99 stories – the power of retelling

Picture5Have I got a great story for you:

A male narrator on a crowded bus witnesses a disagreement between a man with a long neck and a funny hat and a fellow passenger. The narrator then sees the same man a couple of hours later, this time getting some advice from a friend on how to add a button to his coat.

That’s it.

Ok, It’s not much of a story, I admit, but it’s nevertheless one that has had a profound effect on the way that I teach elements of my subject, in particular ideas of genre and perspective.

The plot – such as it is – comes from a neat little book written by Raymond Queneau in 1947 called Exercises in Style. Originally written in French and subsequently translated into over 30 different languages, Queneau’s book is a collection of 99 retellings of the same base story, known as ‘notation’, which I summarised above. 

As the title suggests, each retelling is a writing exercise, where Queneau takes the original story and transforms it in accordance to a given literary or rhetorical style. And so we have versions such as double entry, where every detail and item is repeated and duplicated, or metaphorically, where the passengers on the bus are a ‘shoal of travelling sardines’ and the man doing the arguing is a ‘chicken with a long, featherless neck.’

I tend not to use Queneau’s exercises directly with students. Many of his retellings are too complicated and the rhetorical methods they are intended to illustrate are too advanced.  I do, however, apply his approach, taking passages from stories and rewriting them from different perspectives and in different genres. It really helps to show how both fiction and non-fiction work and the importance of structure and viewpoint.

Transformational writing is nothing new. I’ve been teaching some form of recreational writing for years and students enjoy reimagining a missing scene, or transforming a passage from one genre into another. The exercises are different, though. Because they are so short, the focus of each is much more pronounced. The base ‘notation’ is also devoid of artifice, and so the core features of any stylistic or generic inflections are amplified.

In 2013 Bethany Brownholtz wrote a modern day extension to Exercises in Style as part of her Master’s programme. In her 21st Century Remix, Brownholtz draws upon styles that have emerged since Queaneau’s time, offering 40 variations on a new base story, which she calls the ‘gist’. As with Queaneau, the gist is not the focus, but rather the tone or genre that is applied to it. 

Here is the gist in its entirety:

Commuter train to Chicago, early afternoon. Recurring cell phone dings. A middle-aged businessman plays with his phone. He sits across the aisle from a woman. She makes eye contact with the passenger in front of him—college kid, white undershirt, messy hair, like he slept on a futon. She smiles and rolls her eyes at the kid. A friendly gesture meant to commiserate. The kid shouts “What?” At the next stop, she apologizes and moves to another train car. 

Thirty minutes later, the young woman uses the bathroom at Union Station. She notices an older homeless lady by the sink in distress and asks if she needs help. The lady requests that the young woman take the older lady’s pants off. The young woman says no and leaves.

Amongst Brownhltz’s re-workings are moods such as nostalgic and pissed off and contemporary styles such as memoir, rap and social media status updates. It’s a really useful resource, though I should stress I’m not advocating transforming literary works into rap lyrics or Tweets! This isn’t about making writing more engaging and relevant, it’s about making the art of the writing more explicit, such as the effects of different perspectives, styles and voices.

One activity I’ve undertaken recently with a year 8 writing unit is to explore the effect of different points of view on meaning – helping students to understand how the same story framed differently emphasises some ideas and attitudes, and downplays others.

The gist might look like this when inflected in the third person.

It was a cold October morning. Mrs James was travelling to London to make an early morning board meeting. The dusty grey train was packed with sleepy commuters, looking tired and bored. She had been lucky to grab a seat by the window, but just as she curled up in the corner to rest, a loud mobile phone ring brought her crashing back to her senses.

Or like this in the first person, from the point of view of the woman.

I was due at a board meeting at 9.00am in London. It had been years since I’d last got a train and I’d forgotten how crowded they got. Despite the fact that carriage was packed with commuters, I managed to find a seat by the window, next to an old lady and opposite a grumpy man in a suit. As I shut my tired eyes, the man’s phone suddenly burst into life!

Or even like this in the second person, where the reader becomes the woman.

You are heading to London for an important meeting with your clients. Last night was late and you are very tired this morning, barely able to keep your eyes open. You look around the carriage and spot a free seat by the window. As you nestle down in the corner, your sleep is interrupted by the sound of man’s phone and its annoying ringtone.

