Alex Wharton: About Poetry

Image: ©Billie Charity

I’m in the shack, a pallet-built shed with a concrete deck – home to a lovely old log burner. I’m happy, because I’ve just lit the fire with some flint and steel that I ordered online. Using the internet so that I can live in a world that is less, well, internet… We’re sheltering from the rain, the dog and I. The horses are fed, the hens, geese and ducks are scratching about, flapping about and squawking their joy into the valley’s quiet mist.

I’m thinking, as poets do. But poetry is about thought, and how we observe the living, the everyday – how much of it we absorb, let in. And tell again, again and again – until it’s something that satisfies our soul. I love the editing, the carving and splitting, dusting, polishing. Poetry is not unlike any other built thing. There’s a process of carefulness, artistry and patience. Stepping back, letting things be. Returning, fresh of thought – new ideas, feelings.

Inspiration is endless, as long as we stay open to the moment, the living and learning. And open to people, in many ways we are shaped by our surroundings, people and place. But we are unique amongst it all. And I deeply encourage this when working with children. I’ll ask them: “Would anyone like to tell me something about their life, just a little something you feel might be different to someone else, it doesn’t have to be epic or crazy, just – anything?”

My Nan taught me how to catch bumpy’s? Said a nine-year-old boy in the Rhondda Valleys.
Me: What’s bumpy’s?
You know, the little fish in the river, bumpy’s.
We catch ‘em with our bare hands like this
(he shows me) 
Oh I see, are they trout or something?
No, bumpy’s, you know em mun.
Well I’ve never heard of em, but it sounds awesome. “Anyone else’s Nan show them how to catch bumpy’s? No? Well there we have it, a unique story. Put it in your poem, my friend.” His eyes lit up, his friends were impressed, inspired!

Accessibility. Finding common ground. This is where I feel poetry most benefits the children I visit and work with. I move them away from structure and more towards feeling. Does it sound like you when you say it out aloud? Do you even want it to?  Poetry is such a dynamic thing, imaginative, living. I want children to know of its looseness, playfulness and freedom. But also of its power to change lives, save lives. It’s true – I mean, those of you reading this, know of these qualities, I’m sure. But the experience, well, I’m not sure what was happening in my own life when poetry swooped in. Fragile maybe. Confused, complicated. Too many thoughts without a space to place them, to shape them and move on.

Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton, illustrated by Katy Riddell, Firefly Press

I didn’t know I needed it, but since, I haven’t been without it. So perhaps it was always there. I think being a poet is less doing, and more feeling. And the way in which we feel and absorb the world around us moulds the way we create. Which of course is ever-changing. I’m in the business of creating lovely things. That inspire, shed light, soothe and find the people who need them at the time.

Poetry Hill

All is still on poetry hill,

the horses dip their heads.

The geese are safe within

their sheds and ducks

are tucked in beds.

All is still on poetry hill,

the flowers closing in.

No sound of cars or

engines, just the sound

of quiet things.

Like moonlight on the

meadow, and shadows

shaped as trees. And silent

cats all inky black that tip

toe through your sleep.

All is still on poetry hill,

The poet doesn’t speak.

He piles his thoughts into

a heap and slips into

his dreams.

From Alex Wharton’s forthcoming collection of poems, to be published by Firefly Press.

Alex Wharton

Alex Wharton is an award-winning writer and performer of poetry and has led Writing workshops in schools throughout the UK. His first book of poetry, Daydreams and Jellybeans was published with Firefly Press in 2021. He is one of eleven writers that collaborated on a retelling of the Mabinogion called The Mab, which will be published in the summer of 2022 in both English and Welsh language.

John Hegley: Word Play with the Card Players

Image: Travis Elborough.

Word Play with the Card players

Tom* and I we sat and spoke

about the kids, and them awoke;

writing (and drawing) til their pencils wore away or broke.

What was to be drawn and writ

would be about a bit of local art

in which they’d get to take a part,

with poets working in the school,

each employing, as a tool

a local gallery exhibit

to inspire and uninhibit.

Clare** would come there too, to note

and photograph the drawn and wrote

in Bristol, Bradford, Luton Town:

the young creative gold dust sieved.

And, London, where I’ve also lived.

*Tom MacAndrew, freelance producer, **Clare Elstow, writer and broadcaster.

Paul CézanneThe Card Players 1894–1895, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, public domain.

As a tester for this, I visited a nearby primary school with ‘The Card Players’ by the French painter, Paul Cezanne. I explained that I had a French Connection because my dad was born in Paris and French was his mother tongue. I told the children and their teacher that I celebrate these French roots. We discussed a wide variety of roots and heritage present in the classroom. We then looked at the two card players present in the painting, at their opposite ends of the table.

Are they friends? Are they brothers? Are they farmers? Look how big their knees are! Can you supply a third person to put in the middle? What does this person look like? How big are the newcomer’s knees? What do the existing card players think about the new arrival? What does the table think? What does Paul Cezanne think of what is going on?

John’s own drawing in answer to this exercise!

The teacher in this class is most attentive,

as the children write and draw,

ignited by this image from the Courtauld.

I have learned, with running courses

in classes, workshopping in schools,

that tools held by teachers are such valuable resources.

They know the children, understand

when many hands go shooting up,

which voice

is the most prudent choice.

It may not be the chosen reply

will be the cleverest,

but it may be, here is a child too shy

to ordinarily supply their teacher

with an answer.

The teacher can also advise the guest

when it may be best

to say goodbye.


John Hegley

John Hegley was born in Newington Green, North London, and was educated in Luton, Bristol and Bradford University.

He has produced ten books of verse and prose pieces, two CDs and one mug, but his largest source of income is from stages on his native island. An Edinburgh Festival regular, he is noted for his exploration of such diverse topics as dog hair, potatoes, handkerchieves and the misery of human existence.

He is an occasional DJ, dancer and workshop leader, using drawing, poetry and gesture. He has been awarded an honorary Doctorate of Arts from what is now the University of Bedfordshire, and once performed in a women’s prison in Columbia.