Pie Corbett: Surrealist Games

Surrealist Games

     As a teacher-writer, I often use surrealist procedures because, ‘Poetry should be made by all. Not one’. The Surrealist’s first manifesto argued that the imagination should be free; every human was endowed with imagination; through various games and techniques, ‘the marvelous is within everyone’s reach’. These ideals suggest that every child can succeed uniquely, opening playful possibilities. Early on, I used simple approaches such as Kenneth Koch’s suggestion to write about dreams or crazy wishes: ‘I wish I was/ a silver fish swimming in the sunset sea.’ Here are a few games:

     Random Pairs – involves juxtaposition of ideas and words. Play in pairs.

  • Partner A writes down 5 adjectives
  • Partner B writes down five nouns.
  • Put lists together and read.
Partner A – adjectivesPartner B – nouns= new phrase
darkdeliverydark delivery
ravenousfeetravenous feet
softfestivalsoft festival
shinyhorseshiny horse
pixilatedsunflowerpixilated sunflower

     Children MUST combine the words in the order they are written to overcome the desire to combine words into known patterns … clichés. To break this habit, random selection should rule so fresh combinations occur. Lengthen mini sentences or use in paragraphs. Create other constraints:

  • List pairs of words that alliterate:
  • Work in threes to create sentences using adjective+noun+verb;
  • Experiment in fours to produce sentences using adjective+noun+verb+adverb;
  • Try other combinations, e.g. adjective+noun+verb+simile.

     Initial letters and acronyms – in pairs, use initials. Child A lists random adjectives for a given name. Child B lists for the family name:

Harry Potter is – a Hairy Promenade, a Handsome Party, a Helpful Peach …

     Use number plates or acronyms such as BBC, ITV, DIY, UFO, FBI, LOL to create mini sentences:

Adjective Bold

Noun Baggage

Verb Celebrates

     Consequences – called ‘the exquisite corpse’ by surrealists, play consequences to create sentences. Pieces of paper are passed round from child to child using a grid. Remind children about word classes. Control the movement of the papers to avoid pandemonium! Start simply:

DeterminerAdjectiveNounVerb
Ashyeggsneezes

As children become confident in word classes, expand the grid:

Determiner  Adjective  Noun  Verb  Adverb  Preposition  Determiner  Adjective  Noun  

     It is important that the paper gets passed on and is folded over so the next child cannot see previous words. Hence, random juxtaposition creates surreal sentences to tweak:

Those pink axes whisper brightly inside that timeless parrot.

Six snoring keys stay exhaustingly below these cold peppers.

Example from a teacher poetry group run by Talk for Writing trainer, Maria Richards.

Vary the grid with different challenges to include phrases, e.g.

Determiner  Adjectives  Noun  Verb  simile  
Thesnarling, bare-toothedcataloguesimperslike a moss-smothered rock

Liam, yr 5, starts his paragraph with a sentence from the game:

Confused, the pencil lay hidden in the chaos of the desk. Why do they hide me away, while I’m destined to write the stories of their imagination? Why trade me for a pen, when my point is ready, sharp and poised for action? Creativity lies within me.

     Time traveller’s potlatch – what gifts would you give historical figures or book characters? One version we play involves children in trios passing round folded paper as in the consequences game.

  1. What present would you give: I will give you a mute swan’. Fold paper over and pass on.
  2. Without peeking, extend the description: which is slimmer than a mouse’s whisper.’ Fold and pass.
  3. Add on what the gift might do: and can bake buns faster than pastry chef.’

Surrealist games make poetry accessible, build confidence, break barriers and encourage daring combinations.

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice by the Open University. He runs online training for teachers and every Monday works with about 6,000 children on @TeachingLive, running writing sessions of poetry, creative nonfiction and story. 

Christmas Poems: Merry Christmas!

© Sue Hardy-Dawson

Thank you to Sue for our lovely Robin introduction, and to the other wonderful children’s poets who have sent poems for our Christmas blog 2021. We’d also like to thank all those who have supported us by sending fascinating and illuminating blogs this year.

Angel Dance

…………………………………

See the shepherds with the sheep,

Not one dares to make a peep,

Tonight, no one will go to sleep,

The angels dance above.

…………………………

See the trees turn golden, bright,

The hills are flooded with pure light,

And all feel warm this cold, cold night,

The angels dance above.

…………………………….