In each retelling something is gained and something is lost. Such a comparison of perspectives is arguably more effective at illustrating these differences than most verbal explanations. I guess it works in a similar way to the use of examples and non-examples when teaching difficult concepts. The key learning points are better understood through side by side comparison of getting it right and getting it wrong.

Hopefully you can see how this approach could be applied to other areas of the curriculum. For example, when reading a novel, a rewritten passage from a different perspective might help clarify authorial intent. Indeed, i’ve recently had some success with year 11 by making subtle changes to some of the source material on AQA Paper One. Understanding the perspective used by the writer and how the text is structured is quite tricky and comparing different narrative possibilities proved very useful.

As with all stories, this is not the end. In 2005 artist Mark Hadden released Exercises in Style. 99 Ways to Tell a Story, a comic book rendering of Queneau’s work, in which Hadden applies the principles at work in the written form to the visual medium. In my next post, I hope to show how Hadden’s work has inspired my teaching, in particular at GCSE to explore how writers use structure to create meaning.

The end.

Or is it?

We Murder to Dissect – How to Approach a Poem Without Killing It

I don’t know whether it’s a by-product of the way we teachpoetry – where there’s always so much to do and so little time – or whether it ‘twas ever thus. Either way, many students seem to approach poetry like they are trying to solve a puzzle. To them, a poem is more like a riddle to be solved or explained away rather than something to be enjoyed or savoured.

It may be a stretch to expect young people to independently appreciate the aesthetic pleasures of a lyric or bask in the sensual delights of metrical verse, but I think we should at least try to stop them treating poetry like Sudoku or seeing poems as codes to be cracked. The problem – the tension, the ambiguity, the unexplainable – is the point of the poem. Students need to learn how to accept that which evades ordinary language is part of the pleasure of poetry. It is poetry.

I’m currently reading Picnic Comma Lightening by Laurence Scott, a great read about the impact of digital culture on meaning in the modern world. Early on, Scott recounts the experiences of a group of professors who start noticing an increasing number of their students referring to non-fiction in their essays as novels. Scott attributes this collapse in understanding of generic boundaries to the digital age where everything is a‘story’.

Poems are not novels, of course, and whilst narrative poems share similarities with fiction they are not the same as stories found in books. Poetry is distinct from prose and we should help students to see, hear and feel these distinctions, particularly if it’s true that the notion of genre really is becoming less familiar and intuitive to younger generations. Teaching poetry not only requires a shift in pedagogy, but a shift in mindset. This we can model.

Key stage three is fertile ground to inculcate this aesthetic apprenticeship. We should fight the urge to analyse everything to within an inch of its life and better model the art of appreciation, sympathy and the subtle thinking processes involved in approaching a new poem afresh. We want the poem work its magic before we look at how it’s all achieved – to what lies under the hood! It’s tempting to focus on meaning (we are meaning-making creatures) but we also need to learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty and reconcile ourselves to different ways of seeing.

In short, we need to learn how to notice.

Over the years, I’ve settled on an approach to introducing a new poem that tries to foster this art of observation – of patterns, tensions and the unusual. It works just as well with younger students as older students, albeit with some tailoring to reflect relative experience and ability. It’s not reducible to a pithy acronym. Rather, it’s a loose set of questions that take students from the discombobulation of initial reading to the beginnings of what it means to enjoy the forming of meaning out of patterns of images and sounds.

Before I get to the questions, I like students to get a sense of the poem.

I read the poem first.

Students then read it silently to themselves.

They read it again, identifying any words or phrases they don’t know.

I explain all those that are crucial, usually as I have anticipated but not always.

Students then take turns reading lines, hearing the poem in their own voice.

We repeat until fluency emerges and they can hear any rhythm or rhyme.

I then get students to write down things they notice – not explain, but notice. This generates anything from comments about tone, perspective and emotions to statements about line lengths, rhyming patterns, recurring words and so on. Pretty much anything is valid here.

Students next choose a couple of observations and frame them as questions – there are alternate lines that rhyme becomes why does every other line rhyme? The last stanza is shorter than the others becomes why is the last stanza shorter than the others?

