The Olde & Noble Fenn Publick Speaking Contest...

WW Fenn Publick Speaking Contest

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“There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1.The nervous and 2. Liars.” 

~Mark Twain


The WW Fenn Publick Speaking Contest [my spelling] originally started out as a poetry recitation contest. Over the years, however, the original rules have been bent and distorted to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell that it is supposed to be a celebration of "greatness" in literature, not a mimicking of a speech seen on TV or in a movie; not a silly comic piece or sing-songing children's story, and not a shallow barrage of clever words set into a story. 

I want you to have an experience that will live on in you and for you through as many years as you walk this earth; I want you to remember your words for the power that gives those words timelessness.  I want to get back to the purity of the original source and lifeblood of the WW Fenn contest. 

I want you to choose your WW Fenn performance piece carefully and thoughtfully. We will begin the classwork memorization and performance process right away--which is a multi-step process!


You may choose a poem, ballad, or a passage from a piece of classic or singularly great literature, which includes: novels, short stories, or essays; moreover, you may choose to recite a traditional myth or cultural story. Speeches that are a part of a larger piece of literature are allowed, but not speeches. If you wish, I will choose a piece for you.

The piece must be at least 60 seconds long, but not more than three minutes in length. I have included links to sources in the extended entry to help find a piece.

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How to Write a Metacognition

Know Thyself…

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Explore, Assess, Reflect & Rethink

If we don’t learn from what we do, we learn little of real value. If we don’t create the time to explore, assess, reflect, and rethink our ways of doing  things, we will never grow, evolve and reach our greatest potential or tap into the possibilities of our lives. Writing a metacognition is our way to Explore our experiences as students and teachers, and then to honestly Assess our strengths and weaknesses, to willfully and wisely Reflect on what we did—and did not—do, and to Rethink how to move forward in a positive and more enlightened way towards a better and more applicable and capable future.

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A Reflection on Reading & Writing

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When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.
Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

~Laozu, The Dao de Qing

I went to Beijing Teachers College, in China, almost forty years ago. 1981 or 1982. I was not a particularly good student, but I loved living in China—when China was a much more rural country than now. There were few cars on the streets of Beijing and only one high rise building, the Beijing Hotel—that dwarfed the skyline at almost ten stories high—where the few foreigners, business seekers and reporters in the city lived and stayed and drank and dissipated their days and nights away—or so it seemed to me. The Chinese people, aside from the communist party elite, were invariably poor, but incessantly gracious, and few seemed unhappy. One night while visiting a Zhang Hong Nian, a poet, artist and friend of mine, I asked how, in the face of such daily hardship, the average Chinese person maintained their dignity and sense of humor.

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Stones. Words and Walls

Every stone counts...

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I'm not ignoring you.
I'm busy building my empire.
~Moosa Rahat

Language is the gift—as well as the tool—allowing and enabling us to appreciate, understand, and express the complexity and nuance of our inner and outer lives. Our language builds upon itself, and it evolves, as we evolve, to breathe the newest air of the universe. The right words bring clarity to chaos and echo long in the halls of existence. Those who listen will be enlightened, and those who read will be entranced by the mysterious alchemy of a shared language. It is this sharing of words that begs our focus. We need to let the words we use bubble up from the broth of shared experience, and as like minds congregate, you will find your audience as much as they will find you.

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You are Stuck with Me...

Read. Write. Create. Share. 
Collaborate. Assess. Reflect.

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“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” 



     I am a writer teaching writing and a reader whose life has been, and continues to be, inspired by other writers—including you, you luckless souls who have been forces or coerced onto a yearlong journey with, yes, me..

For better or worse, my text is my life—the rambled gleanings of crafted words and endless wonderings distilled into the home-brew that intoxicates and invigorates my soul. I am not cut from a cloth of pedagogy or a shroud of hubris. I care remarkably little about what’s other teachers do or what or why or how they teach. I am not a rebel in any sense of the word, but maybe a pragmatist who has tried and done, tried and failed, and tried and done again. In the end, like in so much of life, experience and repetition wins the day. I would rather you set sail everyday in  flimsy dories and labor through the rips, tides and fickle winds of actual experience and feel the intricate pulsing of hard wood and soft sails across safe harbors. The tiller is your pen. The lines and blocks, mast and sails, compass and charts will bleed your hands, and sharpen your wits in a sea of enduring humility parsed in adventurous awe—and when the winds are still and your brain is a dark and dull mirror, then unsheathe your oars and row.

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Thoreau's Journal: On This Day

 Henry David Thoreau

Journal Entries

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 4.02.08 PMSays I to myself” should be the motto of my journal. It is fatal to the writer to be too much possessed by his thought.
Things must lie a little remote to be described. 

Henry David Thoreau, Journal

    Over the course of his life, Thoreau's Journals comprised 47 full-length manuscripts. He wrote something almost every day of his adult life. Many entries are simply observations of nature or details his excursions in the woods and fields and rivers in and around Concord; many others are simply thoughts and philosophical explorations. These journal entries built the foundation of his classic literary works. I will add a new journal entry for each corresponding day while we read and study--and mimic Thoreau in our own journal entries.