See the glint in every eye,

No one asks the question why

Heaven has flooded Earth’s dark sky,

The angels dance above.

………………………………

Coral Rumble

 

Christmas morning

Last year

on Christmas morning

we got up really early

and took the dog for a walk

across the downs

It wasn’t snowing

but the hills were white with frost

and our breath froze

in the air

Judy rushed around like a crazy
thing

as though Christmas 

meant something special to her

The sheep huddled together

looking tired

as if they’d been up all night

watching the stars

We stood at the highest point

and thought about what Christmas means

and looked over the white hills

and looked up at the blue sky

And the hills seemed

to go on forever

and the sky had no bounds

and you could imagine

a world at peace

Roger Stevens

Illustration by Chris Riddell, from THINGS YOU FIND IN A POET’S BEARD (Burning Eye)

A Christmas Poem

When my Great Aunt Bertha,
who was a Quaker,
read in the papers
of how their boys and our boys gave it all up,
put the guns down
and climbed over the top
to kick the patched leather ball
between barbed wire and crater rims,
between the two straight dark ditches they lived in,
she took it upon herself to head down to Woolworth’s
and buy up all the marked down boxes of Christmas cards,
lolling on the January shelves.

She spent her war years licking stamps,
inking addresses,
printing xmas messages in one of a number of different languages,
as appropriate,
signing her love
and visiting the pillar-box at the head of her road.
Sacks of the things went off at once,
whole stretches of trench filled with spade-handled robins,
holly, magi, stockings and snow.
The babe of peace arrived in his manger,
in the stable,
in March, in April, in May,
ceaselessly,
year on year.

If there had been no calendars,
no officers, no orders,
no today’s or yesterday’s newspaper in the mess,
in the trench,
no date on the soldier’s letter from home,
then her plan may have worked,
assuming the other side were equally ill-equipped
and open-mindedly eager to clutch peace as it passed.

But
no one was stupid enough to think it might be Christmas
every day,
no one was fooled by her hand,
and besides, the ball
needed pumping
and a puncture repair kit.
Great Aunt Bertha.

A.F. Harrold

Christmas dawn

brings frost

in fields.

Sheep seek

one patch

where sunlight creeps,

and stand

– quite still –

on a Cotswold hillside.

Woolly backs

    steam; 

         shadows stretch.

                 Fingers of friendly light

          linger

    as frosted grass

turns green.

Pie Corbett

Wes Magee: A Tribute and Celebration

On Thursday 21 October 2021, Wes Magee, well-known children’s poet and author, passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Here is a selection of his poems, published with permission, chosen by just a few of those who admired his wonderful work.

Brian Moses

Wes Magee was a role model when I first started writing poetry for children. Like me, he was a teacher at that time (later a headteacher) and his classes had inspired him to write his own poems, when he couldn’t find ones relevant to the work in hand. I remember a four page booklet of poems about dinosaurs which the children in my classes loved to hear, and then in 1989 there were two books from Cambridge University Press,  Morning Break  and The Witch’s Brew.

These were such diverse collections from someone who understood children, their lives and what made them tick. Wes was a master craftsman too. His poems were finely tuned and there was something for everyone – spooky poems, funny poems, sad poems and poems that begged to be read aloud. Reading aloud was something Wes did brilliantly. We shared the stage on a number of occasions and I was always struck by the way he quickly developed a relationship with his audience, no matter what age. He was particularly at home with younger children, and they listened intently as if he was imparting the kind of secrets that they needed to see them through life.

Recently Wes toured Northern Ireland on several occasions. I talked with him once after he’d spent the day in a school in Belfast with 12 classes. “I visited every one,” he said. I envied his energy and his stamina. Fortunately his poems are recorded on the Poetry Archive. Do give them a listen.

I have many favourite poems but for me, this short one is near perfect.

A hot day at the school

All day long the sun glared

as fiercely as a cross Headteacher.

Out on the brown, parched field

we trained hard for next week’s Sports day.

Hedges wilted in the heat;

teachers’ cars sweltered on the tarmac.

In the distance, a grenade of thunder

exploded across the glass sky.

Wes Magee

Judith Nicholls

Wes, of course, wrote many school-based poems which children can easily relate to but I’ve chosen something a little different: VOICES, in which all three verses are linked by the voices of different adults calling the children in.

