peer feedback. Allow time in class for students to consider and write reflectively about their feedback and how they plan to implement it. They will then expand and refine their poetry and prepare the final version for publication or wall display as appropriate.
Step 4: presenting
Students are to give a four-minute PowerPoint presentation in which they explain the following:
- initial ideas and inspiration, referencing attributes of Beveridge’s work that they founding inspiring or wanted to imitate (if desired, you could require students to quote from what Beveridge or reviewers have said about her work)
- evidence of development of ideas
- evidence of drafting and redrafting
- reflections on how they sought and incorporated peer and teacher feedback
- a discussion of any difficulties and breakthroughs in developing their poem
They should also recite their completed poem at the end.
If class time is not available for these presentations, students can record their voices in PowerPoint and upload their presentation for assessment.
Ways of reading the text
Judith Beveridge’s poetry lends itself well to further exploration by students who, having been led through close study of the selected poems, should now be able to continue reading more widely and recognise for themselves the poet’s key concerns and the effects of her stylistic choices. Students should revise the earlier Synthesising Activity on themes (Close Study) and the key concerns summarised in the introductory PowerPoint (PDF, 803KB) before commencing this more critically-oriented phase. This part of the unit frames students’ wider reading according to values reflected in Beveridge’s work, encompassing ecocritical and social justice/Marxist perspectives, and looks at the text’s literary heritage and relationship to other contemporary Australian literature.
Valuing the environment
Beveridge’s poetry is ideal for introducing Year 11 students to an ecocritical perspective. There is no doubt that some of her poems have an overtly critical environmental agenda, often employing angry rhetoric to examine humans’ negative impact on their environment. This is especially true of the poems that comment on the treatment of animals:
- the loneliness of the giraffes in ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’
- the visceral descriptions of the mistreatment of camels (Section 2 of ‘Camel’) and hens (‘To My Neighbour’s Hens’)
- the religious and military images used to describe the caterpillars set upon by cruel boys in ‘The Caterpillars’
- the peculiar ambiguity of imagery in ‘The Aquarium’, where the animals are sometimes depicted as beautiful, but more often described in unpleasant terms or in ways that suggest they don’t look real in this environment (implying criticism of their captivity)
- even ‘A Panegyric for Toads’, while not overtly critical of the animal’s treatment, challenges humans’ (especially Australians’) typical attitude to the cane toad by reinstating it as worthy of admiration and fascination.
But there are also poems that promote an environmental consciousness by celebrating the natural world and humanity’s place living and working in harmony with that world. There is the meticulous detail and almost worshipful praise for natural beauty in observational poems like ‘Orb Spider’ and ‘Flying Foxes, Wingham Brush’, and the sense of peace and unity as humans interact with the environment in ‘Hawkesbury Egret’, ‘River Music’ and ‘Spittle Beach’.
All of these poems celebrate the wonder of nature and, although more subtly than the previously mentioned ‘animal rights’ poems, point to the need for a world in which people can dwell harmoniously within their natural environment.
As they explore the poems through an ecocritical lens, students should also look at the suggested poems in the wider reading table (PDF, 94KB) about love, family, loss and mourning. In Beveridge’s work, the natural world seems to be inextricably linked to these aspects of human relationships. This is arguably another facet of the ‘ecopoetics’ in her work: the idea of an inseparable connection between what it is to be human and where we fit in the natural world.
Introduce students to the idea of reading texts from different perspectives, and then to the notion of ecocriticism. The material from the Purdue Online Writing Lab is useful, particularly the ‘Typical Questions’ section. Divide students into groups and ask them to create a poster/infographic representing what ecocriticism is/does. Ask them to recall or find other examples of contemporary texts (not poetry) to which an ecocritical perspective might be applicable.
Have students read the animal poems discussed above and, as necessary, present extracts to help them appreciate the attitudes and values expressed in these works. Provide a ‘headlines’ visible thinking routine and, for each poem, ask:
‘If you were to write a headline that captured the most important aspect of this poem’s attitude to animals/the environment, what would that headline be?’
Additionally, for more advanced students, Phillip Hall’s useful doctoral thesis explores a range of ideas about ecocriticism and ecopoetics. He questions a narrow definition of ecopoetry as poetry that is centrally concerned with exposing and protesting against humans’ mistreatment of the environment, instead incorporating poetry of ‘dwelling’ in nature, poetry of ‘praise’ and poetry of ‘image’ representing human concerns. This fits well with Judith Beveridge’s range of poems, from direct and critical examination of human interaction with nature, to more subtle ways of celebrating the importance of the natural world.
You could extend students further by presenting extracts from this work to enrich their understanding of nature poetry and ecopoetry. The examination of environmental concerns in Sun Music also addresses the cross-curriculum priority of Sustainability.
Activity 1: reading Beveridge’s work through an ecocritical lens
Direct students to complete the ecocritical reading table (PDF, 91KB). They should choose two poems from two different columns in the wider reading table and avoid those already closely analysed in class. Once they have completed the table, give students the following question for some practise paragraphs:
In her ‘Author’s Note’, Judith Beveridge writes: ‘I take enormous pleasure from the wonder of the natural world’. But is there a purpose other than pleasure in the way she depicts nature in her poetry?
