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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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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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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How to Keep a Journal

Writing about Your Life

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Today you may write a chapter on the advantages of travelling & tomorrow you may write another chapter on the advantages of not travelling.

Henry David Thoreau, The Journal, 1837-1861

For many of my students, even the sound of “free writing” in a journal induces a panic attack. I can hear their collective cry: “Free means anything, and any thing is the same as everything, and everything is just too hard to choose from--so just please give me something--one thing--one fun and easy writing prompt, plus a rubric and a brief word count, and, easy peezy, I’ll get it done in twenty... thirty minutes tops!”

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Life in the New Time

Sua Sponte

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 2.12.10 PMIt is in Your Hands and me, who never seems at a loss for words, is stuttering for normality in an unnatural time, but it is in and through words, graced by magnanimous and selfless actions, that we can carve new paths through uncharted woods. No lesson plan, no "Week in Review," no enlightened curriculum, and no "How-to-Video" is readily at hand. Only an indefatigable spirit, suffused with stubborn persistence, and an almost intolerable patience, will keep the axe in our hands and keep our lives flailing forward. In time, the path--our unique paths--will open before us and lead us to where we need to go.

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The Week in Review: January 27-February 2

The Week in Review


UPDATE: Sorry for any confusion. There is no "Plot Summary Sheet." Simply be prepared to "pitch your story" on Wednesday by giving a brief oral summary to the class of the current plot and future direction of your story--as well as current word count and chapters completed.


Class Meetings:  Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday 

Class One: Tuesday


  • WW Fenn Prep


  • WW Fenn Presentations


  • Get back to your story.
  • Write a metacognition.

Class Two: Wednesday


  • Sorry for any confusion. There is no "Plot Summary Sheet." Simply be prepared to "pitch your story" by giving a brief oral summary to the class of the current plot and future direction of your story--as well as current word count and chapters completed.


  • Work on Story
  • Write Metacognition


  • Work on Story

Class Three: Thursday


  • Metacognition 


  • In-Class Story Review
  • Work on Story


  • Use Proofreading & Editing Tips & Techniques to proofread your story.
  • In a metacognition detail your proofreading experience.

Epic Story Project

 Download Freshman Epic Story Project


    Epic stories are about transformation.  The hero is plucked from the comforts of home and called to undertake an adventurous challenge. The hero prevails and returns home transformed. It's a pretty simple formula that has obviously stood the test of time. You will never read a story or watch a movie where the main character remains unchanged; moreover, you will never have an experience "worth remembering" where you remain unchanged. You can't enter the same river twice. You are not the same person you were before you began reading this, and you are surely not the same person you will be after reading The Odyssey  It's only a matter of the degree of transformation and how you were transformed. A good personal narrative story tells the story of the human experience, but, more importantly, it tells the story of transformation.  

The hero cycle is not a rubric created for storytellers; it is the primal urge of all people, across all cultures, to experience the transformation of the hero. It is the power of hope over despair. It gives possibilities for life. It is a recognition that without agnos (pain) there is no aristos (glory), and, in that sense, it validates even the most common and hard-bitten of lives and makes every life uncommon, unique, and worthwhile.  It is not an absurd idea to recognize the greatness in our own lives. It is not absurd to think we have an epic tale worth telling, and it is certainly not absurd to examine every experience through the lens of introspection and appreciate the implications of transformation.

The hero cycle is not a rubric created for storytellers; it is the primal urge of all people—across all cultures—to experience within their own lives the transformation of being a hero.  Every ancient culture that has had its history recorded has some epic poem or story to guide its people. The heroic cycle represents the power of hope over despair; it gives us all the chance for redemption—even in the hardest of times. It is a recognition that without agnos (pain) there is no aristos (glory), and, in that sense, it validates even the most common and hard-bitten of lives by making the lives of every man, woman and child that has ever lived uncommon, unique, and worthwhile.  

It is not an absurd idea to recognize the greatness and possibilities of our own lives. It is not absurd to think we have an epic tale worth telling, and it is certainly not absurd to examine every experience through a reflective lens and to start to appreciate the implications of transformation which heroic poetry represents.  As human beings, we are hard-wired to need this epic poetry. We can’t just read the epic as a story and move on. We have to know the story and build and incorporate the allegory into our own lives; otherwise, we will run from the battles of life; we will avoid the straits of Skylla and the lair of the Cyclops; we will shun the Gods who come disguised to us and coddle the children given to us; we won’t shed tears for common friends, and we will lock out every stranger and blame our mishaps and misdeeds on the gods.  

In short, we will not be remembered, and no songs will be sung about us. The saddest part is that you may think this is all exaggeration and hyperbole. This is not true. Our lives are full of stories that use the heroic cycle. Our imaginations are even more full. 

Your epic story should follow the steps of the hero cycle! Remember that this is a guide—not a mandate, but it is a “pattern” to help guide how you tell your story. Please adopt it to suit your story, but ignore it at your peril…

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