The first verse begins with four friends ‘adventuring’ in an overgrown garden where ‘ … a tumbledown shed, half lost in waves of weeds/was our pirate ship, sailing uncharted seas’ … a lovely alliterative image of the waves of weeds. In the second verse, cousins are rowing on a lake’s sunlit-wrinkled water and here it is the hand-cupped shout of the boatmen calling them in from the jetty.

In the final verse the poem takes a more sinister turn with its Hansel and Gretel reference of a crabbed old woman inviting the children lost in the wood to rest in her cottage, with its final Come in!/dear children./Come in! It is, we learn, a story being told by a teller who mimics the witch’s final invitation … but we are all aware of the power of story and the children stare intently, dry-mouthed, at the teller!

I love poems that change the mood as they proceed and this would be a wonderful poem to perform; I never heard Wes perform this one but can imagine what a great telling he would give it!

Voices

‘Come in!”

My mother’s voice boomed across the backs of houses,

calling me home as dusk fell that July evening.

But still we played, four friends adventuring

at the end of Mathew’s long, overgrown garden

where a tumbledown shed, half lost in waves of weeds,

was our pirate ship sailing uncharted seas.

Dirt-streaked, and oblivious of the deepening purple dark,

we played on as first stars blinked like harbour lights.

         ‘Come in!

         It’s late!

         Come in!’

        

‘Come in!’

The boatman’s hoarse voice reverberated

across the lake’s sparkling, sunlit-wrinkled water.

Yet my cousins continued to row towards the reed beds

where ducks, moorhens and coots paddled and pecked.

We laughed as heavy oars dipped and splashed,

and gazed when a flight of geese took off, wings clapping.

The rowing boat rocked in the wind and waves,

and still the boatman’s hand-cupped shout from the jetty,

         ‘Come in!

         Time’s up!

         Come in!’

‘Come in!’

The crabbed old woman smiled toothlessly

as she invited the children lost in the green wood

to rest in her cottage half hidden in the bushes and trees.

I remember how the storyteller added scary sound effects

— an owl’s wavering hoot, wind hushing in the treetops,

and his fingers snapping like dead, woodland twigs.

Dry-mouthed and wide-eyed we stared intently

as he mimicked the witch’s final invitation,

‘Come in!

dear children.

Come in!’

Wes Magee

Pie Corbett

My favourite poems by Wes are either about Thorgill, winter or the annual Christmas card poem in which I felt that Wes was writing about his life. Elegant and finely crafted, this poem slows time to capture and preserve a moment. And every time the poem is read aloud (preferably in Wes’s wonderful rich voice), the moment is recreated and happens again. The poem draws the reader in with ‘you’ and we are there – in the dales, watching the Moon, car lights, cat and bright stars. The poem draws to a magical and comforting closure; a wonder-struck fragment – a prayer. 

This Silent Night 

(… … on the North York Moors) 

Bathed in the back door’s yellow light 

you gaze upon a winter’s night 

and view the shy Moon’s misty veil 

as car beams flick across the dale. 

A black cat pads the patio 

to leave small paw-prints in the snow, 

and air’s aglitter, stars are bright 

         this Christmas Eve, 

                   this silent night. 

Wes Magee

Celia Warren

I’ve picked What is the Sun, as it was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little, and I must have read it at hundreds of bedtimes. What, at first encounter, could be seen as a string of metaphors, is deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Each word is carefully chosen and placed so that the lines rise and fall, like a gentle incoming tide, as each soothing image follows the last. It is irresistible to read aloud, slowly, and bathe in its rhythmic calm.

What is the Sun?

The Sun is an orange dinghy

sailing across a calm sea

it is a gold coin

dropped down a drain in Heaven

the Sun is a yellow beach ball

kicked high into the summer sky

it is a red thumb-print

on a sheet of pale blue paper

the Sun is a milk bottle’s gold top

floating in a puddle

Wes Magee

Moira Andrew

Being invited to select a single poem from Wes Magee’s vast collection of poetry for children is like choosing a favourite child! There is so much to admire in his work, so apt, What is a million?, so clever with words, Deep down in the darkness, so sensitive, Tracey’s tree, – and on occasion, so full of fun, Miss Jones, football teacher, that the task is almost impossible.

But here goes!  The children in my Years 3 and 4 really enjoyed Down by the school gate. They loved its rhythm, sustained throughout the poem, its fun, and of course, it brings the joy of the countdown. It’s a ‘joining in’ poem and that makes it special for 7-8 year-olds. And indeed, for Special Needs classes who can shout the numbers and thump the floor as it moves to the final triumphant One lollipop man …

In addition, Down at the school gate provides a pattern on which to model the children’s own poems. It is cleverly crafted, yet looks easy – and that shows the poet’s skill.

