Joshua Seigal: Animal Poetry

Animals are great, aren’t they? So much variety; so many opportunities for writing. Since my family got our first pet twelve years ago (a belligerent Lhasa Apso dog named Winston) I have been a big animal lover, and many of my poems feature cats, dogs, and even the odd lemur. What I’d like to do in this blog is share two ideas for writing animal-based poetry, suitable for younger and older children respectively.

If I Were/I Would…

If I were a lion

I would prowl to school baring sharpened fangs

If I were a dog

I would gobble my delicious dinner out of a gleaming golden bowl

If I were a monkey

I would swing from tree to tree in my lush, green garden

If I were a shark

I would glide delicately through a sparkling swimming pool…

I never did get round to finishing this poem. Why not ask pupils to have a go at imagining themselves as different animals, and thinking what they would do if they were to assume animal form. Either as shared or individual writing, children can use the structure ‘If I were/I would’ to continue the poem above. Particular attention should be paid to the use of powerful verbs (the lion doesn’t walk, she prowls) and adjectives (‘lush’, ‘sparkling’). This is a really simple way of writing a fun animal poem that can be taken in any number of different directions. And remember: the children are considering not merely what animals themselves do, but what they (the children) would do if they were an animal.

When I Met…

Ask students to close their eyes and think of an emotion. Next, ask them to imagine: if their emotion was an animal, what would it be? As a writing warm up, give the students five minutes or so to take some notes describing their animal, paying particular attention to the five senses. If it helps them, they can draw and label pictures. Once each student has gathered a bank of ideas, you can share the following as-yet unpublished poem of mine:

The Tiger

doesn’t want you

to look into her eyes.

You can marvel at her stance

and the way her tongue flicks

across her fangs;

you can cower at her claws

and the stripes that streak

like poison down her back;

you can even draw up close

to catch her bitter breath

but the tiger doesn’t want you

to look into her eyes

for

should you do so

you might see nothing more

than another little housecat

blinking

      back at you.

In this poem, the tiger represents fear. You can have a discussion: what does the poet’s encounter with the tiger say about what happens when fear is confronted? What literary techniques are used in the poem? In the light of the poem, and using their ideas from the warm up, students can have a go at writing a poem in which they come face to face with their animal. If it helps, they can use the phrase ‘When I met…’ as a sentence starter. Here are some of the intriguing animals students have met during my workshops:

The crow of jealousy

The elephant of sadness

The donkey of shyness

The peacock of joy

So there you have it: two ideas for creating animal-based poetry. These ideas constitute bare bones, and I am intrigued to see the different ways workshop leaders and students alike are able to flesh them out. And remember: please visit my website for lots of free poetry and videos!

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader based in London. His latest collection, Welcome To My Crazy Life, is published by Bloomsbury, and he was the recipient of the 2020 Laugh Out Loud Book Award. Please visit http://www.joshuaseigal.co.uk for more info.

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