28 February 2009

Declamation Competition

It isn't common "now-a-days" to declaim poetry. We're lucky to ever read it. Hearing it read is a surprise. And hearing it recited well, from memory, is a rare treat. That's why, when I heard about a declamation competition in Oxford, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to try something new.

To be entirely honest, poetry is one of my weakest points as an English scholar--and as an Anglophile at all, for that matter. The students at "my school" (i.e. Brookewood) are required to memorize and then recite poetry, for which I really envy then. They stand are bravely, perfectly recite a poem from memory. I stand against the wall, gaping in admiration and jealousy.

Because I'm so inexperienced, signing up for the competition was particularly nerve-racking. My fiance and I looked at many poems and settled on a nice, simple--but wonderfully satirical--poem by Hillare Belloc called "Jim (Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion)." Declamation isn't simple reading, but a careful performance. Adam likened it to singing a piece of music, so I sat down and wrote in dynamics, breath marks, and pauses. It was a wonderful way to get to know a poem intimately, not just in form, but also in content.

In the end, I didn't make the qualifying round of the competition. "Jim" just didn't pass muster for the discerning palate of the judge. But, he was surprisingly supportive of my reading. He praised me for my reading of the poem and encouraged me to keep practicing. He even said I'd encouraged him to read more of Belloc's poetry. Maybe I can try again with a more nuanced piece.

So, I suppose I might be let down by my failure. Still, it was a success in many ways. I made it through an "audition" of sorts without panicking or crying, both of which I am embarrassingly likely to do based on historical precedent. And I had a crash course in a really basic, beautiful artistic skill. I hope I'll get to use it again.

25 February 2009


Where I come from, spring is less of a season than a two-week catastrophe. Flowers burst into bloom overnight, covering everything in sight with a thick coat of pollen. Trees open their blossoms, but they reek of something dead. Everyone is sneezing. Drivers can't see for the allergens in the air. And then, two weeks later the temperature increases thirty degrees--it's summer.

As beautiful as dogwood trees are, I have to admit that I never really appreciated spring in Atlanta. Even living in DC, where gorgeous cherry trees grace the city for a few weeks a year, I was too far removed from nature to really appreciate what was going on. But here, in England, I finally understand.

Spring is a season--a season of gradual opening and rebirth. Daffodils have been sprouting as soon as the snow melted three weeks ago. They didn't just bloom. In fact, they haven't bloomed yet. But each and every one, all over the city, holds the beautiful promise of a bright, yellow blossom.

The animals know it's coming, too. Birds have started to wake me up in the morning. Ducks chase potential mates through the river. In a few months, their babies will liter the towpath.

Here, you feel spring coming. This far north, each day is almost four full minutes longer. The sun comes up earlier each day, only strengthening the impression that life is growing.

The seasons in England are dynamic, unfolding slowly. God's creation really in a miracle.

You can see more photographs of Oxford in the spring here.

23 February 2009

Out with the Old?

Eddie Izzard jokes that he is from Europe, "Where the history comes from." To an American, it sounds funny. But, as an American abroad, I have to admit that he has a point.

My friend, Ruth, and I took a walk on Sunday. She walked through a thousand-year-old city center to the fifteenth-century bishop's palace where I live to meet me. We walked down the Thames (in Oxford, the Isis) and through the oldest undeveloped flood meadow in the country. Our destination? The ruins of twelfth-century abbey torn down during the reign of Henry VIII.

That is history. And, to a certain degree, I think having history is the primary cultural difference between the English and Americans. Americans feel an urgent need for change. The English don't. And I think it's because the English see history, know and accept that things usually last. I don't think either is right, but it makes an interesting contrast trying to run student organizations with English and American members. Food for thought?

You can see Eddie Izzard talking about Europe here--see 1:00 on. Also, watch out for profanity.