Wes has left us bereft, we teachers, poets and friends will miss his friendship, his enthusiasm and above all, his way with words.

Down by the School Gate

There goes the bell

it’s half past three

and down by the school gate

you will see . . .

. . . ten mums in coats, talking

nine babes in prams, squawking

eight dads their cars parking

seven dogs on leads barking

six toddlers all squabbling

five grans on bikes wobbling

four child-minders running

three bus drivers sunning

two teenagers dating

one lollipop man waiting. . .

The school is out,

it’s half past three

and the first to the school gate

. . . is me!

Wes Magee

Pie Corbett: Working with Idioms and Proverbs

Working with Idioms and Proverbs

Take a proverb (a popular expression) and innovate.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’

might become

‘A camel in the park is worth six in the theatre aisle’.

In Cornwall, they have an interesting idiom that is worth discussing, ‘the tongue-less man gets his land took’. I innovated on that expression:

In Cornwall they say,

The tongue-less man gets his tongue took.

In Argyllshire they say,

The thoughtless camel gets its hump stolen.

In Gloucestershire they say,

The worthless crown gets its thorns trimmed.

In Yorkshire they say,

The hopeless hero gets his bravery burned.

In Liverpool they say,

The harmless rumour gets its beard singed

In Galway Bay they say,

The timeless clock gets its hands cuffed.

Try playing the game where expressions are taken literally, e.g.

The detectives said

the books had been cooked.

(They tasted good).

My teacher said we could

have a free hand.

(I added it to my collection).

Some people bottle up

their feelings.

(I keep mine in a jar).

My Mother said,

“Hold your tongue!”

(It was too slippery).

In the school races,

I licked everyone in the class.

(It made my tongue sore).

Here is a bank of possible idioms to play with:

How to Invent new proverbs.

First, take an even number of proverbs.

Next, cut them in half.

Still waters  /   run deep.

Too many cooks  /  spoil the broth.

Finally, stick them together in the wrong order:

Still waters spoil the broth.

Too many cooks run deep.

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice by the Open University. He runs online training for teachers and every Monday works with about 6,000 children on @TeachingLive, running writing sessions of poetry, creative nonfiction and story. 

Pie Corbett: The City of Stars

This game is one of my favourite surreal poetry games. Put the children into pairs. The first pair makes a list of 5 generic places (by that, I mean not ‘Paris’ but ‘city’) or containers (suitcase, pocket, jar, etc.) and their partner makes a list of abstract nouns – without seeing each other’s lists, e.g.

Generic places: city, cellar, beach, cupboard, attic, town, village, house, shop, cathedral, park, forest, planet, pocket, backpack, jar, musical box.

Abstract nouns: wonder, despair, grief, greed, sadness, joy, death, hope, peace, kindness, jealousy, war, imagination, creativity, anger, anxiety, happiness.

The pairs then put their two lists together in the order in which the words were written. This is to ensure that the combinations are random and not influenced by logic. The combinations that work best are the fresh and startling juxtapositions when two ideas are placed together that have never been heard before. It is this unique combination that catches the imagination. If I use my first five ideas from each list, it would produce:

The city of wonder

The cellar of despair

The beach of grief

The cupboard of greed

The attic of sadness

You could then choose out one idea and create a list poem:

In the city of wonder, I saw –

A serpent with eyes of rubies,

A song thrush flying from a golden cage,

A sunset slipping over the darkening landscape,

In the city of wonder, I found –

A scarlet rug, softer than an eagle’s feathers,

A crimson pen nib, sharper than pirate’s blade,

A scintillating canary, yellow as mustard blossom.

James Walker from a Bristol primary school experimented with his year 6 class. He began by ‘banking’ with the children as many ‘colour’ words as possible plus abstract and ‘magical’ nouns. When randomly combined this gave lists of ideas such as:

Velvet shadows

Ebony whispers

Indigo happiness

Cerise laughter, etc

Of course, the sentences need verbs to provide the power and action for the lists of colours and abstract nouns. Five minutes rapid brainstorming gave the class a considerable list. Rapid brainstorming is an important part of teaching writing. The brainstorm trains the mind to generate possibilities. During the writing, the writer than has to select and judge – what makes most impact, what works?

