Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Tomorrow I will take the first of five classes teaching 10/11 year olds how to write poetry in a nearby school. Yesterday I managed to press the bottom out of my French Press

coffee everywhere!

So today, instead of continuing the work on my lesson plan I have spent the morning trying to work out how to make myself a cup of coffee.

I have an old, on the hob, espresso pot somewhere. But I can't find it. It was rubbish anyway, I could never get a decent cup of coffee out of it. It would either boil over, spewing brown all over the place or, if I kept the heat low, take for ever and the resulting coffee would taste stewed and ghastly.

I sat here at my desk, for some hours, with Ted Hughes's book Poetry in the Making open in front of me, staring at my blank screen, trying to be satisfied with tea. When I remembered a visit, late last summer, to my old art teacher. He lives in a gorgeous, rambling house in the midst of the Galloway hills and as we sat at his well used kitchen table his wife made the most delicious coffee with nothing but a cone of kitchen paper and an old jug. So I tried it,

and it worked.

It wasn't quite as good as when made in my usual way, but it tasted like coffee and thus enabled me to get back to that lesson.

The class project is Space and the Solar System, and the teacher wants me to fit in with that. Not having any poems, at my disposal, about space I have been trying to work out how to inspire poetry on that theme by sharing with them poetry on other themes. I only have an hour a week for five weeks. I have no idea what, if anything, they know about poetry already, and no idea if they like it. If they are anything like I was at that age they don't. I found poetry alienating as a child. I hated the tum-ti-tum of it, and the subject matter that poets covered didn't speak to me. Having loved nursery rhymes pre-school, the way poetry was taught once I got there put me off for decades. I still don't like most of the Canon, all that stuff about beauty in clever couplets, sonnets, and neat quatrains. My experience of the world is much messier than that. I suspect that few of the kids I'll be teaching are gentlemen with private incomes so I am now trying to find a few poems that are: a) written by people who they can relate to, b) don't have too much violence or death in them (I have been warned about the possibility of stirring unpleasant memories), and c) able to provide the necessary spark.

I think I have come up with a plan that could work. Each week I will cover a different area of the general theme. Currently I'm thinking along the lines of 'The World' by which I mean landscape, weather, vegetation and the like; 'Creatures': the type of animals and insects that inhabit the world; 'People': thinking beings who are conscious of their existence, and, perhaps, 'artifacts' anything the conscious beings make or have made. I'm hoping that by giving them examples of poems that describe those aspects of this planet, they will be able to make the leap to another.

So what I'll do tomorrow is try to get them to imagine a world on another planet by reading them a few poems about this one and then discus those poems in a bit of detail. Then I'll give them a set time, Hughes suggests ten minutes, to write a poem on the subject. Now I just need to find some good examples. What do you think of this one, will it do to start?


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Found in The Rattle Bag, which is aimed at children, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney


scarlet-blue said...

I'm not the greatest with poetry; I prefer free form... but anyhow have you tried looking at Roger McGough?

Kim Ayres said...

That's a great poem - they should have fun with that.

I have heard of the likes of Eminem being used in schools as a kind of poet. Perhaps it's worth looking up some Rap, although you can avoid the Gangsta stuff which is primarily about guns, death and slapping your bitch up. Apparently.

Mary Witzl said...

I love the 'windpuff bonnet of fawn-froth' -- and so much more there. And the whole poem just makes me ache for Scotland. There are some good poetry-for-kids websites. Some of them have some great resources for the 10-11 year range.

As for the coffee, in a similar situation, I've used a clean sock. (Don't worry: I never served you coffee filtered through a sock, honest!)

Eryl Shields said...

Scarlet ~ I felt exactly the same until very recently, now I've been snared. I'd actually forgotten about Roger McGough, so thanks, XX

Kim ~ Isn't it? I hope you're right. Rap is a very good idea: I'll have a look and see what I can find.

Mary ~ It was Hopkins who snagged and hooked me into poetry. Sounds like you're missing our 'wildness and wet'.

