Pie Corbett: A Profile

As the third in a new series of Poets’ Profiles, we asked

Pie Corbett to talk about being a children’s poet

Who are you?

 Pie Corbett – poet, storyteller and writer, anthologist, ex teacher, Head and Inspector. I run ‘Talk for Writing’ which is an approach to teaching writing used round the world.

How long have you been writing poetry for children?

I started writing my own poetry when I was at school. I met Brian Moses at teacher training college about 43 years ago and we began writing model poems for children.

How did you get started?

Like many poets of about my age, I was influenced by the Liverpool Poets – Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. Their writing made me feel that I could write something similar… or, at the least, have a go. I read a lot of poetry and had two other influences. Kenneth Koch was an American writer who often used a repeating line such as ‘I wish I was…’ or ‘I used to… but now…’. The poems were very playful and this worked really well in my own writing and in my teaching. In many ways, the total opposite of Koch was the writer Ted Hughes whose writing focussed upon close observation of the natural world and using the writing to capture and celebrate experience. I used his approach in my own writing and in the classroom – we wrote about a stuffed fox, a rusted bicycle, our hands, tree bark, cats, snow fall and so on. As Sally (9 years) said, ‘you have to try and say what things are really like’.

What do you enjoy about writing?

When I am writing, I block out everything else. I love the tussle with words, creating new images or ideas and the way in which something that has never existed before can appear. I always read my writing aloud because I want the writing to flow. I like the way that poetry is a blend of meaning and music. Many of my poems are like diary entries. When I read a poem from years ago, I can remember where I was and what was happening. Poems, when they work, are little nuggets of life and joy that have been preserved. I see them like jars of preserved fruit, sitting on a shelf glowing in the sunlight. Whenever I take a jar down and read the poem, I can still taste the original experience.

Catalysts, Poems for Writing, Pie Corbett, pub: Talk for Writing, only available here.

Have you any poetry writing tips you’d like to share with us?

Like almost every writer, I keep a notebook with me. I raid life for ideas so I am always on the lookout for possibilities. I raid life. When I am writing a poem, I need silence and to concentrate really hard. I keep rereading, as I write, to check the sense and flow and to get the next idea. Three key tips:

  1. Name it’ – it is not a ‘dog’ but a ‘poodle’ – as soon as you ‘name’ the noun, you create a stronger image.
  2. Strengthen verbs – not ‘the dog went’ but ‘the dog bounded’… or ’the dog limped’
  3. Beware of adjectives, e.g. The big giant (aren’t they all big?) – do you need any? Avoid using adjectives that mean the same sort of thing (weary, tired, exhausted, drowsy). Also watch out for adverbs – do you really need to say ‘she whispered quietly’?
Evidence of Dragons, Pie Corbett, Pub: Macmillan

Which is your favourite amongst the books you’ve written?

My collection Evidence of Dragons (Macmillan Children’s Books) has all my favourite poems. I’ve just published Catalysts – poems for writing’ (available from https://shop.talk4writing.com/products/catalysts-poems-for-writing ) which is a collection of over 130 model poems that can be used for teaching but also by anyone who loves writing. There are some poems in that book that I love – ‘The Dream Catcher’ is a long poem that captures all shades of life.

Which book was most important in your career as a poet?

In about 1983, Brian and I wrote a book together for teachers called Catapults and Kingfishers (Oxford University Press) and that helped us both get noticed. Then the poet-anthologist John Foster published some of my poems in the Oxford Poetry series. This helped me to begin to take my own writing more seriously. Rice, Pie and Moses (Macmillan Children’s Books) gave me a chance to put out a selection of poems, some of which have been published in other parts of the world. The collection was by John Rice, Brian Moses and myself. I’ve enjoyed publishing over 20 anthologies; my favourite was The King’s Pyjamas.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

If you like writing then keep reading, keep writing and bathe yourself in all that life has to offer.

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

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.