James then used shared writing on the flipchart to work with the children developing magical and mysterious sentences. It’s important to model the writing of a text so that the teacher can develop writerly habits such as ‘first thought isn’t always the best thought’. The task is fun, accessible and inclusive and encourages children to play with words without fear.

The children moved straight into writing independently, drawing on their lists of colours and abstract nouns, extending their own sentences. The class wrote in silence and at a pace.

Sapphire suns created golden shadows whilst an indigo moon conjured up a velvet nightmare.

A cobalt truth floated gently through the captured eternity as a gossamer spell darted violently through the ashen sky.

I asked James what he had learned and he replied:

– all children love being creative;

 – generating and judging ideas;

– going off at tangents / no limits;

– warming up the imagination.

My thanks to James Walker who is a class teacher and ‘Talk for Writing’ trainer. He runs training and development projects: https://www.talk4writing.com/train-with-us/james-walker/

Pie Corbett

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice by the Open University. During Lockdown, he produced a daily, interactive radio show based on developing children as readers and writers. Each show featured a guest poet or author and all 60 shows are available for free: https://radioblogging.net

Pie Corbett: Lists

Lists

The Japanese poet Sei Shonagon wrote list poems. These were collected in ‘The Pillow Book’, about 1000 AD. Lists are a great way to write as you can have a long list or a short list.  Sei wrote hundreds of lists about shiny things, soft things, hard things, worries, things that make me annoyed, sad things, things that worry me, rare things, cats, awkward things, disconcerting things, things that give a clean/ unclean feeling, things that should be large/ short, features I like and so on. The book contains lists, poems and gossip. I suppose it was an early form of blogging.

During lockdown, I asked children on the radio show RadioBlogging to make lists of secret, special and delicate things. Here is a list of twelve things, sort them into two groups – delicate and strong.

Leaf skeleton   Lace    Butterfly wing   Spider’s leg    Eyeball    Fishing line    Bubble    Snowflake     Dried seaweed    Cat’s tail Snake’s kin    Cloud    Rainbow    Electricity     Elastic band

Delicate things are frail, fragile and easily broken. What would be your list of delicate things? Rapidly jot down ideas. This is often a good way to start writing. Gather lots of ideas very rapidly. It doesn’t matter if they look messy. You won’t use all the ideas when you write. Jot them down in your magpie book or writing journal.

Now choose from your list your special ideas. Choose things that only you know about. Look around the room that you are in. Look out of the window. Look into your mind to places that you know well. Try to spot small, delicate things. Make each idea different and choose your words carefully.

Writing tip:  choose things to write about that only you may have seen or noticed or thought about. That way, your list of ideas will be a special way of capturing your life. Try to avoid the temptation of borrowing other people’s ideas. To get ideas look around where you are, look out of the window and then look inside your head at places you know well. There will be hundreds of things to notice. Make each one special by choosing your words to describe them with care, perhaps revealing a unique detail.

© Pie Corbett 

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice by the Open University. During Lockdown, he produced a daily, interactive radio show based on developing children as readers and writers. Each show featured a guest poet or author and all 60 shows are available for free: https://radioblogging.net

Brian Moses: Fire Lit Eyes – Running a School Writing Club

Fire Lit Eyes: Running a school writing club

For four years from 1978 – 1982, Pie Corbett and I were teaching in the same primary school, having previously become friends at teachers’ training college. It was a school that served a large estate of houses on the edge of a town that the railway had abandoned under Beeching. There had been very little thought about what those people who lived on the estate actually needed – no shops, no pub, no community centre. Parents brought their problems into school, argued in the playground or sought counselling from the headteacher.

The children brought their own troubles into the classroom and needed sympathetic but firm management. We discovered that many of the children really enjoyed being creative with words. They had imaginations and grasped enthusiastically at the ideas we presented them with. Our own inspiration came from the work of Sandy Brownjohn, from Ted Hughes manual ‘Poetry in the Making’ and from the American poet and educationalist, Kenneth Koch who had produced a number of books featuring the poetry of city kids. We were also impressed with the work of teacher Chris Searle and his publications – ‘Stepney Words’ and ‘Firewords’ which highlighted writing by children in London schools.