Ask them to write about at least two poems, supporting their ideas with close analysis of textual evidence. Alternatively (or additionally), they could write a series of statements about the environment based on their ecocritical reading table (e.g. animals are unique and should be treasured; humans need to treat the environment with care; it is good for humans to experience harmony with nature) and support each statement with a range of quotes from multiple poems.
Beveridge is acclaimed for her compassionate selection and treatment of human subjects who may otherwise remain marginalised, unseen and voiceless. The social justice orientation of many of her poems will interest civic-minded students, providing an opportunity to learn about Marxist critical theory. Her portraits of people experiencing challenge in India (‘Bahadour’, ‘Tarepati’, ‘Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi’ and ‘The Dung Collector’) all provide an unflinching and empathetic insight into the lives of those without power, influence or wealth in a developing Asian nation (and also address the cross-curriculum priority of Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia).
Beveridge invests her subjects with dignity and often beauty, and her poetry foregrounds these subjects’ common humanity, resilience and sense of self. In ‘The Dung Collector’, for example, Beveridge overtly rejects any romanticisation of the subject, yet attributes a ferocious pride to the woman who ‘looks straight into [the persona’s] eyes’ at the end of the poem.
Similarly, in ‘The Pest Inspector’ and ‘Rory’, Beveridge chooses subjects closer to home who (for different reasons) could be seen as powerless in society; yet she insists on their equal value as human beings and as subjects for art. In ‘The Pest Inspector’, the high versus low culture dichotomy expressed through the middle-class, educated hirer and hired worker’s different musical tastes makes a clear point. These people may have no obvious connection, but Beveridge gives them equal respect, born of admiration for the inspector’s expertise in his field. This subverts expected divisions in a stratified society; no one is beneath the notice of the poet/persona.
Beveridge’s concern for the powerless, marginalised and voiceless is also seen in ‘Rory’, in which the misunderstood and mistreated subject is loved, protected and valued by those who not only accept his different ways of perceiving the world, but celebrate them fondly.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab’s material on Marxist criticism is useful here; direct students to the ‘Typical Questions’ section and ask them to record five key facts about Marxist criticism.
Next, divide students into groups and ask each group to consider two questions:
- What other texts (films, novels, etc.) can they think of that lend themselves to a Marxist/social justice oriented critical approach? Why? What power relationships are examined in those texts?
- If they were to pitch to a publisher/film production company a new book/film expressing concern for the marginalised, powerless and voiceless, what or who would be the subject of the planned project?
Depending on their ability, and after establishing that Beveridge is renowned for her compassionate and socially just view of her subjects, you might prompt students to consider the issues of Beveridge as a tourist in a position of privilege:
- commenting in any way on people’s lives, no matter how compassionately
- making a living out of portraying such people
- potentially (and problematically) being read as condescending, especially in ‘The Pest Inspector’
- potentially reinforcing class values, even in her efforts to subvert them
Activity 2: class discussion
Divide students into small groups and give them this discussion question:
To what extent do you agree with the following statement?
‘Judith Beveridge’s ‘portrait’ poems empower people by breaking down barriers.’
Following the discussion, each group is to choose one poem not yet closely studied and create a visual representation (for display) that identifies the poem’s concern for social equality.
Comparisons with other texts
Students should understand that Beveridge’s use of poetry to explore and capture elements of nature (and human beings’ place within the natural and social world) are not new, and that her work is part of a long tradition in literature. Depending on available time and desired focus, this unit could be used to introduce students to Romanticism, with its emphasis on nature, the sublime and the picturesque, and its elevation of everyday people and occupations as subjects of art. There is also useful background for nature poetry and Beveridge’s treatment of her subjects in American transcendentalism (especially Henry David Thoreau and his Walden experiment) and modernist imagist poetry.
Students can research early Australian poets associated with the Romantic tradition in nature poetry, including (amongst others) Charles Harpur, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall. They can also look at Judith Wright’s body of work with similar concerns, especially in the Reading Australia resource for Wright: Collected Poems. Wright’s career was slightly earlier but spanned a period of increasing interest in the poetic expression of both environmental and social justice matters.
Activity 3: literary heritage research task
Divide students into groups and allocate each group a topic from this list:
- Students could look at the ‘Nature’ episode of Peter Ackroyd’s excellent documentary, The Romantics, if access is available. They could read Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’ and consider the elevation of the everyday, common subject within the landscape as a subject for art, comparing this to Beveridge’s selection and treatment of subject matter (e.g. ‘The Pest Inspector’, fishing poems). Students could also explore some work by Henry Kendall to get a sense of the Romantic tradition’s impact on early Australian poetic sensibility.
- American transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau and Walden:
- Encourage students to read about the movement and Thoreau’s project, but to just ‘dip into’ Walden; for example, the sections titled ‘Solitude’ and ‘The Ponds’.
