Kyra Ho: Who is ‘Children’s Poetry’ Really For?

At the age of 9 I knew the following about ‘children’s poetry’: rhyme and rhythm and the recognisable can soothe the grown-up as much as the growing-up.

My grandma used to drive me to primary school. On particularly bright winter mornings she’d take issue with the sun’s position in the sky, pull over to the side of the road, and wait for it to move. As I became steadily later to school, she’d have me sing the same song (and a song is a poem and a poem a song) over and over.  Mr. Tumble’s ‘There’s a Worm at the Bottom of the Garden’ is now burnt into my brain. But it is not the act of reciting that I remember: it is the change in my grandma’s face and mood after hearing it. I have no memories of children’s poetry in an academic context, but I remember needing it and it being needed as a bridge to a loved one in a distant moment.

Readers of this blog know the support and spread of children’s poetry to be vital. It’s difficult to argue against young people getting to grips with a form of self-expression, cultural engagement, tool of empathy, world of wonder, etc.  And yes, children need children’s poetry, but what I’ve been learning during my time with The Poetry Society’s Education team is that grown-ups need it just as much. We find children reading, reciting, explaining, and falling in love with poetry so adorable that I’m starting to think it might be trialled as an alternative medicine.

Two experiences during my time with The Poetry Society stand out in particular:

Every year, The Poetry Society runs Look North More Often, an education project celebrating the gift of the Christmas tree from the Mayor of Oslo and the Norwegian Embassy in Trafalgar Square. They commission a children’s poet to write a poem for the occasion which students from a local primary school recite at the annual ceremony – after some coaching from another children’s poet. This year, I got to meet everyone involved and interview the children about how they found the experience for a Poetry Society podcast. I got to hear them recite Kate Wakeling’s ‘and a tree’ more times than I can count and ask them what the poem meant to them. I got to see and hear people who have been on this earth for less than a decade get excited about words! If that’s not lovely, what on earth is?

Another experience that I can’t seem to get out of my head is reading the entries to Young Poets Network’s (many and varied) challenges set for 5-25 year olds.  A particular challenge, ‘Your Name is a Poem’ in collaboration with Modern Poetry in Translation, asked for poems about the meanings of a name. I couldn’t believe how many primary school children were entering the competition with nomenclature-based musings that were, actually, pretty beautiful. Several times I had to ask whether they were likely to have been written by parents seeking glory instead, the response to which was always ‘no’. I’d love to list all the lines of (actual) children’s poetry that gave me that ‘oh that’s a good way of saying something’ feeling, but you can see them all here anyway.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learnt from my short time with Young Poets Network and The Poetry Society’s projects with children’s poetry is something we’ve always known: children should never be underestimated. Their love for poetry is as much our gain as it is theirs.

Kyra Ho

Kyra Ho is a Publishing and Participation Trainee with The Poetry Society. She recently completed her master’s in Francophone and Hispanophone poetry and runs a podcast dedicated to poetry in translation: In Another Voice. https://www.inanothervoicepodcast.com/

Charlotte Hacking: See a Poet, Be a Poet

A visit from a poet can seem like a big investment for schools, particularly in the current financial climate. But, if done right, it can be a valuable learning experience for the children, engaging them in a love of reading as well as enhancing and extending ideas and enthusiasm for writing.

An opportunity to see and learn from professional poets is aspirational for children. It brings poetry to life, enabling them to see creativity and writing as a profession. Poets speaking about their work, reading or performing poems and leading writing workshops or exercises brings a greater level of depth to learning about authentic writing processes.

Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

To get the most out of a poet visit and to make it as successful as possible, here are a few top tips.

Before the visit:

  • Do your research first. Find out as much as possible about potential poets, considering how they might engage and appeal to your children. Many poets have audio or video resources on their websites. The Poet section of the CLPE website contains poet performances, and the Children’s Poetry Archive have a wide range of audio recordings, which will give you a good idea of what you might expect.
  • Make contact with your chosen poet to agree a timetable well in advance. It is important that this is a collaborative process, so that the visit is part of a planned programme of learning rather than being something of a ‘strange interruption’.
  • Communicate clearly with the poet, finding out what they offer and what a realistic programme might be. Will the visit be in person or virtual? Do they need any particular resources? Do they have any specific dietary or access requirements?
  • Be realistic about your expectations – you’d never expect a Year 6 teacher to teach every child in the school on the same day, so don’t expect this from a poet! Some poets may have a range of poems that work for children of all ages, but some might want to focus on a specific phase. Lean into where they feel they will make the most impact. A good model might be a whole school introduction, with the poet reading poems in an assembly, enabling every child to be able to feel part of the experience, followed by focussed work in classes where the poet’s work is most relevant.
  • Set the scene beforehand. Allow the children to get to know the poet through their website or any video or audio resources you can find, and read a few poems by them.
  • Consider including a book sale at the end of the school day where parents can take their children to buy books and have them signed as a memento, engaging a local bookseller to support with this. Some poets may wish to sell books themselves.
Matt Goodfellow with children from Swaffield Primary and Manor Leas Primary schools

