Just Like a Movie

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Just Like a Movie”*

J. L. Bartolomé

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I travelled each and every highway

This is a farewell article. After having soldiered on as a secondary/EOI teacher for 37 years, I got an early (well-deserved?) retirement in September 2015. I have been a regular contributor to the APAC journal almost right from the start (my earliest hit was “A teacher’s lament or how to make the most of a dull story. The Verger”, no. 4, 1988; the latest “Celebrating Dickens”, no.76, 2013). The stock of 17 articles on a wide variety of topics is not a bad score, and yet not a whole score (twenty), so somehow I feel kind of blue that I will never have made that grade, for this is to be my eighteenth (twentieth but two) article. But who knows, life is always of an uncertain glory and nobody can foresee what the future may hold or bring.

A former APAC editor, Neus Figueras, (in the Introduction to “APAC 25 Years 1986-2011”) highlighted most of my contributions as belonging to the Literature in the Classroom field. I could not agree more with her appreciation and rate, so no wonder this final paper is about some novel literary stuff: patchwork poetry. For those who are unfamiliar with the term [it is actually coined “Cento poetry”, cento being Latin for “patchwork garment”, also the art of needlework that happens to be so popular today, as shown by the rising number of “tallers de patchwork” in our villages and towns, as large as or even larger than “Clubs de lectura”], a patchwork poem is one composed of various pieces of lines/verses from other poems by different poets, whose authorship is to be acknowledged, otherwise one would be committing a crime, that is, literary theft. Patchwork literature is as old as the hills, as primitive as oral/written literature itself (Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Steinbeck…). Like many authors, John Steinbeck borrowed lines from other sources (Scottish folk poems by Robert Burns, the Bible…) to give some of his masterpieces a remarkable title (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath…). Needless to say, William Shakespeare was the greatest literary thief or borrower of all times; still, “next to God he has created most” (Alexander Dumas dixit). I would like to share with old/new APAC readers my one and only patchwork poem so that this concept becomes clear before I go any further.


The ghost dance of winter was about to start.

The wedding-guest sat on a stone.

I do not see the hills around

I am like a dead diver after all’s done

A stranger has come to share my room

At the still point of the turning world

That nothing of itself will come.

For many a choir is singing now

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee

The song of pity is the Devil’s Waltz.
The lines for this cento (patchwork poem) are borrowed from
Title: Leonard Cohen, “A Future Night”

Derek Walcott, “Omeros” (XLII, iii)

Samuel Coleridge, “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” (part I)

Thomas Hardy, “The Rambler”

Robert Frost, “Despair”

Dylan Thomas, “Love in the Asylum”

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” (II)

William Wordsworth, “Expostulation and Reply” (line 27)

James Joyce, “Chamber Music” (XVI)

The Bible (Song of Songs 2: 17)

W.H. Auden, “The Third Temptation”

In previous APAC issues I showed my interest in developing a taste for patchwork poems built on song and movie titles (book titles as well) rather than on verses from well-known writers. To me (my true guess is that it was also appealing to my young/adult students) it was far more challenging and exciting to try out pop lit as a source of inspiration and a pedagogical tool. The different approaches to how to exploit this field can be reviewed in the following articles: “Pop Line Answers: Funny Interviews for Lazy/Unmotivated Students (no. 22, November 1994), “Teenage Poetry in a Material World” (no. 24, May 1995), “Writing Poems from Song Titles” (no. 41, February 2001), “Telly English” (no. 48, June 2003), “Pop Music and Literature” (no. 50, January 2004), “Making the Most of Movie Tracks and Trailers” (no. 68, January 2010). I wrote my first self-published book using the collage craft in 2004, which was kindly reviewed by my good friend and member of the editorial team at that time, Josep Sala (Who Pays the Ferryman?, no. 53, January 2005).

I have just self-published a second book of that sort, again building poems on movie titles, (Distant Voices, Still Lives, February 2016), and I would like to share some of the activities and tips I designed for the book presentations.
The first, and most likely to be coveted by still active teachers, is a collection of 600 movie titles intended for grammar and vocabulary practice. For this painstaking job, I used the literal / pretty literally verbatim translation of the original titles into either Spanish or Catalan. In the large file, which is posted in a Moodle / virtual classroom, the students can find 6 sets (100 items each) and challenge themselves with questions like the following:
El secret d’una dona

a) A Woman’s Secret

b) The Secret of a Woman’s

c) The Secret Woman

¿De qué planeta vienes?

a) What Planet Are you From?

b) Of What Planet Are You?

c) From What Planet Are You Come From?

