Lockdown Lessons for Westbury’s ‘Dapto dressing up’

Since school shifted from Level 2 to full lockdown two weeks ago, my Year 10 class began a new uint of work: Conceptual Study of Poetry. Deb Westbury was an Australian poet with strong ties to the Illawarra region of New South Wales – a nearby area familiar to many of my students.

Here is an outline of the lessons delivered online that were designed to introduce the new unit, beginning with a revision of student’s knowledge of language features.

  • begin with a reflective moment
  • complete the Poetry Word Search – there aren’t any language features listed: you must find all thirteen, then list these on a page in your work book and write a definition of each. Please write this definition in your own words. WARNING: one term is spelled incorrectly!

Poetic Form

Deb Westbury writes in a free verse form. Typically, free verse

  • has different line lengths
  • lacks regular punctuation
  • lacks a clear rhyme pattern.

Sometimes this means we struggle to understand how a poem is meant to be read. Free verse poetry is very inclusive for readers: we are encouraged to make our own choices about how we read it! You can choose to take a breath at the end of a particular image, or after a stanza, or after every few lines.

Hearing free verse read aloud often helps us make these choices.

Biography and Contextual Research

We will be studying poems from Westbury’s Mouth to Mouth anthology which was published in 1990. 

  • Westbury spent much of her life in the Illawarra and the poems we will study represent this environment, such as beaches, the steelworks and coal mines. Research Wollongong and the Illawarra of the 1970s and 1980s. Consider actual events and social situations of the time, such as the high number of migrant workers at the steelworks.
  • read Ron Pretty’s article and obituary Deb Westbury, poet of the senses and Struggle Street

Dapto dressing up

  • what is your impression of Dapto?
Dapto dressing up

the sky at dusk
over the escarpment
is turquoise or peacock
she wants to wear short skirts
while her legs still look good
the earth smells warm
after the rain
Dapto is beautiful tonight
because the trees grow here too
and the sky is turquoise
with silver spangles
the lights of the mines
come on
and the traffic
winds slowly
up and over
the escarpment
the colour of aubergines
and deep bruising
dusk is laid low
and becomes night.

  • read the poem aloud two or three times
  • each time, try and make changes in the way you read – stopping at different places
  • did you find a pattern to your reading?
  • did the different images become a way to ‘break’ up the poem and help you ‘see’ her vision of Dapto?

Analysing a Poem

  • consider the simple annotation of the poem – which language features effectively represents each of the relevant themes: time and the natural world?
  • draw up two TEE tables – one for each theme – and complete each section – check your ideas against the following sample:

Writing Analytical Paragraphs

  • use your TEE table to guide your drafting of two TEXAS analytical paragraphs for ‘Dapto dressing up’
  • identify which of your language features and evidence best suit each concept
  • here are two suggested topic sentences:
  1. The effect of humans on the natural world is explored in many texts. 
  2. The passage of time can be seen in the shift between day and night.
  • consider how these two sentences elaborate on each idea:
  1. Westbury challenges our understanding of this by personifying a Wollongong suburb in ‘Dapto dressing up’.
  2. We clearly visualise this idea in Westbury’s ‘Dapto dressing up’

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