On the day:

  • Share a photo of the poet with all the staff and children – including school office staff – letting them know they are coming and making sure they are ready to welcome them.
  • Ensure resources, including technological requirements for a virtual visit, are ready and available.
  • If the poet comes in person, make sure they are welcomed, know where facilities are, and are shown to a space where they can make themselves comfortable and where they can get water, tea or coffee.
  • Don’t fill every available break with additional activities like pupil interviews or book signings; it is important that adequate breaks and lunch are provided.
  • Ensure activities run to schedule so the day doesn’t become too long for the poet, especially if a signing is included. Attaching post it notes to books with names for dedications will help to speed things up.

Afterwards:

  • Send a thank you card, letter or email to the poet.
  • Make sure the poet is paid promptly – it’s important to realise that visits are often a poet’s main source of income.
  • Create a central display with the poet’s books, alongside photographs and work from the visit.
  • Share the event on your website, in your newsletter, or in local press, helping to raise the profile of poetry in the school and wider community.
  • Follow up and extend the work done in your English lessons. The poetry plans on CLPE’s website can be used direct or drawn upon to support schools’ own plans. This gives the visit added purpose and allows the flame of excitement on the visit day to burn for longer.

As poet Matt Goodfellow reflects, “Poetry is an area that teachers and children often lack confidence in. A visit shows poets are real life people, and can show a different side to writing, facilitating creativity outside of the usual constraints of the curriculum. It’s often the children who are usually reluctant to engage in literacy that shine and their teachers see a side of them that’s not been seen before. They feel free to discuss their thoughts, feelings and ideas using their own words; they’re often the natural born poets.”

Charlotte Hacking

Charlotte Hacking is the Learning and Programme Director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary (CLPE) Education and a judge on the CLPE Poetry Award, the CLiPPA. This year, the CLPE are working with Macmillan to celebrate 30 Years of Macmillan Children’s Poetry. This includes conducting the Big Amazing Poetry Survey, to gain a picture of poetry practice and provision in primary schools. Primary teachers can fill in the survey and contribute to this important research between 16th January and 6th February 2023.

Nabeela Ahmed: Multilingual Poetry in the Classroom

Last month a young man from my library creative writing session said his teachers told his parents to stop speaking in Nigerian and Gaelic with him when he was a child as he got confused between them, and now he understands Nigerian, no Gaelic and only speaks English. This advice was common in schools in the 70s and 80s in areas where people of various ethnicities settled.

I see the flip side of this when I am teaching adults ESOL and they self-censor and try hard to speak only in English with the hope that their children will better be able to fit in to British society. This advice and attitude have cost children access to other languages, rich literatures and strong identities that are a part of them. Research has since proven that if children have a solid foundation in their mother tongue, they will acquire additional languages with ease.

Despite our Differences, a tale of a grandfather and granddaughter and their love stories, one’s dilemmas are inter-racial, the other impacted by the two extremes of Islam. Set in Pakistan.

I am a multilingual poet and spoken word artist and always receive a warm welcome to the mixture of my languages, no matter who the audience are. I wanted to work with children and give them the opportunity to write poetry in not just standard English, but in all the languages and dialects that were a part of them. I discussed my idea with the Bradford Hub Manager for the National Literacy Trust and together with his team we created a strand of the Young Poets Programme that was purely focussed on multilingual poetry. Last year, each participating school took a trip to The Brontes’ Parsonage and followed a scheme of work, focussing on multilingual poetry, before my visit. My workshops fitted around where the students were at with their work, from building on incomplete poems, to editing, performance skills and sharing their poems with the class.

