English 10: Writing Portfolio

 

Catholic Memorial High School

 

2007-2008

   
   
   
   
   
Research  
   
Creative Writing  
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  The blunt - featured tailor chomping on his blunt held the blunt edged dagger in his hand as he
lunged at the blunt - headed fool who dared to steal his blunt that he earned by sewing the
fool's new leather vest with his handy blunts. This could be a scene from a Shakespearean play.
Over time, words change spellings and definitions while others become obsolete by disuse. Still
other words are added as they become popular in the culture. The word "blunt", according
to The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology records the definitions as they changed through time. Blunt
actually has a popular definition in the drug culture that may yet appear in the dictionaries of the
twenty first century.

According to The Barnhart Dictionary of the Etymology, blunt may have derived from the Old
Icelandic word "blunda" which means “to shut the eyes” or “to doze”. In The Ormulum,
“blunt” meant "dull or obtuse". In 1285, it was used as a surname - Blundspure Bluntspur
from a] Scandinavian source. (Hoaevo 102) The Random House Dictionary of the English Language says
that blunt comes from Middle English related to "blind" (103) The OED references “blunt”
to Old Norse or Old English before 1100 or Old Teutonic. The American Heritage Dictionary of the
English Language, however, says that “blunt” is defined as “to dull the edge of” as arising from
Middle English between 1100-1500.

The obsolete definitions in the OED referred to "blunt” in the slang as "ready
money". Charles Dickens ,an English writer in 1883, used “blunt” in his novel, Oliver Twist :
"I must have some blunt from you tonight " (204). A less well known definition of “blunt”
refers to a size of a needle used in sewing. On packages of needles, the word is still used to refer
to short thick needles used for making shoes, bedding, quilting and on heavy materials. The most
common use of “blunt” describes a manner of speaking. "Blunt" means "abrupt speech or
manner, plain spoken, curt without delicacy" in the OED. This word could be used to describe
many teachers at school. William Shakesperare used “blunt” in this definition in his play Henery V:
"by his blunt bearing he will keep his word" Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism
written in 1204 states: “Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do.” (77)

To translate my first sentence in more common words, it would
read: "The rough, unpolished featured tailor chomping on his short cigar held a thick unsharp
dagger in his hand as he lunged at the stupid, obtuse fool who dared to steal his money that he
earned by sewing the fool's new vest with his handy short needles." Today a blunt in the
drug culture refers to a thick short marijuana cigarette similar to the short cigar definition.
   
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Dear Scribe,
Thank you for your submission of the epic poem, Beowulf, for publishing consideration by our
company, Prentice Hall. While our committee of editors appreciated the glimpse you provided into
Saxon history and language, Beowulf is not what we are looking for at this time. I found three
qualities of the work disturbing: the excessive violence, the lack of appeal of the fantasy figures
for our adult readers and the introduction of Christian values in a pagan epic.


The story of an epic hero naturally involves a journey in which he proves his strengths by attacking
his enemies and defending his leaders. Beowulf comes to Hrothgar’s court to offer his services in
just such a quest against Grendel. However, the violence is overwhelming and graphic which might
offend our younger readers. For example, you write: “No Dane doubted the Victory, for the prook,
hanging highly from the rafters where Beowulf had hung it, was the monsters arm, claw and shoulders
and all”. (48) Beowulf without a sword or shield attacked Grendel who had entered the hall while the
warriors were sleeping and maimed him. Hanging a bloody arm from on high is a very visual scene.
Cutting off the head of a mortally wounded Grendel hiding in his lair further accentuates the
violence.


Secondly, the popularity of The Harry Potter series and the recent movies, The Chronicles of
Narnia, and The Golden Compass, have saturated the market interest in fantasy figures. Beowulf
actually has all of its actions directed at these fantasy figures rather people. He fights both
Grendel and his mother until both are dead and then during his later years Beowulf attacks a dragon.
It would have been more acceptable if there was a balance of attacks on realistic figures and
fantasy figures. Once again mixing religion with fantasy, Beowulf includes “Shut away from men; they
split into thousand forms of evil – spirits and fiends, goblins, monsters, giants…” (40) Beowulf
certainly could have fought other enemies of either The Geats or challengers to Hrothgar’s throne to
attract the reader.


Beowulf can give the reader an insight into Saxon pagan culture and history. This culture
emphasizes courage, loyalty, to both leaders and kinsmen with a strict code of revenge. However,
your translation clearly includes Christianity and using Christian value, judges the characters and
events. For example, you describe Grendel as: “He was spawned in the slime, conceived by a pair of
those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God, punished forever for the crime of
Abel’s death”. (39-40) In the biblical story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve, Cain murdered
his brother. This is the first example of fratricide in the Bible. Grendel is further described:
“Though he lived in Heroti, when the night hid him, he never dared to touch king Hrothgar’s glorious
throne, protected by God-God” (41). The people of Denmark, however, were a pagan worshiping society
who believed more in fate than the protection and glory of God. Though Christianity is a mainstay of
our society and worthy of literature, it is not appropriate in this work.