The following 10 questions help to deepen their understanding and build meaning:

  1. Who is speaking in the poem? To whom? What is their perspective?What is the tone of the voice? How do you know?
  2. What is the story or set up? Does it describe an event (narrative), recount an exchange (dramatic) or is it more reflective and observational (lyric)?
  3. What kind of language is used- formal, colloquial, poetic? What kinds of words -abstract, concrete, technical? Is the language consistent with the voice and/or story?
  4. How does the poet use visual elements? Is there any striking or unsettling imagery? Are there patterns, repetitions or contrasts?
  5. How does the poet use aural elements? Are there any striking sound effects? Do the sounds complement or contrast the images?
  6. How does the poet structure the poem? Are there interesting contrasts? Patterns? Developments? Changes in tone? How does the poem begin and end? Do they relate?
  7. How does the poet use rhythm and rhyme? Is it regular or irregular? Are there any heavy or light stresses?  How do they relate to the meaning and tone?
  8. How is punctuation used in the poem? Do lines run on or are they end-stopped? Are there any pauses or gaps? Would changes in punctuation alter the meaning or tone?
  9. Are there any irregularities in the poem? How does it relate to other elements?
  10. What is the relationship between the title and the poem as a whole? Does it anchor the meaning or seem to work against it? Why?

At this point I go back to the questions we asked ourselves earlier and more often than not we are in a better position to start answering them.

Well, most of the time!

I hope this was useful – thanks for reading.

The race to the bottom is still very much on!


Like you, I get lots of emails every day. I’ve not yet figured out – or rather not bothered to figure out – how to turn off the automatic alert. As a consequence, I frequently get interrupted at work. Earlier this week, an email popped up with the subject Quotation Bank in it. Mildly intrigued and on this occasion needing a distraction, I clicked the link. I wish I hadn’t. I think I have discovered a new low in educational profiteering.

As their name suggests, The Quotation Bank offer banks of quotations for all the major exam texts, all helpfully analysed for meaning and method. Whilst they are probably no worse than any other study guide, online or otherwise – they all adopt the same cynical approach of focusing relentlessly on assessment objectives and working backwards from mark schemes – there is just something very depressing for an English teacher of reducing literature to a bunch of quotes. Equally disheartening is having a whole industry that exploits the narrow end goal, but invests very little (by way of decent textbooks) on how to actually get there.

Perhaps I have a particular beef with what Quotation Bank has to offer because to me it signals a new low in the race to the bottom – one step too far in the finding of cute ways to maximise exam success through the back door. It’s fair enough for teachers to arm their students with an understanding of the text’s key lines alongside the study of the text itself, but to build a revision approach around a few decontextulised snippets alone seems to me to be rather missing the point, and certainly not what I thought I was signing up for when I came into teaching English.

All this reminds me of something that occurred a few years back when I was teaching Dorian Gray at AS level. I remember coming across a critical opinion crib sheet on the Internet, which consisted of a dozen or so quotations from different critics about the novel. I think I sighed before continuing my searches. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought, were it not for the fact that a couple of weeks later when I was reading through some recently released exemplar essays from the exam board, I came across some of the essays that contained the exact same critical quotations. Word for word.

Now it may well be that the crib sheet came after the exemplar essays. Maybe a resourceful student (hopefully not a teacher!) got hold of the scripts and knocked up a list of all the critics mentioned onto a flashcard for their own preparation. I don’t think so, but it was over five years ago now, so I cannot be sure. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. A quick search now for some of the ‘critics’ cited (and their supposed thoughts on Dorian Gray) throws up multiple cheat sheets and online flashcards with exactly the same material. It’s the literary equivalent of what journalist Nick Davies calls Flat Earth News, where news stories become news stories by sheer virtue of being spread widely with no one having the time, inclination or expertise to check their validity.

Now, I don’t expect A Level students to read the whole of tomes like Simone De Beauvoir’s Second Sex – who has? – but I would hope they could handle more than just a few pithy lines from a dubious critic. I’ve always been of the belief that one of the purposes of A level study, particularly in a subject like English, is to prepare students for the next stage of an education, whether or not they choose to continue with it. A level should, in part, be about introducing students to scholarship, teaching them the concept of literary theory and giving them a decent taste of the real thing. Not watered-down soundbites designed to convey an appearance of knowledge.