The results were heart-warming. Children added words from Mancunian and Yorkshire dialects, whole sentences in Romanian and Lithuanian and lots of words in Arabic, Urdu, Slovak, Gujrati, Polish and more. I shared a poem about Ramzaan and the children guessing the words ahead screamed them in unison. The teachers’ faces repeatedly lit up. In one session they said, ‘They never engage in poetry like this in class.’ We all know it has little to do with the teachers and perhaps a little more to do with what they are stipulated to teach. One teacher shared her own poem with a mixture of Welsh. The children asked her a hundred questions and she couldn’t stop smiling.

A poem can be about how they feel about something and words that sum up that feeling, but can’t be translated into English. One of the children described his happy place as where he is hush. Other things to try are to write about food, festivals and rituals for different occasions. Often there is no substitute word in English for them without writing a whole sentence. In the New Year I have commitments through Authors Abroad with an International School in Hong Kong and one in Aberdeen who want to run workshops with their children to encourage more use of their mother tongues when writing poetry. Local primary schools have invited me to work with the children who win the writing competitions. I am happy to lead these sessions, but I hope my role will be a short-lived one and every teacher will have a go at incorporating the languages of the children in their class into the poetry sessions, and make this a mainstream exercise accessible to every child.

Nabeela Ahmed

Nabeela Ahmed is a writer, storyteller, multilingual poet and spoken word artist. She writes and shares her work in English, Urdu and Pahari. Her poetry was the main feature of Keighley Arts and Film Festival in 2020. She has had poems published in England, America, Pakistan and India. Her poetry manuscript was shortlisted by Verve Poetry Press in 2022. She teaches creative writing and multilingual poetry workshops through the National Literacy Trust, Authors Abroad and her local library and schools.

Keighley Arts and Film Festival performance in 2020

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Rachel Piercey: One Hundred Years of the Flower Fairies

2023 marks one hundred years since the publication of Flower Fairies of the Spring, the enchanted yet botanically accurate creations of artist and poet Cecily Mary Barker (1895-1973). As a young girl, I loved the Flower Fairies’ petal-dresses, their dreamy little faces, and their realistic gauzy wings. I loved the sense of scale conveyed by the outsized bunches of blooms and leaves they either held aloft or perched among. (The parts of each plant, I know now, were carefully drawn from life; if Barker could not find the flower she needed to study locally, she would visit Kew Gardens to make drawings there.) And I loved the clever poems that accompanied each fairy, memorably describing the appearance, habits and habitat of each flower.

Rereading the book now, I am still delighted by the unashamed magic of the illustrations. Barker never claimed to believe in fairies, but by her attention to detail and the perfect match of each fairy to each flower, she suggests a sort of poetic truth to their existence. And I am particularly struck by what I took for granted as a young reader: the lively skill of the poems. They take many different forms; Barker moves between two, three and four beat lines, between couplets, quatrains, six-line stanzas, and idiosyncratic patterns. The extracts below exhibit some of her variety – and how consistently flawless were her rhythm and rhyme. Her imagery is also consistently beautiful. In ‘The Song of the Crocus Fairies’, she breaks off from the four-beat pattern to sharpen our focus on this shining description:

Crocus white

Like a cup of light

In ‘The Song of the Windflower Fairy’ (noted as another name for Wood Anemone), the pleasure of encountering these star-like flowers – some of the first to bloom in spring, with their petals outstretched, like arms, towards the sun – is joyfully summoned:

The Winter’s long sleeping,

   Like night-time, is done;

But day-stars are leaping

   To welcome the sun.

Barker moves between first and third person, writing to capture the unique essence of each flower. The Dandelion Fairy is bold and mocking:

Sillies, what are you about

   With your spades and hoes of iron?

You can never drive me out –

   Me, the dauntless Dandelion!

The Daffodil Fairy’s voice is jubilant and playful, captured through skipping internal rhymes which also tell us some of the folk names of the flower:

…I, the Lent Lily, the Daffy-down-dilly…

While the small, humble Wood Sorrel Fairy relates to her child-reader:

Bracken stalks are shooting high,

   Far and far above us;

We are little, you and I,

   But the fairies love us.

As above, the flowers’ habitats are deftly described. The Windflower Fairy tells us that her petals “sprinkle / The wildwood with light”. (Today, the Woodland Trust notes, wood anemones are often a sign of ancient woodland, the old ‘wildwood’.) The Stitchwort Fairy tells us “I am brittle-stemmed and slender, / But the grass is my defender”. And in ‘The Song of the Lady’s-Smock Fairy’, we learn:

Where the grass is damp and green,

Where the shallow streams are flowing,

Where the cowslip buds are showing,

   I am seen.