(600.) Apaga y vámonos

a) Let’s Forget Him and Go

b) Turn It On

c) Switch Off

In a second file they can find 150 from the 600-item kit grouped into grammar sets (numbers, relative pronouns, passive voice, Saxon genitive, articles, modals, verb tenses, plurals, quantifiers, question words, imperatives, prepositions, exclamations, comparatives and superlatives, confusing words…). Both files, accompanied by the key files, can be freely available on request at jbartolo@xtec.cat

A second pull (tug of war) is that of composing / letting the learners themselves compose a game which I call “anti-quina” (a kind of bingo game very popular in some Catalan villages at Christmas time) by sharing out a worksheet with a number of poems built on song/movie/book titles plus a distractor (a mix of them). In turns, one student reads out the poem, and they and their classmates are to guess whether the sources are songs, movies, books or a medley of them. If they guess right, they keep on standing, if wrong they take a seat; the game goes on until only one student remains on their feet.

In the rather demanding chart below, no. 1 are songs (by Mark Knopfler), no. 2 films, no. 3 films, no. 4 films, no. 5 songs (by Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Becaud, Jacques Brel), no. 6 films, no. 7 books, no. 8 a medley. Poem number 8 (remember this is a lucky number in China) is made up of a book/movie title (Great Expectations), plus a film (To Be or Not to Be is a film by Ernst Lubitsch, not a play by Shakespeare; this is a booby trap), plus three books by Hemingway (“Islands in the Stream” was also a hit by The Bee Gees).
Examples of patchwork poems:


Irish Love
Meeting under the trees

In a secret place

Fear and hatred

Love and guilt

The long road


Les feuilles mortes
Voir un ami pleurer

Sa jeunesse

Seul sur son etoile

Le jour où la pluie viendra

Quand il est mort le poète

Mémoires d’un Fleuve
Le Silence de la Mer

Sans Espoir de Retour

Eine Reise ins Licht
The Winter of our Dreams

The Corn is green

Un Día perfecto
Deux Jours, une Nuit

Nadie quiere la Noche

Un Día perfecto (remake)

Los lunes al sol

Siempre Eva
Llamada a un asesino


Cautivo del deseo

Más poderoso que la vida

Encuentro en la noche

La noche eterna


El halcón y la presa

Yo creo en ti


Venus era mujer

¿Ángel o diablo?


Das Schweigen des Dichters
Leise fliehen meine Lieder

8) Great Expectations

To be or not to be

Islands in the Stream

To have and have not

Men without Women

A very creative way to encourage yourself and students to build up short and sweet patchwork poems is a let’s do it all together activity we can call “Can you lend me a book?” or “May I borrow your book?”.

The teacher can send a certain number of students to the school library (never as punishment for the mischievous/unruly ones), and each is commissioned to bring a book or a DVD of their choice back to the classroom. Then in pairs or in small groups they visualize a poem by putting the spines of the book/DVD titles together (standing lying on a board); that is, they don’t have to write down the poem, just show it. Again, titles of different sorts (books, films) and languages can be mixed up.

Great Expectations

To Be or not to Be

Islands in the Stream

To Have and Have Not

Men without Women

Some Like it Hot

Un día perfecto

Los lunes al sol

Like in the games previously discussed, the third task can be shared and performed in a multilingual environment (it works best with EOI students and teachers). It is a quiz you can design on your own, or let students do it as an assignment that they will be graded and/or rewarded for. Here are three items of a full quiz which is also freely available on request at jbartolo@xtec.cat

Movie Riddles
Slumdog Millionaire Quiz
You can get a pack of off-shore money from Panama or investment bonds from BANG-KIA for each correct answer. The original title must be given.
1. Film directed by Michael Curtiz in 1942

2. German movie with an English title (2003) starring Daniel Brühl

3. French film about countryside schools directed by Nicolas Philibert (2002)



je suis
tu es
il/elle est
nous sommes
vous êtes
ils/elles sont


j' ai
tu as
il/elle a
nous avons

vous avez
ils/elles ont

I would like to draw the curtain here, as I want to rush off and try to create some new patchwork stuff. There are still over one thousand movies, songs and books I want to enjoy before I kick the bucket. As the Beatles sang, “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing”, or to pen it more poetically in Charles Chaplin’s wisest words:

Teaching, writing and trying hard to bring some fun and love of literature into the classroom has been a most rewarding experience to me, a sweet dream (“Golden Slumbers”), just like a happy-ending movie. I am so happy to have shared it with you…
And more, much more than this, I did it my way


* I borrow the title to this paper from one of my favourite Easy-Start class readers, a thriller (Just Like a Movie, Sue Leather, CUP).

José Luis Bartolomé worked in high schools and Official Language Schools for many years. In addition to his teaching, he has contributed to many publications, such as El Cartipàs, Auriga, El Punt, and of course the APAC ELT Journal. He has also published a number of books, like Who Pays the Ferryman? A Pick of Patchwork Poems from Talking Movies, Revetlla d’hivern, and Distant Voices, Still Lives: A Second Pick of Patchwork Poems from Talking Movies.

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