- Imagist poets:
Students should fill in the literary heritage research table (PDF, 84KB), then use a ‘jigsaw’ activity to teach each other, using the remaining spaces in their tables to take notes.
Connections with contemporary Australian writing
Encourage students to see Beveridge’s work within the context of contemporary Australian writing: in particular, literature that expresses a connection to Australian coastal environments, and the relationship between those environments and emotional wellbeing, family, recreation and redemption.
Students can revisit the Blueback extract from the previous ‘found poetry’ exercise (Close Study, Rich Assessment Task 1: Creative Task), then read some or all of the following non-fiction texts:
- Tim Winton, ‘The swimming chair’ (from The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Charlotte Wood, ‘I know the sea has changed me’ (from The Sydney Morning Herald)
- Julia Baird, Phosphorescence (excerpts from The Guardian or Penguin Random House)
Encourage students to see all of this literature as reflecting a uniquely Australian consciousness of our environment and associated values.
Direct students to find their own related text that connects with Beveridge’s work in some way. This could be restricted to Australian texts, or expanded to enable choice based on interest. For example, students could choose from:
- Australian and Asian texts
- international texts (in recognition of the universality of Beveridge’s key concerns)
- historical English or Australian literature (looking back to the poetry’s Romantic or imagist roots)
Ask students to prepare a talk, visual display or essay in which they clearly link and compare their chosen text with aspects of Judith Beveridge’s work.
Synthesise core ideas
To affirm the idea of delighting in artistry, play Alan Barillaro’s award-winning Disney Pixar short film, Piper (if access is available via ClickView or a similar service, view the whole film; if not, view the trailer). Ask students to brainstorm similarities between this film and Judith Beveridge’s poetry. After brainstorming, give students the Piper handout (PDF, 119KB) and divide them into small discussion groups to work through the notes and questions.
This is another opportunity to discuss how mode, medium and form shape responses to texts. Encourage students to make comparisons between forms and to notice that short film and poetry have much in common – in particular, an observational focus intent on capturing moments in time rather than embarking on a long narrative.
Activity 1: creative response comparing different texts
After considering the questions in the handout, students should discuss what the two composers would appreciate about each other’s work, and then write an imagined email exchange in which they comment on each other’s artistic achievements.
Activity 2: writers’ festival brochure or interview transcript
Direct students to undertake ONE of the following tasks to help them reflect on the wider cultural value of Judith Beveridge’s work.
1. Imagine that Judith Beveridge is to be the keynote speaker at a writers’ festival, with a session entitled ‘What we really value’. Design a brochure, two A4 pages in length, to promote this event and encourage people to come to the keynote session to hear her speak.
The brochure must contain:
- brief biographical details
- evaluative language about her significance in the Australian literary world
- reference to key concerns in her work (drawing on the different ways of reading and valuing the text)
- quotes from some poems
- quotes from her comments about poetry/writing
- design elements that visually represent aspects of her poetry
2. Compose the transcript of a radio/podcast interview in which Judith Beveridge discusses the importance of poetry in expressing what we value as humans and societies.
For either of the above tasks, students can refer to the following resources that emphasise the significance of Judith Beveridge’s voice within the world of contemporary Australian literature:
- Winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (media release)
- Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (judges’ comments)
- Adelaide Festival: Judith Beveridge
- Judith Beveridge: awards and nominations
For quotes from Beveridge about her own work or the craft of writing poetry, students can revisit her ‘Author’s Note’ in the text, her essay ‘The Evolution of a Poem’ in Phoenix, her comments in the Rochford Street Review and her article ‘Making Space for the Inner Life’.
Rich assessment task 2: analytical task
Have students respond to the following question in an analytical essay that explores the values in the text and analyses the way in which language shapes meaning:
‘Whether she is writing about people, the natural environment or a combination of both, Judith Beveridge’s poetry richly embodies personal and social values.’
Respond to this statement, making close reference to ONE Beveridge poem closely studied in class and ONE other poem from the wider reading table (PDF, 94KB), or anywhere in the text as a whole.
Revise what it means to write analytically by returning to the Close Study, particularly the annotations on ‘Bahadour’ and the activity for ‘Sun Music’ analysing the effects of specific language choices and techniques. Remind students that this is what is meant by an ‘analytical essay’: dealing not only with the WHAT (subject matter, values) but also the HOW: how word choices, imagery, sound techniques, literary devices, lineation, form, etc. affect meaning (including tone and mood), and how these shape the reader’s response to the poetry and the values expressed within it.
Scaffold by providing the following list of values:
- the environment and the need to protect it
- the power of nature to enrich/satisfy/redeem
- human dignity and equality
- the potent/musical/playful possibilities of language
Students can return to their work from the Initial Response section (Synthesising Activity) to support their use of a critical vocabulary. They can also reuse the poetry TASTER scaffold (PDF, 94KB) to prepare their work on the untaught poem.
Note: If a traditional essay is not appropriate in your context, you could adapt the question into a presentation topic for a writing conference (e.g. ‘How literature shows us who we are’) to be delivered in a mode of the student’s choosing.