And always, the implicit or explicit message is that wildflowers are precious and miraculous. As the Speedwell Fairy pronounces, in a poem which intertwines sky, earth, human eyes and flower petals:

“See, here is a prize

   Of wonderful worth:

A weed of the earth,

   As blue as the skies!”

I would encourage any nature lover to revisit the Flower Fairies and sprinkle some petals of light over their day.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool is holding an exhibition of Barker’s illustrations in spring 2023, to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Flower Fairies of the Spring.

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/whatson/lady-lever-art-gallery/exhibition/flower-fairies-tm

Rachel Piercey

Rachel Piercey is a poet and children’s writer. She is the editor of Tyger Tyger Magazine, an online journal of new poems for children, and regularly visits schools to perform and run workshops. Her search-and-find poetry-and-picture book, If You Go Down to the Woods Today (Magic Cat, 2021, illustrated by Freya Hartas), has been translated into twenty-seven languages.

www.rachelpierceypoet.com/

Michaela Morgan: Collected Thoughts

It started with anthologies.

Once upon a time, and a very good time it was too, John Foster was busy producing lots of anthologies for Oxford University Press. Somehow, I was included in them. From then on, whenever I heard of an anthology, I sent in my contribution. Bit by bit, I built up a body of work until … anthologists started to approach me.

Then lo! I was asked to edit an anthology. I was to be the anthologist and I had freedom of choice. I decided to focus on performance poems.

I put together a collection for Belisha who were publishing four anthologies – one by Brian Moses, one by Pie Corbett, one by Valerie Bloom and one by me.

I called mine Words to Whisper, Words to Shout and it, briefly, did very well indeed. It was shortlisted for the BBC Blue Peter Book Award (to this day it remains the only book of poetry to be shortlisted for this award). To be part of such a very small group of shortlisted titles was an honour.

There was no poetry section in the competition. My anthology was included in ‘Books to Read Aloud’. The award was voted for by children – and the competition was stellar.

On the TV awards show – in those days broadcast from London from a theatre populated by an audience of Brownies and similar, I got my Blue Peter Badge.

Happy days – or day – because in no time at all the publisher was taken over. So the book went out of print.

In 2016, I put together another collection, Wonderland: Alice in Poetry. 

It was shortlisted for the CLPE poetry award. It was followed by Reaching the Stars: Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls (with Liz Brownlee and Jan Dean) which won the North Somerset Teachers’ Award.

Anthologies continued to amass. I had many hundreds of poems scattered – in USA, India, parts of Africa and of course the UK.

The result was, at the end of an author event, I was unable to offer one volume containing all the poems I had shared with the audience.

It was time to put together my own collection – and that is what I am now doing.

I have 30 years of my poems to choose from, Janetta Otter-Barry to publish them and the marvellous Nick Sharratt to illustrate them. It will take time to produce and publish – so nobody should hold their breath – but I will eventually have a legacy, and something to offer at every event. No more wondering how to find that poem you have just enjoyed.

There is something very appealing about corralling my free ranging poems into one collection. I have decided to call it All Together Now because the poems will at last be all together. Audience, apprentice writers, workshop leaders and poets, are now released and encouraged to join in, write together, listen together, perform together, enjoy together.

My aim is to have a volume to simply enjoy but also to encourage the readers to take that step … into being writers.

I share the secrets that contributed to the poem and include hints and tips to help readers take those extra steps in creativity. The collection can be a read alone – or give teachers and class a workshop.

The selection process is arduous. I will include the ones I frequently use in school visits and events, but I also want to add a few surprises. After all, at this stage in my life and career this may well be my last collection.

My swan song.

So it has to be good!

Michaela Morgan

Michaela writes poetry, picture books, fiction and non-fiction. Her poetry is widely anthologised and she is responsible as writer, editor or co-contributor for: Words to Whisper Words to Shout, Wonderland: Alice in Poetry (shortlisted for CLPE’s CLiPPA Award) and Reaching the Stars – Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls with Jan Dean and Liz Brownlee.

For teaching, she has also written the popular Poetry Writing Workshops (ages 5 to 9 and 8 to 13) published by David Fulton Books/Routledge and recently reissued in a revised and extended third edition.  

She is currently working on her collected poems All Together Now and working in Edinburgh as Royal Literary Fellow at Queen Margaret’s University.

Pie Corbett: The Masks Project

The mask poetry and art project brought together young artists and writers from Coastlands (C) and Gomersal (G) Primary schools to work with the @TeachingLive team online. Gomersal had been designing and creating masks as part of their work on Mayans.

The schools worked with me for one online session, writing images and ideas based on masks. In pairs, we began with an oral game to warm up the imagination. Partner A invents a type of mask using a colour, e.g. The gold mask … and partner B invents 2 or 3 things that it is made of, e.g. … is made from a bumble bee’s wings and sunlight on a stained glass window. Roles were swapped after several minutes. Using padlet, we shifted on to writing ideas:

The emerald green mask is made from the shed skin of a lizard’s scales, and the sharp spikes of a cactus, Grace (G)

The mask of space is made from the soul of Jupiter, the skin of a dozen stars and the ash of the Milky Way. Lucy (G)

Following a discussion about creating sound effects with alliteration and imagery to build pictures, we wrote lines about what would happen if you put on different masks:

I put on the mask of summer

and I felt a whisper of sunlight. Mason (C)

I put on the mask of Autumn,

and Halloween disappeared

like a droplet in the sunshine.  Millie (C)

I put on the mask of joy

and sad shafts of sunlight surrounded me. Zoe (C)

I put on the mask of green

and smelt the lizard’s paws. Jason (C))

The final writing challenge was to create a mask out of ingredients that you might see, hear, touch, taste or smell.

I would take the sound of a fox snuffling under the stars.

Seb (C)

I would take the taste of my Nana’s freshly cooked and sliced gammon and her tasty roast potatoes.

Willow (G)

I would take the touch of a soft, plush cloud, the velvety feel of cherry blossom petals and juice trickling through my outstretched fingers.

Willow (G)

The online session lasted an hour and we were able to give immediate feedback to almost all the ideas as they were written.  Several weeks later, poems and masks poured onto the website.

I put on the masks of wild

and remembered the importance of bees.

Sebastian (C)

When I wear the coral mask of autumn

I think of

pumpkins that have just been carved,

Golden Marigolds sharing their secrets…

Millie (C)

The mask of shadows is made from

A feather from Lucifer’s wing,

Mason (C)

The Mask of Joy

If you look at the world around you 

and see plastic pollution,

wars in Ukraine,

squabbling politicians,

troubled people fighting 

and rainforests dying,

You could put on your mask of joy

and listen to the laughter of the crows,

to the sea swishing in the shingle.

You could feel the swift of air

and marvel in the mystery 

of life swirling through the trees.

And once you feel more cheerful,

you can take off your mask

and hide it away safely

so it’s there whenever you might need it.

Zoe (C)

When I wear my forest mask
I smell the dampness of the earth
and the sweet scent of the primroses
scattered through the glade like stars.
Eva (C)

Leave me the mask
The one full of pain
That is scarred and wounded
Hobbling across the cut grass.
Emma (C)

Linking art and writing provides the opportunity to process ideas and build images and metaphors in different ways.

Pie Corbett

Thanks to the teachers: Wenda Davies and Mandy Barrett.

See more Poems:  https://teachinglive.net/tag/masks-and-poetry/

See Masks:  https://radioblogging.padlet.org/deputymitchell2/5onwum9k1nrd5pu7

Pie’s latest collection ‘Catalysts’ has over 130 catalyst poems. Available from: https://shop.talk4writing.com/products/catalysts-poems-for-writing

Festive Poems: Merry Christmas!

We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Thank you to the poets who have generously sent us poems, Pie Corbett, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Jackie Hosking, Laura Mucha, Attie Lime, Jacqueline Shirtliff, Roger Stevens, Celia Warren and Sarah Ziman.

All poems copyright of their authors.

Julie Blake: Turkeys Just Want to Have Fun?

Every autumn at Poetry By Heart we have fun creating our Festive Poe-Tree, a digital anthology of poems – classic, contemporary and diverse – arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree with 24 little doors as in an advent calendar. From 1-24 December a door is unlocked each day and children and young people can open it to find a festive poem. It’s completely free for everyone to share and enjoy at www.poetrybyheart.org.uk

The Poetry By Heart Festive Poe-Tree is for children and young people aged 7 to 18. For the younger children there is plenty of Christmas magic, for the older pupils Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ and Frank Horne’s ‘Kid Stuff’ offer perspectives more in tune with adolescent questioning. Langston Hughes’s Christmas poems have been largely ignored by anthologists but they are some of the best and we’ve included the delightfully modern ‘On a Pallet of Straw’ and quietly traditional ‘The Carol of the Brown King’. 