In my opinion, these are both examples of the race to the bottom – a race that is unfortunately still being run, despite the best efforts of many principled teachers and school leaders to base improvement on long-term, sustainable developments informed by evidence and genuine subject expertise. The pressure to achieve success is clearly is still all consuming and fuels a desire to find ways to bypass hard work, to look for quick wins and is the reason why companies like Quotation Bank continue to exist. The knock-on effect for a university education is only too clear.

What I think confounds the problem is the failure of the exam boards to do their jobs properly. And I am not just referring here to their inability to distinguish between knowledge and soundbites. It seems to me that, at least in my subject, there are just not enough examiners and that those examiners we do have do not always have the expertise required to examine properly. Whilst anecdotal, I know of several teachers who examined this year on texts that they had not read. A Twitter poll I conducted a few months ago suggested these were not isolated cases. Now, if you think about it – that’s ridiculous: you determine the grades of students for a text you’ve never read!

The response to this would probably go something like, ‘oh, but it’s the skills you are assessing for on the mark scheme.’ Sounds plausible, but it’s really just nonsense. Again, only anecdotal, but we have had several cases where our strongest students got much lower grades than we expected. Obviously, I understand we all have good days and bad days, but almost every time we ask for scripts back it is clear the examiner has not fully recognised some of the more sophisticated points made, and that trite, yet obvious analysis is rewarded whereas insight and subtlety is not. Surprise, surprise – on almost every occasion we appeal, grades go up, sometimes by a ludicrous number of marks.

It would be better if exam boards stopped focusing on making money on designing resources to support the teaching of their own specifications. The primary function of an exam board is surely to design and assess their qualifications, and to make sure the grades they award are consistent and fair. The curriculum, teaching and learning is for schools and teachers to worry about. Likewise if exam boards put more money and effort into recruitment, and not relied on the dubious proposition of valuable CPD for teachers, they would not need to lower the bar to get all their scripts marked. If all examiners had expertise in what they were examining, students would be encouraged to understand the whole text and get to grips with hard content and not just how to create the impression that they understand.

Without a market for short cuts, there would be little incentive for anyone to provide them, and the race would turn round in the other direction.


Quietly confident (thanks to the new A levels!)


Obviously, this is an ironic representation. I much prefer white wine!*

Next week my year 13 class sit their first literature exam – two short analytical essays on Hamlet, and a comparison of A Doll’s House and Christina Rossetti poetry. For the first time in long while – perhaps ever – I have not run any one to one sessions or taught any additional after school revision classes. My students have not written hundreds of essays, or emailed me constantly in my holidays with questions or additional work to mark.

And yet, by Jove, I think they are ready.

Obviously, time will tell, and I am aware of the hubris I am inviting by publicly asserting my confidence in their readiness. It may well be that Kris will underperform, or that Rose will not fulfil her potential. In either eventuality, however, I don’t think I will feel any regret about my teaching or the approach that I have taken. They are all ready; I don’t think there is anything more I could have done!

Things have not always been this way, though, and I have not always felt quite so calm at this time of year. There are probably two reasons why I am feeling sanguine. The first is experience. This is my 13th A2 class and with each passing year, I become a little less caught up in exam season frenzy. I care a great deal about my students, but I care much more about my own children. I do what I can with the time I have available, which has decreased since I have become a dad and get more tired.

The second, arguably more significant reason for my relative confidence is, believe it or not, down to the linear nature of the new examinations, and, in particular, our school’s decision not to bother with any interim AS exams. For maybe the first time in my career – I had two year 11 classes, a year 12 class and a year 13 group in my NQT year! – I have been able to teach the curriculum properly and with fidelity to the principles of how students learn best.

Most years I pick up exam classes and have the (dubious) pleasure of preparing students for exams in only a few months’ time. There are usually stacks of poems to learn and lots of coursework to get through. What I believe about student learning goes out the window, in favour of short-term performance wins. Even with year 12, I am often unable to teach like a research champion because of the reductive nature of unit assessment.

Last year, I wrote of the joy I was experiencing with the greater freedoms afforded by linearity, and this has only continued since. I have been able to properly embed a range of strategies and for once feel like, along with the reduction in the number of texts on the syllabus, there is enough time to properly explore texts, as well as get meaningfully into contextual factors, different theatrical interpretations and theoretical approaches.