I will remember the sock trick. Stevie, no doubt afraid of how odd I'll become without coffee, got me a new press this afternoon.

savannah said...

sometimes, it helps to find out what the kids know already about poetry and have a formal bit and the poetry of the streets/music that they know...have fun with the lessons and the students! xoxox

Jane Dearie said...

Hey good luck Eryl with that! Happy memories of last year for me. How about an exercise something along the lines of:
Take that bust coffee pot of yours (make them imagine what it was like to see the coffee flowing around, show them pictures) If it had some 'creatures' from another solar system in it and they landed in their home or in the grounds of the school, or in the area where the kids live. What would the 'creatures' think of the place; how would they express their thoughts and how would they cope with such different backgrounds of 'home' and 'away'. Get 'em thinking widely so it's fun too. I think especially to start with.
I've got some exercises I did last year if they'd help! Most important is enjoy it and let the kids see it can be fun too!
Let me know how it goes!
Stanzas of love, Jane xxx

PI said...

I know nothing about teaching. However I remember how we - as a class - used to enjoy reading out loud - all together - such as:
'I come from the haunts of coot and fern' in a strong Lancashire accent.
Somewhere I saw a teacher teaching the solar system by having the children in the playground as planets and acting out their movements and thought what a good idea.

Eryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eryl Shields said...

Savannah ~ find out what they know, great idea, thanks. I'm sure it will be mucho fun XXX

Jane ~ pictures! yes, another great idea, thank goodness for this blog, I knew you guys would come up trumps. Any exercises would be gratefully received too, XXX

Pat ~ we could play at being planets, this is just getting better and better! Of course, they would have to teach me there because I have no idea what planets do, exactly. I mean, I know they go round the sun but that's about it. Perhaps I could be the sun.

Conan Drumm said...

Scarlet got to Roger McGough before me!

Coffee with Cathy said...

Eryl -- Thanks for coming over to my blog. I love yours, you know! And I'm sorry you broke your French press. I can't imagine how messy that must have been. But I'm in awe both of your upper-arm strength and your creativity in coming up with an alternative. Hope you can replace your press soon!

Eryl Shields said...

Conan ~ She did, but you add weight to the suggestion.

Cathy ~ I'm still finding coffee grains in odd places, it went up the walls, into drawers and cupboards, and has not doubt worked it's way between the floorboards!

debra said...

Eryl, my daughter said she'd love to share some of the prompts from her writing classes. She loves to writes and said that she'll go through her notebooks later today.

Eryl Shields said...

Debra ~ she is a darling. When I tell the class that a girl in Ohio sent them just for them they will be so thrilled.

Kanani said...

Hopkins was a master of natural imagery. It's a wonderful poem and the form (AABB) gives it a sense of solidness.

Great stuff!
Oh, sorry about the French Press. I saw one the other day at the thrift shop. If you were closer, I"d buy it and send it to you!

Eryl Shields said...

When I read the poem to the class one boy told me it made him think of being by a fast flowing burn with his dad chatting to all the bonny lasses!

You are kind, but thankfully I've got my hands on another press.

PI said...

Naturally you would be the sun.
When in doubt - about anything at all Google.

problemchildbride said...

Loving the new look, hun! It's been too long.

Nice choice of pometry too. Pat's suggestion is a good one, about reading it out loud together as a class. That adds something - not sure what - maybe a heightened sense of the sounds or something.


Eryl Shields said...

Pat ~ why, oh why, I still need to be reminded about google I just don't know.

Sam ~ I has, life has an annoying way of getting in the way of blogging sometimes.

I once heard a thing on the radio about how Marks and Spencer's food testers test not just for taste but for 'mouth-feel' and, it seems to me, the same goes for poetry.

The World According To Me said...

How did your class go?
I loved Jane's idea! I'd like to have a go at that myself...

Glad you have another press!

Eryl Shields said...

Hello Worldie, the class was great, I even got a round of applause for my reading!

savannah said...

fantastic re the class, sugar! ;) xoxox

(gonna try and get to the shops today for you know what!)

Eryl Shields said...

Squeaks! XXX

Brother Tobias said...

You can't go wrong with Hopkins. It always seemed to me that the words drove him, not vice versa - which is I think how a poet should be. Or one way to be, anyway.