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
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.
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS*
Found in The Rattle Bag, which is aimed at children, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney