Teresa Cremin: Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Are you and the children setting yourselves any New Year’s resolutions? What are their hopes and dreams as they enter another year with the pandemic a backdrop to their lives?  How might poetry play a part in expressing these?

Children often write effectively about issues that matter to them: that have emotional relevance and connect to their values, concerns and future focused desires.   You can support them by discussing these, recognising them as rich writing material and perhaps simply sharing possible intentions in 2s or 3s. For example, I want to… read more, exercise more, smile more, help others, go to bed earlier, be kinder to the environment, eat more fruit, listen first, be more positive and so forth. You could also jot some down on strips of paper to pass round as examples to use, add to and adapt.

It’s easy to move from this brief warm up to exploring more imaginative one-liners framed by a slightly less pragmatic desire. For instance, using the starters I would like to…, I would love to…, I hope to…. and inviting ‘almost impossible’, ‘ingenious’ and ‘novel’ conclusions to the sentence. All the examples have been written by young primary aged poets.

Additionally, you could offer provocative questions on strips of paper, and invite children to write their own ‘challenging to answer’ questions too, then pop them in a top hat for random selection, copying, ‘answering’ and returning the question to the hat to select another.  You might construct it like a game of consequences, with a question written on the top of the sheet, and poets adding their responses underneath. I find occasional peaking and sharing of particularly arresting question-and-answers helps. 

When you open the sheets up, pairs can read and discuss which responses they think are the most effective and why and can then rehearse an evocation of their favourite in a manner which highlights its meaning. I vividly recall three eight-year-olds in London adding an ostinato to the question ‘What is anger?’ The word ‘anger’ was repeated before, during and after the poetic Q and A as if it were bubbling up and threatening to boil over, they created a real sense of frisson in the room. Using body percussion can also work. Sometimes though, a simple slow repeated voicing is the most effective and there is always a moment of delight as the unknowing young poet in the classroom recognises their own words.

Personally, I have often been amazed at children’s depth of thinking and feeling when presented with such questions, though much depends on the openness, early affirmations and exploratory, accept-all manner of the activity. To start with more ordinary responses will surface, but with time, sharing and celebrating rich ideas, (yours and any other adults, as well as the children’s) more allusive and imaginative ideas emerge. As Ted Hughes (1967) noted “the latent talent for self-expression in any child is immeasurable”.

Longer poems can also be sculpted out of these one-liners, by combining some or adding additional lines or repeating refrains or verses. Reducing the ask increases the space to think through the issues, capture thoughts and convey just ‘the best words in the best order’ in Coleridge’s words.

Quickfire poetry can help us voice our hopes and share our thoughts- why not try it in 2022?

 Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa’s research focuses on teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her new edited collection Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure (with Helen Hendry, Lucy Rodriguez Leon, Natalia Kucirkova and 31 teachers and academics is due out in 2022), alongside the 3rd edition of Teaching English Creatively (both Routledge).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into volitional reading. In 2022, the site is supporting over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 34 HEI partnerships across the country to develop children’s and teachers’ pleasure in reading. @TeresaCremin

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