In closing, thank you again for your submission of Beowulf. With rewrites you may try to submit
again. I suggest that you consider removing Christianity and its judgment on Beowulf’s actions and
replace it with more historical evidence of the Anglo Saxon culture. Similarly, if you could add
more realistic enemies, the appeal would be stronger though, I also suggest turning down the
violence. Please feel free to resubmit your manuscript for consideration with these suggestions in
mind.
Sincerely,
Hagop Grigorian

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
  The Boston marathon like the London marathon is an elite event that attracts millions of people each
April to our town. Runners from around the world all heard of our famous or infamous Heartbreak
Hill. The London Marathon is also a world marathon, but it is fairly new though growing. According
to the OED, the word "marathon" is 130 years. The sport, however, goes back to ancient
times when Phidipides was sent as a messenger to Athens from Marathon to announce the defeat of the
Persians in the Battle of Marathon in 490BC. According to the Encyclopedia Americana, it seems
appropriate that in the first Olympics of 1896, the marathon winner was Spiros Louis, a Greek
(Encyclopedia Britannica 814). Legend has it that the runner died after his arrival. By learning
about marathon running, we learn that the British people want to elevate their London Marathon to
become a world race in the international world or running and become as well known as the Boston
Marathon.

According to Steven Cram who wrote in an article on The Sport Blog for The Guardian, the
London Marathon was founded by Chris Brasher, a renowned journalist and Olympic champion who used
the Boston Marathon as a model. The London Marathon website stated that 36,396 people began the
London Marathon in 2007, the largest to date. In the book, The World of Marathons by Sandy
Treadwel,l many runners in the London marathon run in "silly costumes, to make fools of
themselves for the sake of the charities." They raise a great deal of money dressed as Goofy,
Gandhi, and Prince Charles to name a few, but it is all in good fun for good causes.



The marathon, in part, was organized by Chris Brasher to improve the standard of the
British marathon. However, according to Steven Cram's article in The Sports Blog of The
Guardian, "the standard of the men's event in the country has fallen over the past 10
years…" Cram asserts that runners need to have a stronger competitive environment to produce
fine home bred runners that can find sponsors to compete in the Olympics, however, it is not clear
if there isn't a bit of prejudice when discussing this issue. In England as well as other
countries including the US, the winners are from countries such as Italy, Japan, and Kenya. Cram
also says that the British do not provide enough funding for training, travel and medical expenses
to attract people to the sport.

The BBC Gloustershire reporter, Ian Randall, interviewed Dan Robinson, a British
marathon runner in 2006. He finished in 12th place of the World Championships which contributed to
winning the BBC West Individual Achievement Award of 2005. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to run
in the London Marathon of that year because of several illnesses that sidetracked his training. His
winning time for the World Championship 12th place was 2 hours 14 minutes. He hoped that this win
would help him achieve team membership in the All England Championship team. His training includes
running a 10k half marathon before Christmas. He is willing to take some risks but doesn't want
to overdue it and suffer an injury that would prevent him from competing. Unlike other runners, he
trains more than he competes. He realizes that stamina and strength is the key to long distance
running. Dan Robinson acknowledges that his competitors include " the Kenyans, Tanzanians,
South Africans, Australians, and the Brits." In 2007 he placed 11th in Japan improving on his
2005 record.



Running in England was captured by AE Housman who wrote "To an Athlete Dying Young" in
1896 which is made up of stanzas that have the tone of a folk song. The poem praises a young runner
in his physical prime.



The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder high. (LL1-4)



However, the young man dies suddenly and is returned to his home town once again held "shoulder
high" but in a coffin. Housman points out that fame is fleeting



Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay

And early through the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose. (LL9-12)



The only way to be remembered, therefore, is to die young after achieving success. Unfortunately,
according to the BBC News a marathon runner did die in 2000 after running the London Marathon.
Steven Bettany, 24, suffered a brain hemorrhage after running the 26 mile race and died at the ST.
Thomas Hospital.

Marathon running in England is attracting more world competitors which will raise its rating.
According to The Sports Blog, "British Marathon running suffers from exactly the same problems
as British Athletics generally –lack of a pool of youngsters". Lottery funding needs to
include marathon training for all potential qualified runners not just for Olympic competitors.
Without it, "…athletics can be nothing more than a hobby." By providing a living wage,
young men and women can concentrate all their efforts in becoming world class marathon runners.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

Dear Mr. President

Catholic Memorial's English curriculum relies heavily on the works of British
writers. Some of these works include Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, Shakespeare's
Macbeth and his sonnets as well as poems by British poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert
Burns. Though Shakespeare is difficult to read, I can appreciate the intricacies of the language
and
his use of puns and historical references. If I could reorganize the curriculum, I would suggest
that Shakespeare be taught to juniors and seniors who are more mature and can understand the
language better.


