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Sunday 31 August 2014

'I'm New Here' - Poem for the First Day of School

For many, it is not only the start of a new term, but the start of life at an entirely new school. This is true no less for teachers than for pupils, and teachers, like pupils, are often incredibly nervous. I've written a poem about the first day at school, from a teacher's point of view. The teacher is a young person eager to please (it is me, basically, although I'm not a teacher in the traditional sense). I have been working on the poem on and off for several months. I'm not sure if it's finished, or if it ever will be. I hope you enjoy it.

I’m New Here

The students are lining up for lunch.
I don’t know whether to wait with them
or to push to the front,
like the other teachers do.
I’m new here.
It’s my first day of school.

The dinner lady tells me to step forward,
to the top of the queue.
She spoons me an extra large portion,
with four potatoes.
The students get two.

They sit in rows at long tables,
locked in conversation
like two sides of a zip.
I’m the only one who chose fruit salad
instead of chocolate cake.
I find an empty space.

I’m new here.
It’s my first day of school.

They’re prodding each other,
debating where to sit.
They eye the seats around me
and decide they’d rather stand. 
One of them cracks a joke,
then they all start laughing.

And I’m ten years old again,

no one to talk to, wanting to belong
more than anything else in the world.
I’m ten years old again,
whispered comments prickling at my back;
my very skin an ill-fitting uniform.

I’m ten years old again,
the new kid
on my first day of school,
my eyes searchlighting the exits,
desperate to run away.  

I take my tray
and eat in the staffroom.

I’m new here.

Thursday 28 August 2014

COLOURS - workshop idea for FS/KS1

First off, perform this poem a couple of times, getting everyone to do actions:


Green is the colour
of a hopping frog.

Brown is the colour
of a yapping dog.

Black is the colour
of the night time sky.

Red is the colour
of a cherry pie.

Blue is the colour
of my mummy’s car.

Look at all the colours
of the sweets in the jar!

Step One

Have large sheets of coloured paper placed on tables around the classroom. Make sure all the pages are of different colours, and have the name of the colour written in large letters in the centre ('RED', 'YELLOW', etc). 

Step Two

Children are given a set amount of time to roam around the classroom as they please, going up to the sheets of paper. On each sheet of paper, children need to write something that has that colour. So for example, the 'RED' sheet might include words like 'tomato' and 'blood' and the 'YELLOW' sheet might include words like 'sun' and 'butter'. Each child should aim to have written something on all the sheets of paper. IMPORTANT: Weaker/younger children can draw pictures or otherwise respond however they wish; that is fine too. 

Step Three

Gather all the sheets in, and use what the children have written to create a class poem. For each sheet of paper, ask the class what they think the most interesting idea is, and use that as a line for the poem, perhaps modelling use of interesting adjectives too. Lines might include things such as 'Red is the colour of a juicy tomato'. 

Step Four

As with my poem at the beginning, perform the resulting piece as a class, with actions!

Saturday 23 August 2014

THE BODY - poetry workshop idea for toddlers/KS1

First off, perform this poem of mine a couple of times, with appropriate actions:

Body Poem

I HEAR with my EARS
and I TAP with my TOES
and my ARM it THROWS.
and as for my NOSE
and it TWITCHES and BLOWS!
My LEGS they RUN,
just watch them go,
but let me say something
I want you to know:
some bits do A LOT
but the best bit does NOTHING
It’s this thing right here,


Next, cut out a selection of paper body parts - heads, bodies, arms and legs. On each piece, write sentences such as:

I.........with my head
I.........with my arm
I.........with my leg
I.........with my body, etc

The children need to stick the pieces of the body together, and fill in the sentences. I wouldn't worry too much if they stick them together the right way, or if they end up making some kind of bizarre monster - it is about creativity as much as anything. And with respect to the filling in of the sentences, this bit may be left out for very little ones, or parents/carers/teachers could act as a scribe. Older KS1 should be encouraged to do it themselves, and perhaps think of several imaginative answers for each body part!

Monday 18 August 2014

Paper Soup - Poetry Activity for Toddlers

In September and October I am running a series of Saturday sessions at Stratford Circus for 2-4 year olds, focusing on poetry and the spoken word. Whilst I have worked with children of this age on a number of occasions, this will be my first experience leading sessions (as opposed to just giving little performances). Obviously I am not expecting them to write anything themselves, but I do want them to be active, involved and stimulated by poetry.

The following idea is not entirely original, but I have adapted it and made it my own. It is really very simple. Each child gets a large sheet of coloured paper, which they have to rip up into pieces. Each child then takes it in turns to come to the front and put the paper in a big bowl to make a 'soup'. They can stir it with a spoon. Whilst each child is going this, the group recites this rhyme, along with the appropriate actions:

Paper Soup

Paper soup
Paper soup
Rip the pieces up

Paper soup
Paper soup
Put them in a cup

Paper soup
Paper soup
Stir it round and round

Paper soup
Paper soup
Listen to the sound

Paper soup
Paper soup
Have a little taste

Paper soup
Paper soup
Pull a funny face!

Finally, each child grabs a handful of the 'soup' and sticks the pieces onto paper plates, to make their own yummy meal. (Just don't let them eat it, for God's sake!)

Friday 15 August 2014

Workshop Idea: An Enjoyability of Collective Nouns

Animal House (published in My Grandpa's Beard)
There’s an ARMY of HERRINGS in my bath
And a BEVY of OTTERS too
Under my easel

In my sink.
In my underwear drawer,
Which is rather odd, I think!

There’s  PARCEL of PENGUINS in my fridge
And a SHIVER of SHARKS in my bowl,
There’s  a MOB of MEERKATS under the rug
Along with a LABOUR of MOLES.

On my pillow,
And in my boxes
There’s  SKULK of FOXES

Lying in my bed
So still they’re almost dead
And if you open up my shed
They’ll be flying round your head –

I’ve a BIKE of WASPS in my trousers,
Nibbling at my bottom,
Down the hall – I think they got ‘em!
And into my toilet I dare not go –
There’s an OBSTINACY of BUFFALO...

A COMMITTEE of VULTURES circles the ceiling
And if you want to know how I’m really feeling,
Well, I like my varied company
But the thing I most like to do
is to go down the road
and to look at the CROWD of HUMANS
In the zoo.

Believe it or not, every single collective noun in the above poem is real! However, we can see that collective nouns are very peculiar things, and it might be a fun activity to make up your own. Start by picking a theme. My poem uses animals; the poem below by Joe Coelho talks about swimming pools:

Next, write a list of items associated with your selected theme. For example, if the theme was 'school', you might write 'children', 'teachers', 'books', 'classrooms' and 'wall displays'. Finally, for each item, make up a collective noun! These could either be bizarre words that sound like nothing else in the English language, like some of those in my poem, or real words that are somehow related to what they are talking about, like those in Joe's. Here are some of my examples:

A yell of children
A stress of teachers
A knowledge of books
A rainbow of wall displays
A clock-watch of lessons
A yum of lunches
A canon of footballs
A whirligig of games
A growl of arguments
A kaleidoscope of friends

Sunday 3 August 2014

Poetry and Philosophy

Relax. This blog post will not be as pretentious as its title implies. I will not discuss philosophy or poetry very much. What I will do is talk a little bit about how they both pertain to my life.

When I talk of 'philosophy' I am not talking about navel-gazing, contemplating the heavens or musing on one's place in the world; I am talking about the hardcore academic subject I spent five years studying before becoming a poet. And whilst this academic subject purports to study some of the most interesting things humankind could hope to turns its mind to, the reality is that academic philosophy, at least in its Ango-American 'analytic' guise, is a quagmire of pedantry and endlessly tiresome epicycles of futile argumentation about issues that, in a very deep sense that is nonetheless almost impossible to articulate, are profoundly unimportant (some branches of ethics aside). And I might add that philosophy postgrads, with a few honourable exceptions, are generally some of the most boring people one could ever hope to meet.

At any rate, such was my experience of the subject. After getting a 1st class degree from UCL (for which I sacrificed any kind of social life beyond the first year), I spent two years as a postgraduate at Oxford University, where I was nearly paralysed with crippling bouts of Imposter Syndrome (which still occasionally afflicts me as a poet). But I passed my degree, and can now put 'Oxon' after my name should I ever so desire, although I can't for the life of me think of a point at which doing so would be necessary or even helpful.

Why do I mention this? Well, I am currently undertaking a second MA, this time in Education Studies and Creative Writing. What I am finding is that, despite the disdain expressed above, my studies in philosophy have been helpful. Whilst I came to find the subject itself profoundly uninteresting, I am enjoying bringing the academic skills I acquired through studying it to bear on a subject I do find genuinely interesting and important. The careful, methodical construction of an argument can be extremely satisfying, and I am enjoying once again using pretentious words like 'adumbrate', and 'pertaining to'. What I don't miss are those silly little backwards E's and those upside-down A's (anyone familiar with logic will know what I'm on about), and people who think arguing about the meaning of words, or rigorously defining every word before using it (which, believe me, many philosophy students do during every conversation, academic or otherwise), constitutes the best use of one's time.

Of course all this is largely a matter of personal taste. I suppose that, when it comes down to it, the issues beloved of academic philosophers are, objectively, neither more nor less important than those enjoyed by any other academic. And all academics are probably tiresomely nerdy about their chosen fields of study. I would anticipate that someone might object to me by saying that poems about yabbing, or missing one's bottom, or not exactly profound. One might even be tempted to view such items as unworthy of someone with my academic qualifications. Such is the view of my parents, which I have written about here. I try not to see things that way.

So what is the point of this blog post? I'm not sure really. I am not writing in the Philosophical Review. I'm not sure if it really needs a point.