Frank Horne and Langston Hughes were twentieth century African-American poets writing with and against the grain of conventional Christmas tropes. We’ve included poems by contemporary black British poets Benjamin Zephaniah and Valerie Bloom that also go with and against the grain but in a very particular way: through giving voice to the turkey’s perception of Christmas. If there were a battle of the poems between Benjamin Zephaniah’s ‘Talking Turkey’ and the old classic ‘The Night Before Christmas’, amongst children ‘Talking Turkey’ would surely win. ‘Baffled Turkey’ by Valerie Bloom is less well-known but equally funny and joyful.

Talking turkey poems are not, however, a uniquely modern phenomenon. In 1914, the African-American poet Paul Dunbar published Speakin’ O’ Christmas and Other Christmas and Special Poems. This features ‘Soliloquy of a Turkey’ in which a turkey notes the suspicious behaviour of its keepers and takes action to avoid an obvious fate, the comedy tempered by a visceral sense of mortal danger and the necessity of fleeing. There is a parallel sense of the atrocities of white history here. We won’t include the poem on the Poetry By Heart Festive PoeTree because it includes offensive references by the turkey to its black keepers. No doubt Paul Dunbar intended all kinds of comic inversions but they don’t work now. It’s a shame as children might otherwise have enjoyed this historical antecedent to the talking turkey poems they so love.

In a comic manner, talking turkey poems invite us to look at Christmas differently and to hear a different perspective within an otherwise very dominant discourse of ‘tradition’. We’ve tried to change the perspective in other ways too. So many Christmas poems for children envision a multitude of presents, tables weighed down with food and happy families in secure homes. It’s not going to be like that for an awful lot of children. By way of counter-balance we’ve included Holly McNish’s ‘You Do Not Need a Chimney for Santa Clause to Come’ and in the context of war in Europe our opening poem, Berlie Doherty’s beautiful ‘The Sky is Black Tonight’, ends with the word peace three times. 

We hope you will find poems in this collection to enjoy and share with children and young people. We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to make a recording of one of this year’s poems to go into the digital Festive Poe-Tree, if you have other poem recommendations, or if you might collaborate with us next year on a competition for new Christmas poems. Get in touch via info@poetrybyheart.org.uk.  Find out more about Poetry By Heart at www.poetrybyheart.org.uk

Julie Blake

Dr Julie Blake, FEA, FRSL(Hon), co-directs Poetry By Heart. She researches and writes about the history of poetry for children, creates digital and print anthologies of poems for children and young people, teaches poetry pedagogy and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry in the school English curriculum. Get in touch via julie@poetrybyheart.org.uk

Brian Moses: Writing Poetry With Key Stage 1

On a school visit once, I was asked to work with a Year 2 class whose teacher greeted me at the door and told me in a loud voice that her class had no imagination whatsoever. I was determined to prove her wrong and I handed everyone a marble from a collection that I keep with me. Initially the children all told me that inside their marbles they could see colours, shapes, swirls, patterns and reflections. And then one child said that she thought she could see a fire-breathing dragon. “That’s wonderful,” I replied, “Now can anyone see anything else?” Soon we had aliens, spaceships, oceans, sea creatures, faces, clouds, rainbows and many other imaginative ideas which the children then wrote up into short poems. “Well. they don’t write like this for me,” was their teacher’s reply.

I tell this story as an example of how low expectations will result in mediocre work and ideas.

At KS1 there are always plenty of opportunities for observation. Whilst looking at objects or pictures helps to develop children’s early creativity with questions such as – What does it remind you of? What does it look like? Answers will be quite fanciful at times and may not fit with an adult perspective, but nothing should be dismissed as wrong.

Children worry too about how they should write something down. They have the ideas and the words but can’t always see how they fit together on the page.  Simple frameworks can often help the less confident so that the worry of How do I write it down? is then removed leaving the children to develop their ideas.

In literature, many stories come about because their writer has asked the same question, “What if?”  What if a snowman came to life? What if you could walk through a wardrobe into a frozen world?

What if a playground number snake came to life? (Use an actual playground snake or show a picture of one.)