I forget whose idea it was but we decided to invite anyone who enjoyed writing to return to school on a Wednesday evening for extra poetry writing sessions with us. We were allowed to run these in the pre-school playgroup hut where we perched on tiny chairs or sat on the floor and wrote from 7.30 till 9 p.m. For our first session 30 children arrived out of the darkness of the estate. Few were brought by their parents, most just walked to school as they would in the daytime.

Pie and I were able to try out ideas that we might have thought twice about using in the classroom. We were surrealists taking our writing beyond the real with no limits to anyone’s imagination. Often we explored three or four ideas each session and children would arrive the next day eager to show us poems that they had completed at home. We wrote with the children too and shared our ideas. They knew that they could comment and make criticisms about what we had written in the same way that we did with their writing. There was no fear of work being marked or graded and the poems were celebrated for what they were. On summer evenings we wrote on location visiting a graveyard, the abandoned railway line, a turkey farm and a spooky house.

We saved many of the poems that were written and put them in a book that we wrote about teaching poetry. We sent it to Oxford University Press as we liked the anthologies that John Foster had done for them. After three months, an editor from OUP range me up and said they wanted to publish it. That was ‘Catapults and Kingfishers’. We were just in the right place at the right time and they’d happened to be looking for a book like ours. It was, they told us, the first unsolicited manuscript they’d published in fifteen years! And that book launched our careers.

Since those days the school has consistently lounged at the bottom of the league table in its LEA and has been in and out of special measures constantly… but we believed our children were as good as any others. We also had some winners in the WH Smith competition out of some 30,000 entries. ITV also made videos of two of the winning poems.

Recently Kate Long got in touch with me about a writing club that she runs at her school. You can find out more about her work here.

The Able Writers Scheme that I started up in 2002 operates on similar lines. We bring children together from different schools for a day of writing for writing’s sake. The scheme has been successfully run by the Authors Abroad agency for the past eight years and we have over 150 host schools from Aberdeen to the Isle of Wight who organise such days. Information about the scheme and how your school might become a host school can be found here.

The business man Alan Sugar is always complaining that the candidates on ‘The Apprentice’ often lack imagination and creativity. If those qualities are not fostered in schools, then we shouldn’t be surprised at what he says.

Brian Moses

Brian Moses has been a professional children’s poet since 1988. To date he has over 220 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as Lost Magic and Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze, anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and the recently published Spaced Out, (edited with James Carter), plus picture books such as Walking With My Iguana and Dreamer.

Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold.

Brian also visits schools to run writing workshops and perform his own poetry and percussion shows. To date he has visited well over 3000 schools and libraries throughout the UK and abroad.

Pie Corbett: 16 Things in a Hobbit’s Knapsack

16 things in a Hobbit’s Knapsack

I developed this idea with Brian Moses about 38 years ago. In those days, we had our children writing lists along the lines of ‘5 things you’d find in Margaret Thatcher’s handbag’. This is the version that I wrote at the time to use as a model for children (Ian McMillan has also written several similar list poems).

Six things found in a Hobbit’s Knapsack

A wasp’s sting to startle unwary goblins.

Two leather-bound books. One titled, ‘Tunnel digging for beginners’ and the other, ‘Wolves and methods for their avoidance’.

A purse of never-ending wishes.

A pot of gold found at the end of a rainbow.

A pair of twelve league boots.

A fur-lined cape, the colour of rock, for keeping warm in the winter and using as camouflage.

© Pie Corbett

  1. Read the model through and discuss the ideas.
  2. Brainstorm a list of other possibilities.
  3. Use shared writing to create a few lines
  4. Inject a sense of urgency by giving a time limit for independent writing, to aid concentration.
  5. Children share and polish their ideas.
  6. Hear examples. Copy favourites for display or to make a booklet.

This is an example from working with a year six class.

We started with a rapid class brainstorm of possibilities: a hammer forged from underground mines; a dagger for dragon attack; oat cake or seed cake; a small block of hardened cheese; a flagon of water for rehydration; a clarinet, reed pipe or recorder; flint and steel; a map of The Misty Mountains; a quill and slate for writing runes, communication or sending a message; a silver pen for writing which can only be read by the light of the moon; a diamond for bargaining; a sack for treasure; an invisibility cloak and some pork pie.

We then did shared writing of a few lines:

A silver pen for secret statements concealed safely beneath a moonless night.

An enchanted reed pipe to fool your advancing foe by summoning a slither of moonlight.

Here is a list made by four of the year 6 children:

Sixteen things found in a Hobbit’s Knapsack

Two fire-flies in a jam jar to light up your way.