There is a movement among many English teachers to drop British literature or to limit
choices and include a more diverse booklist of authors to complement the diverse population of
America. For example, I am of Armenian descent and I have read Hartgoghi Zharangortnere by Kevork
Ajemain, an Armenian writer, who wrote about Armenian youths in Lebanon in the 1970s. Instead of
concentrating only on British writers and literature, the works of world writers such as Jamaica
Kincaid, Isabel Allende, Umberto Eco, Confucius, Laotse and Nadine Gordimer could
be included. British literature is less meaningful to students today.


However, British literature definitely has a place in the curriculum. I recently spoke
to a home school teacher, Carol Rodman, who taught British literature to her three children and
worked with other home school teachers reading Shakespeare. She agrees that Shakespeare should be
taught but not as it is done in schools now. Students should read summaries of the plot before
beginning the story. "I was given the Charles and Mary Lamb book which offered Shakespeare’s
comedies in prose. I learned to love them before reading them in Shakespeare's old English. I
did the same for my home schooled students and children so they were able to understand the story
they were about to read," said Ms Rodman. She also feels that reading out loud and not
discussing every turn of phrase is preferable. Ms Rodman has gone every year and recommends as a
summer assignment, Shakespeare in the Park, put on each year in the Boston Commons by The
Huntington
Theater Company. They use Shakespearean stories in the original language but set it in modern times
with modern sets and costumes.


Shakespeare’s language is the root of our language. Tom Flaherty in his research has
found that many of our words have their roots in Middle English. He states that the first sentence
that is recorded with the word, "ignite" meaning “to combust” was written by Rolland.
"He wrote: that we micht knaw his chertie ignite, Ardent, and hair." He claims that a
word
as common as “ignite” is older than the language we call modern English However, Mr. Flaherty does
believe that works written in old English like Beowulf are confusing to read especially for high
school students. "When the students want to sit down and focus on reading often times they get
frustrated and doze off because they cannot understand what they are reading" (Flaherty 2008).
When reading Shakespeare, I am aware of the changes in language compared to common day
usage. Colin Hackett comments in his essay on word origin that the word "reason” has changed
eleven times with eleven different definitions. These changes according to Mr. Hackett "show
that the English language has changed alongside the changes in culture." Though expressive,
the
English of Shakespeare is difficult. It is easier to understand when read in prose or
"translated" into the modern English words in modern English grammar.
Ryan Gillis also makes reference to Shakespeare in his essay on the word origin of
"sword" which derives from Old English. He states that Shakespeare uses "sword"
in a figurative manner in his works. Gillis concludes "Shakespeare gains enjoyment by twisting
his words and creates alternative meanings for them which makes his literature richer and the words
more diverse in meaning." If a student is mature enough to appreciate the language,
Shakespeare
is worth the effort.


I contacted two different correspondents in London to survey their opinions on the
subject of the benefits of including British literature and received one response from Kate
Saunders
who writes Book reviews for The London Times. Not surprisingly, she feels that British literature
is
an importance source of the great works of the world. She comments, "There are seven basic
themes or plots used in all novels and Shakespeare has covered them all in some form or other,
usually with some unexpected twists." She particularly appreciated Shakespeare's comedies
that provided "strong role models for young girls such as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
Role
models were sorely lacking whilst I was growing up." She was surprised to learn about the
range
of writers covered in British Literature in the United States.
In fact, most schools in the United States will include older works by British authors.
For example, Boston Latin Schools English curriculum for the eleventh grade includes a survey of
British literature that "offers a mature look at various literary forms as well as analyses
and
discussions of universal themes." This supports Ms Saunders comment on Shakespeare's
contribution. Locally, Roxbury Latin, the oldest school in North America, does not concentrate
British Literature in one year but scatters it throughout the English curriculum as it pertains to
the theme of the year. For example in Class V, the literacy styles and genres explore "the
often confusing and continuous relationship between an individual and his or her social
environment." These works include: Julius Caesar (Shakespeare), Separate Peace (Knowles) and
Lord of the Flies (Golding).


At Belmont High School, it is interesting to note that other than Shakespeare's
Macbeth, the English courses are more focused on American writers. However, in Senior Honors Class,
the literature includes more than Shakespeare. The works of Virginia Woolf, Oscar Wilde and
Geoffrey
Chaucer are included.


In conclusion, British literature is definitely still popular in American curriculums
both in private and public schools. The benefits include learning the language of the past, the
roots of the words, the appreciation of puns, and universal themes covered in Shakespeare's
works. The only cautionary word came from the home schoolers who suggested that Shakespeare should
be read by more mature readers. I would recommend keeping British Literature as a part of the
Catholic Memorial curriculum.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
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