The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems, Macmillan, Chosen by Brian Moses

Begin by taking children on a walk around the school building. Ask them to note down as many words as they can beginning with the letter ‘S’. Back in the classroom note down more S words.

Next ask the children to come up with S words that describe how a snake moves. Write them down for everyone to see, words such as slide, slip, slither, spin, spiral.

Now write a poem with the class that begins: When the snake slithered into school…’ Tell the children that they should offer ideas that contain plenty of S words, but that sentences should make some sort of sense and be about school activities.

When the snake slithered into school

it scared the teachers in the staffroom,

it left slimy tracks in the sports hall,

it slid up the stairs and interrupted a storytime session,

it squeezed Miss Simmons and Miss Shearsby

and finally, it shed its skin in someone’s sock.

Whilst you are scribing the poem for the children, always ask them which idea or which word works best if there are alternative suggestions.  Show them how you are happy to cross out one word and replace it with a more effective one, perhaps one that sounds better when the line is read aloud. Children will then begin to understand the selection process that writers go through and that they don’t always get it right first time.

Once children have been involved in producing a class poem, they might like to try similar poems, thinking of other creatures that might come into school – when the fly flew in through the fire exit, when the cat crept into the classroom, and even when the lion leapt into school. A natural extension of this activity would be to turn the poems into picture books, taking one line for each page.

Brian Moses

Brian Moses writes poetry and picture books for children. His new poetry book Selfies With Komodos will be published by Otter-Barry Books in January 2023. His website is www.brianmoses.co.uk and he blogs about children’s writing at brian-moses.blogspot.com Follow on Twitter for daily poetry prompts @moses_brian.

Joshua Seigal: Poets and Social Media

With Twitter in the news a lot lately, and having been an avid Twitter-botherer for the last decade or so, I thought now might be a good time to share some reflections regarding my experience of the platform. These reflections are personal, but they might nonetheless be relatable to those of my fellow poets who are on social media.

For me, Twitter has been an indispensable way of making connections with other poets, as well as with teachers and other educators. As a consequence of this, I have been able to develop my network of contacts, and to get a good deal of paid work. As an introvert, Twitter has also been an extremely useful way of putting myself ‘out there’ in a way that feels manageable to me, and in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do in a room full of actual, physical people. It has given me the chance to say what I want to say, and also to delete it a few moments later. One can’t do that at a party!

Twitter has also been a highly useful way of garnering an audience for my poems. If I write a poem that I deem to be half decent, I will stick it on Twitter and see what kind of reception it gets. The level of response can be a useful barometer for whether or not a poem actually is any good, and can thus serve as a kind of informal feedback. Many poets might justifiably be hesitant to give their work away for free, but I look at it as being akin to a free sample, like those mini blocks of cheese with cocktail sticks you get at the supermarket – if someone likes a poem, they might be more likely to go and buy some of my books.

However, there is definitely a sinister side to social media, and as a poet this affects me in both a personal and professional capacity. Twitter is a great way of putting myself in the shop window, but sometimes it seems as though tweeting, and accruing likes and retweets, is the driving force behind the production of the poems. I can find myself writing with one eye on producing good work, but with the other eye keenly on how and when to put it out on the socials. I sometimes fall into the trap of measuring my self worth in terms of what kind of response my work gets, and if a piece doesn’t get the reception I think it ‘deserves’, well, I don’t lose sleep but it can often be a huge downer. One time I wrote a poem that, for personal reasons, I knew I could never put online at all. This almost made the poem feel worthless, which of course should not be the case.

There is also the dangerously addictive dopamine hit whenever someone follows me, or whenever a poem does get a response. This feels good, but is it a substitute for a real, physical social interaction? Is it as useful as actual money in the bank? Of course not. But sometimes social media can make it feel as though it is. It has the tendency to warp our perception of reality, and if we are not careful we may find ourselves living in a simulacrum.

What advice would I give to fellow poets, then? I would say to embrace social media (I use Twitter mainly, but obviously there are many options) but with extreme caution, lest your social, spiritual and creative wellbeing suffer.

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is an internationally renowned poet, performer and educator. His first book with Bloomsbury, I Don’t Like Poetry, was nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards in 2017, an award Joshua subsequently won in 2020. Joshua was also the recipient of The People’s Book Prize in 2022, and has performed at schools and festivals around the world

Please visit his website: www.joshuaseigal.co.uk, and FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER: @joshuaseigal