A book of myths and legends though some would call them truths.

A quill of wise words that writes runes to summon a thread of starlight.

A silver pen that can only be seen by the light of the moon.

Gandalf’s pocket-watch where you spin the hands to turn time.

An enchanted reed pipe for summoning a slither of moonlight to guide you in the night.

A charmed recorder for fooling or hypnotising your foe.

A cauldron of wishes at the edge of an inquisitive mind.

Homely, hard cheese for a fireless night.

A flagon of never-ending water to quench any dwarf’s thirst.

A golden feather, plucked from the finest eagle and a strip of slate forged in goblin mines to contact the nearest village, using an ancient map of The Misty Mountains.

The fang of a dragon to slay fleeing foe.

A completely crystal dagger, able to pierce through any armour and wound even the deadliest of creatures.

A pair of relatively light boots which can endure months of crossing rivers, navigating woods and stumbling through seemingly endless caves and caverns.

A steel-lined cape to protect you from fire, piercing blades and the strongest of incantations.

Of course, the lists could be about what you would find in a troll’s rucksack, a giant’s suitcase, a unicorn’s saddle bags or a goblin’s backpack!

© Pie Corbett 2020

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice. Talk for Writing.

Pie Corbett: The City of Stars

The City of Stars

This game is one of my favourite surreal poetry games. The initial idea is to put the children into pairs. The first pair makes a list of 5 generic places (by that, I mean not ‘Paris’ but ‘city’) and their partner makes a list of similar length of abstract nouns without seeing each other’s lists. Here I have listed 17 ideas for each:
Generic places: city, cellar, beach, cupboard, attic, town, village, house, shop, cathedral, park, forest, planet, alleyway, motorway, patio, kitchen, classroom.
Abstract nouns: wonder, despair grief, greed, sadness, joy, death, hope, peace, kindness, jealousy, war, imagination, creativity, anger, anxiety, happiness.
The pairs then put their two lists together in the order in which the words were written. This is to ensure that the combinations are random and not influenced by logic. The combinations that work most are the fresh and startling juxtapositions when two ideas are placed together have never been heard before and this unique combination often catches the imagination. If I use my first five ideas from each list, it would produce:
The city of wonder
The cellar of despair
The beach of grief
The cupboard of greed
The attic of sadness

You could then choose out one idea and create a list poem:

In the city of wonder, I saw –
A serpent with eyes of rubies,
A song thrush flying from a golden cage,
A sunset slipping over the darkening landscape,

In the city of wonder, I found –
A scarlet rug, softer than an eagle’s feathers,
A crimson pen nib, sharper than pirate’s blade,
A scintillating canary, yellow as mustard blossom.

James Walker from Knowle Park experimented with this idea. He began by banking with the children as many ‘colour’ words as possible plus abstract and ‘magical’ nouns. When randomly combined this gave lists of ideas such as:

Velvet shadows
Ebony whispers
Indigo happiness
Cerise laughter, etc

These ideas were then linked and the children wrote extended sentences:

• Sapphire suns created golden shadows whilst an indigo moon conjured up a velvet nightmare.
• A cobalt truth floated gently through the captured eternity as a gossamer spell darted violently through the ashen sky.

Tom Wrigglesworth from Selby Primary has experimented with different categories. In one game, he gathered with the class a list of ‘collective nouns’ and added these to various sinister abstract nouns.

The class selected four and Tom used shared writing to jointly create a sinister paragraph.

A further development of the game is called ‘split definitions’. This involves each child using a piece of paper divided into four. They write down a concrete noun plus a definition and an abstract noun with a definition. Here are two examples:

 

Door is an opening  from one room into another
Secret is something important that you are not going to tell anyone

 

Train is a vehicle with trucks or carriages that runs on tracks
Greed  is when you really want something that you don’t really need

 

Once everyone has completed their grids then the pieces of paper are cut or torn up and a pile of all the concrete nouns is made, a separate pile of the abstract nouns and one pile of all the definitions. The three piles are shuffled and then everyone selects randomly a new concrete noun, abstract noun and two definitions. Given the two examples above we could end up with the following:

 

A door is when you really want something that you don’t really need.

A secret is a vehicle with trucks or carriages that runs on tracks.

A train is something important that you are not going to tell anyone.

Greed is an opening from one room into another.

 

©  Pie Corbett 2019

 

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice.

Talk for Writing.