Greetings from the bowels of early June. It is the third day of the Junior and Leaving Cert examinations (for those not from Ireland, the Junior Cert are the exams you take in the middle of your illustrious secondary school career, and the Leaving Cert exams are taken before you enter college, or uni as I will have to start calling it soon enough) and I am lamenting the dearth of exam weather. WHAT GIVES.
My sister is currently sitting her LC, and yesterday heralded the onslaught of English Paper Two. Now, I take an interest in what comes up on that exam every year, mainly because it’s my favourite out of the two. Those of a writerly bent (Méabh, for one) always went for Paper One, as it allowed you to write diary entries and write short stories. My imagination sadly does not work that fast (I always went for the newspaper articles and letters to magazines), so I always relished Paper Two, i.e. getting to write about Shakespeare and Brian Friel and Jennifer Johnston and Eavan Boland and Derek Mahon and Sylvia Plath. Incidentally, over the years, Paper Two is the most contentious paper in the Leaving Cert cycle, mainly because of its Prescribed Poetry section. Eight poets are on the course, only four show up on the day. You could work around this due to the fact that there is always An Irish Poet and A Female Poet on the paper, but people still get caught. Yesterday saw a repeat of the 2010 Boland Controversy in the news that Sylvia Plath, widely tipped to appear this year, er, didn’t.
Mind you, the folk in my old secondary school were pinning their hopes upon Ireland’s Greatest Living Poet (for winning the Nobel Prize, for writing ‘Mid-Term Break’ and ‘Digging’, for giving a poetry reading for charity at NUIG which was notable for the fact that I played with a massive fluffy white cat afterwards), Seamus Heaney. He didn’t show either. The bastard.
I guess we all should have seen it coming. Considering the fact that Adrienne Rich shuffled off this mortal coil earlier this year — and guess who was this year’s Token Female Poet? However, I never tire of this annual guessing game. Thousands of people, including yours truly, glue themselves to boards.ie and twitter just to find out which poets make it onto the paper, or whether people’s predictions come true (and judging by Eavan Boland’s continual absence, they tend not to sometimes). It just brings me back to 2008, and my own sitting of Paper Two. At first glance I was horrified by the Othello question, was stumped by the Comparative Study, and skipped Unseen Poetry (because hey, you’re supposed to do that LAST), but when I saw the most glorious question on Derek Mahon, almost plagiarised from the Mocks, I got an answer written in forty minutes. And besides, I got an A2 in the end. Happy endings do occur.
As of next week, I’m going to be in Stratford-upon-Avon for the annual Britgrad conference. I’m very excited to be going over there for the first time, as well as checking out the Shakespeare Institute too. But I’m sad that I won’t be there when my sister completes her final LC exam. She’s worked incredibly hard all year, and I’m proud of her.
On a final note, I leave you with this. It is ‘proper good’, as they say: