National 5 English Tutor

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National 5 English Tutor is a blogging platform for various GTCS registered teachers of English to write helpful blogs for students, their parents and teachers on the National 5 English certificated SQA course. By following the below advice, we are confident that a student can improve their English grade, but individual motivation, perseverance and other factors must also be taken into account. This platform presents an approach to National 5 English; we do not claim it is the only approach. It has worked successfully for other students.

National 5 English Scottish Texts – Selected Poems of Norman MacCaig and my new change of attitude


I’ve had a difficult relationship with Norman MacCaig. To me as a high school student, reading MacCaig was to open the doors to a world of dreariness that I did not understand. His poetry lacked the tightness, metrical regularity and rhyme that I tended to enjoy and appreciated in poets such as Owen, Shelley and Milton. My opinion did not change as a teacher. It was a continual source of disappointment to me that despite introducing poems from Yeats, Shelley, Muir, Browning and Owen to classes of Higher pupils, MacCaig’s poems were the reliable ones that pupils used in their exams. I felt that I somehow lacked sufficient knowledge or time or environment to convey the true beauty of poetry to a room full of teenagers, who probably believed they had better things to do. Therefore, we had to make do with MacCaig.

Yet, if there is one good thing about the new National 5 English Scottish Text exams (and I believe there are a couple of good things about them) it is that it has deepened my appreciation of MacCaig’s poetry. Basking Shark, Memorial, Sounds of the Day, Visiting Hour, Assisi and Aunt Julia are poems that have a greater artistry and power than I had given  Norman MacCaig credit for being able to produce. He shows a greater range than I had hitherto believed: Basking Shark is a very different poem to Visiting Hour. Beforehand, in my own mind, I felt that MacCaig, like so many modern poets, was really just prose broken-up, but now I felt a real rhythm and feel for language that I had not experienced before with his poem. Perhaps, it’s to do with getting older.

The themes that resonate through these six poems, all poems of the human condition, are all interesting and well-handled whether it’s alienation, hypocrisy, death, suffering or the bond between man and nature. MacCaig’s use of poetic techniques seems to capture them in a way that is in keeping with our jolted, irregular, patchy modern world where people can unite with nature or be tragically separated from it.

Reading these poems I wanted to read more, and it was a pleasure to read one of MacCaig’s great poems, A man in Assynt. For me, this poem established Norman MacCaig in my mind as a very good poet. I’m not sure about great though. Hugh MacDiarmid is a great poet. I sensed that at first reading. MacCaig, perhaps. There are some poems that I believe are truly terrible, yet I was glad to finally understand the source of his popularity and to find the power in his work.

This entry was posted in English Literature, Higher English, myetutor, National 5 English, Scottish Literature, Scottish Text, SQA. Bookmark the permalink.

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