Take Hamlet. Under the previous modular system, in one term there would only be enough time to read the text together once as a class, simultaneously trying to get to grips with characters, events and emerging themes, whilst also analysing key passages and relating ideas to contextual details. Talk about cognitive overload.

This time, and with my present year 12 class too, I have been able to read the play multiple times and got to watch several different interpretations. On each sweep, I have been able to focus on particular things: character, plot and basic ideas first time round; close analysis of key scenes the next; wider interpretations and theoretical readings in later readings. We finished the course at Easter, and have been revisiting ever since.

Spacing and Interleaving

As well as being able to return to the texts multiple times, the new linear A level has provided opportunities to space out readings and interleave them with other content. So, for example, after reading Hamlet for plot and character, we were able to study some Rossetti poems and make a start on the coursework. Returning to each set text – with frequent quizzing in between – seems to have strengthened student understanding.


Without the pressure of rushing through lots of content – or worse, missing out swathes – there has been time to build in systematic quizzing. At the start of every lesson I am able to test students on their knowledge and understanding, creating regular retrieval practice as well as opportunities for valuable formative assessment. Crucially, I have had the time to address any misconceptions and explain things again if necessary.

Deliberate Practice

By far the biggest impact the new two-year A Level has had on my teaching is the time it has provided for developing the quality of students’ writing. For quite a while now, I have been delaying getting students to write. Long gone are the days of reading a couple of scenes or a few chapters and then manufacturing an exam-style exam just so students get to do an essay. It’s a written subject, so there must be lots of extended writing, right?

Actually, no. As the experience of the last few years has shown me – particularly with my current cohort – endless essay writing does not maketh the literature student. What it does maketh is a mountain of substandard work for the downtrodden teacher who has to then dutifully mark it, often to little or no avail. Whilst there were in year 12, I hardly set my students any essays, focusing instead on developing their knowledge base and engaging in deliberate practice of specific sentence types, such as thesis statements.

Only in the last few months have my class been writing whole essays. What has struck me is how quickly their essays have developed. Usually, it would be quite a while before I would see an uplift in style, argument and depth of analysis, but this year, my students have made much more progress much more quickly. I genuinely think that knowing more about the texts has increased their confidence and allowed them to articulate themselves more coherently. The depth of their arguments is noticeable.

Final word

I don’t want to overplay things. I am certainly not suggesting my students will get extraordinary results because of anything extraordinary that I have done. Some will do very well; some will do as expected; others may end up disappointed. ‘Twas ever thus.

What I think, and hope, is different this time, is that my students will have got their results without having to complete endless mock examinations, come back every week after school for weeks on end, or knock out an unrealistic amount of essays. I also think that a lot more of what they have learnt will last beyond the exam, which I am not sure I can say, hand on heart, has always been the case.

More than anything, though, the changes to specification and linearity have meant that I have been able to teach in such a way that is efficient and sustainable, for my students and for me. Much of their success will come down to how well they have applied themselves and, of course, to how well things go on the day itself. This things are largely beyond my control, and whilst I will naturally be disappointed for any that underachieve, I will not have any regrets about how well I have prepared them.

I have done my best for other people’s children, without having had to sacrifice valuable time with my own.

This is what teaching should be like for all teachers, whether parents or not.


* image taken from: http://www.altonivel.com.mx/42105-13-personajes-que-no-debes-contratar/



On Poetry II – Poetry and the poetic

bob-dylan-not-a-poet-casey-jamesLast year Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature for ‘creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ Whilst I can appreciate the splendor and immediacy of his lyrics, and the gruff poetic beauty of his rolling voice, I don’ think he is a poet and or that his songs should be considered poetry, at least not in terms of poetry written for the page and for private contemplation.

This probably sounds a bit dismissive of Dylan’s craft and shows a lack of respect and appreciation for all he has done for music over the past few decades. I can already hear the knives sharpening from those who believe that Dylan is a poet, which would only intensify were I to question the credentials of artists like Morrissey, Nick Cave or Jarvis Cocker who are also commonly referred to as poets.

The art of these writers is without question; their contribution to culture undeniable. To say the likes of Bob Dylan are not poets is not, though, to denigrate their achievements or to call into question their artistry, but to recognise the difference between song lyrics and poetry. Many of their lyrics are clearly poetic, but they are not really poetry.