May 6, 1854

It makes no odds into what seeming deserts the poet is born. Though all his neighbors pronounce it a Sahara, it will be a paradise to him; for the desert which we see is the result of the barrenness of our experience. No mere willful activity whatever, whether in writing verses or collecting statistics, will produce true poetry or science. If you are really a sick man, it is indeed to be regretted, for you cannot accomplish so much as if you were well. All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of his love, - to sing; and, if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love. This alone is to be alive to the extremities. It is a pity that this divine creature should ever suffer from cold feet; a still greater pity that the coldness so often reaches to his heart. I look over the report of the doings of a scientific association and am surprised that there is so little life to be reported; I am put off with a parcel of dry technical terms. Anything living is easily and naturally expressed in popular language. I cannot help suspecting that the life of these learned professors has been almost as inhuman and wooden as a rain-gauge or self-registering magnetic machine. They communicate no face which rises to the temperature of blood-heat. It doesn’t all amount to one rhyme.

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The Original "Give a Damn"

A Teacher's Plea

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 11.32.53 PMOnly those who go where few have gone can see what few have seen.
Buddha Gautama


I wrote this piece many years ago, and it is my first writing piece that I wrote "for" my students at the time. For ten years I was the shop teacher, but the school needed an English teacher for one section of 8th grade. I had to beg for the job. Mr. Ward somewhat reluctantly gave me a try. Then they were stuck with me. This was before we even had blogs, and I was struggling to get my students to actually give a damn about what they were writing. I wanted them to know that I cared more about who they were then what they were. They seemed shocked, but they reacted with enthusiasm, and when I see them now, many years later, we laugh and remember it as if it were yesterday.

    This is my first year of teaching English, and already a horizon of discontent is looming. In another place I would probably need a bodyguard. Today, I not only assigned my eighth grade class the first five chapters—37 pages—in some book called A Guide To Writing Essays, but I also told these students the same thing I told their parents: that nothing is more important than the ability to write a good essay; that essay writing is a skill that will save them time and again in this great adventure called life. I then went on about how educational, fun, and rewarding it would be. I teased them with tales of how they would discover huge deposits of original thought and creative speculations—rough stones that they would craft into a wonderful creation called The Essay. They were writers, each and every one of them, and I would prove it to them. I think some of them believed me—even I believed me! I’m sure some of them saw through my pontifications and secretly wished to be placed in another section. Their parents were, I’m sure, aghast at my naivete, but they simply looked at me with stoic resignation, accepting the fate of their son to be the proving ground for an old shop teacher run amok in a classroom. 

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George Writes an Essay

Another take on how to write about reading...

    Why am I the poor smuck saddled with a teacher who insists on finding meaning and metaphor in everything we read? Like The Odyssey: I mean, the book is full of random everythings; Like just when Odysseus starts to figure something out (and I have a half a clue what is going on) he breaks of into some wild story with a hundred new characters. "Oh," says my teacher, "that is a literary technique to build the scope and sweep of the poem. It is the hallmark of an "epic" literary work." If that is the case, then I have a crazy old uncle—a guy who never knows when to stop talking—who is probably a direct descendant of Homer. Yeah, from now on I'll call him "Uncle Epic." The only reason I half like the book is because I actually believe that I'm supposed to like it—or at least appreciate it. I can't imagine that every English teacher for the last 1500 years or so is wrong. Maybe they've all been hypnotized by the Siren's song of conformity. I liked that part of the book: Odysseus getting his crew to lash him to the mast so he could hear the Siren's song, but still not do something stupid like get lured away by Siren herself. "Stairway to Heaven" probably had that effect in the 70's when it first came out. Jees, I'm as bad as Homer; Listen to me getting off track. And I shouldn't get off track because this foolish essay is only one of six assignments over the weekend.



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Patty: A Personal Memoir

My Way Cool Sister


God takes one to teach many...

    We were coming home from church one morning and Jimmy Glennon pulled up beside us as we approached the Sudbury road lights. He didn't notice the well-dressed family of eight scrunched into our old Pontiac station wagon as he revved the engine of his yellow and black mustang fastback. I was crammed in the rearward facing back seat doling out peace signs and air horn salutes, but the scene unfolding in front of me was one of the coolest scenes ever: here was the guy Patty had a date with the night before seeming to challenge my father to a drag race, or at the very least humiliate, the infamous and fiery EJ—on a Sunday morning no less.


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Our Finest Hour

Why words matter…

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But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth[e] last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

~ Winston Churchill 

    No less than the soldiers tasked with storming the beachheads of France in World War II, we are all living through an epochal event in human history. Nothing in my sixty-two years of life comes remotely close. The pandemic is not a storm on some other shore; it is not a drought in some arid county or backwater village; it is not a political upheaval in some far-off nation—and it is not a time to put our heads in the sand and our asses to the sky. It is a challenge—a massive challenge—a challenge that is effecting and transforming the entire world, and it is upending and re- tasking the daily, normal lives of billions of people. You are, by dint of fate, simply one of the many, but no less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and you have an obligation for your voice to be heard and recorded in the incessant book of time.


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