Spooky Writing for Hallowe’en
A Good Scary Poem Needs…
A haunted house,
A pattering mouse,
A spooky feeling,
A spider-webbed ceiling.
A squeaking door,
A creaking floor,
A swooping bat,
The eyes of a cat.
A dreadful dream,
A distant scream,
A ghost that goes ‘BOO’
The poet Wes Magee and I used to run spooky writing weekends for children. One of them was held in a 14th Century Manor House on the Isle of Wight, another in the old Carnegie Theatre in Dunfermline, and a third at Hellens House in Herefordshire.
Hellens was just what we needed it to be – shutters, faded tapestries, huge fireplaces with roaring log fires, stern portraits, a spiral staircase, minstrels’ gallery, four poster beds, ancient cupboards, loose floorboards and not just one, but two rooms which were supposedly haunted.
Right at the start we paraded the cliches of the horror movies and quickly dismissed them. Nothing was needed but the house itself and the spooky feelings that it engendered. Anything that felt menacing was made more menacing. We gradually built up the atmosphere, layer on layer.
I touched a mirror that was layered in thick dust,
I saw a candle light that was there and then wasn’t.
I discovered a piece of shattered glass
in which I gazed upon what seemed like a ghostly face.
And in the grounds of the house on a dull November day…
I saw a young tree strangled by ivy,
I saw a feather fall and stab the ground.
These were quite ordinary things made to sound sinister using the language of horror with words like strangled and stab.
By starting each line with ‘I’, a rhythm is established without using rhyme, along with a chant-like quality when read aloud.
A similar sort of exercise can take place in the classroom. Switch off the light, pull down the blinds and imagine yourself in the classroom at midnight.
I heard the computer sigh creepily like the wind moaning.
I heard the trees scratch against the window as if they wanted to get in.
I saw scissors snapping angrily…
At Hellens we toured the building seeking out possible spooky observations from each room. A poem then followed a pattern:
We went on a ghost hunt.
We looked into the drawing room.
We didn’t see a ghost but we saw a chess piece move and
heard a snore from a chair.
We climbed the central staircase.
We didn’t see a ghost but a hand passed my shoulder and
a guitar was lightly dusted.
Children then described the resident ghost? Where it dwelt, how it revealed itself, how it moved and what its hopes and fears might be…
His cold lonely face
Begs for company
For fear he would be alone for eternity.
These ideas can also be adapted for classroom use with children remembering spooky places that they have visited in the past.
Finally, consider how the writing should be performed. Some pieces can be made more effective through the use of percussion instruments – the slow beat of a drum between each line, the low notes on a piano. Someone with a keyboard and/or computer skills may be able to compose a suitably spooky backing track against which a poem could be read.
Remember too that the voice is also an effective instrument and that menacing feeling in the writing must come across in the reading for the listener to be completely involved.
Brian Moses is a children’s poet. He has toured his poetry and percussion show around schools, libraries, theatres and festivals in the UK and Europe for the past thirty-two years. Lost Magic: The Very Best of Brian Moses is available from Macmillan and his widely performed poem Walking With My Iguana is now a picture book from Troika Books. A new anthology, The Best Ever Book of Funny Poems will be published by Macmillan in March 2021.