Poet Glenn Maxwell has a simple exercise to make it clear how poetry is fundamentally different to song lyrics. It involves writing out the lyrics of your most cherished song and then reading them bare – just the words on the page. In every instance the effect is striking. As Maxwell observes, ‘if you strip the music off it it dies in the whiteness, can’t breathe there. Without the music there is nothing to mark time, to act for time.’ Great songs need music; great poems do not – they generate their own.

You that build all the bombs

You that hide behind walls

You that hide behind desks

I just want you to know

I can see through your masks

‘Masters Of War’ – Bob Dylan (1963)


Yes, I wish that for just one time

You could stand inside my shoes

You’d know what a drag it is to see you

‘Positively 4th Street’ – Bob Dylan (1965)

This matters to how we approach the teaching of poetry. I’ve often seen students led into poetry through the medium of song. The implication is that poetry cannot be enjoyed on its own terms, only by being brought into the orbit of something more familiar. Nothing wrong with making things relevant, I hear you cry. Well, yes, sometimes. The problem here is the message it sends out about the status of poetry – that it’s just like songs – and the misconceptions about meter it creates further down the line.

Chief among these approaches is the use of rap music. Many a lesson I’ve witnessed with Eminem or Dre used to inspire students to study poetry. Aside from the perennial danger of trying to be down with the kids – it never works – there is the danger of misleading students about the nature of poetry, and setting up problems when we want to turn to the technical nitty-gritty of rhythm and rhyme.

If song lyrics get lost in the white wilderness , then rap lyrics disappear altogether – all the energy, anger and delight of the rhythm and rhyme vanishes. Without the beat, there is nothing. The lyrics look daft; they are not strong enough to withstand the encroaching whiteness. Song lyrics, however slight, need some accompaniment, whether a guitar, a beat, or even the voice itself recast as instrument. Poems generate their own music, but songs need rhythms from elsewhere and the presence of the performer.

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity

To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment

Would you capture it, or just let it slip?


‘Lose Yourself’ – Eminem (2002

Robert Frost understood this difference between poetry and the poetic. In 1913 when he first met Edward Thomas in Harold Monro’s Poetry bookshop,  he knew he’d come across a genuine poet, even though Thomas had yet to write any verse. Thomas read and wrote prodigiously. By the time the pair met, he had already published some two dozen books and written almost 2,000 commissioned pieces, including a great deal of nature writing.

The next day was the missel-thrush’s and the north-west wind’s. The missel-thrush sat well up in a beech at the wood edge and hailed the rain with his rolling, brief song: so rapidly and oft was it repeated that it was almost one long, continuous song. But as the wind snatched away the notes again and again, or the bird changed his perch, or another answered him or took his place, the music was roving like a hunter’s.

 from In Pursuit of Spring – Edward Thomas (1914)

Thomas wrote poetically, but he didn’t write poems. In his nature writing, Frost saw the potential for Thomas to turn his poetic prose cadences into the music of poetry. He badgered Thomas to take his eye and ear for nature and turn it into verse. The poems came thick and fast, with some 70 or so written in the first six months of 1914. Often Thomas returned to the notebooks he kept from his long walks in the Gloucestershire countryside, or to the published prose pieces that they begat. The result was something fundamentally different. Poetry.

What did the thrushes know? Rain, snow, sleet, hail,

Had kept them quiet as the primroses.

They had but an hour to sing. On boughs they sang,

On gates, on ground; they sang while they changed perches

And while they fought, if they remembered to fight:

So earnest were they to pack into that hour

Their unwilling hoard of song before the moon

Grew brighter than the clouds.

From ‘March’ – Edward Thomas

The poems that Edward Thomas produced before his tragic death from a shell blast on the first day of the battle at Arras are, in my opinion, both beautiful and brilliant. That is not to say that they are necessarily any more beautiful or brilliant than anything penned by Eminem or Dylan, but simply to recognise that they are different in what they achieve and how they go about achieving it. If we fail to acknowledge this distinction and rely instead on seguing from song lyrics to poetry, we are effectively undermining the orientations of both forms.

So let’s not try to call everything that is poetic poetry, or we end up diminishing the rich tapestry of aesthetic expression, whilst devaluing the skill of the poet – the skill to move through word and sound with nothing more than inky black marks on white open space.

Much is poetic; precious little is poetry.