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Sunday 29 September 2019


I left a book in the staff room. 
Not just any book either; it was
a self-help guide for anxiety. It was
something to fill in the cracks
of the day, a flicker of a bulb
to help guide the way, but I worried
that this part of me that I’d left behind
didn’t display my most admirable side.
Would the teachers who found it
know that it was mine? And did this mean
that they would think twice
before inviting me back next time?
Would they peak through it
and see the bits I’d underlined,
highlighting the areas where
my problems reside?
I felt like what I’d left was something akin
to a naked picture, my bits
dangling for all to see -- 
a stark image
of a distorted me.

Of course I could have denied
that it was my book. Or I could
have hoped that no one would notice
or look. I could have not gone back 
to claim it, leaving everyone wondering
which member of staff it was with issues,
who wasn’t quite right in the head,
who was fit for the funny farm.
I wondered if it might cause alarm
that I was seriously ill, and that
even though we’re generally better
than we were at mental health, 
I was still not to be trusted with kids.

So I hunched into myself outside the door
as creatures debated inside my head,
weighing up whether to go back in,
my mind a see-saw, when suddenly
that bulb again: I saw
that if I can’t be myself 
then who can I be?
If I can’t be myself then what’s the point
of all the poetry?
What’s the point in helping others
find their voice when my own cowers
in the shadows? Why blunt the teeth
of my tiger while the other ones roar?
What is it all for?
And before anything else,
behind the labels ‘poet’, ‘entertainer’, 
‘workshop leader’, there is a more
fundamental reality: I am a human,
with all that that entails.
Sometimes strong and sometimes frail.
I needed to break out
of this jail and not run away
from who I really am.

As a bush is to thorns,
as a rainbow is to rain,
as a sprawling metropolis is
to its grimy backstreets
so are we to our weaknesses.
As a ladder is to the gaps
between its slats, 
so are we to our flaws.
I did go in to get the book, 
shoulders held back, 
spine as straight as I could make it, 
and if there’s one thing to take from it
I would say this:
Whatever you’ve left behind,
unloved and untamed, 
go and claim it. 
Let others read the book
of who you truly are, 
see the scribbles in the margins
and the places where the pages
have been folded down.
Let your bits hang down for all to see.
Let your world be scribbled on
by the poetry of reality.
Let others think and say
whatever they want
as you leave your books
in staff rooms, classrooms, 
meeting halls, offices,
bars, pubs and streets.

Your word is your world.
Let them read.

Thursday 5 September 2019


I am delighted to be an official Ambassador for National Poetry Day on 3rd October 2019. This is the fourth year I have been an Ambassador, and I am always struck by the imaginative work that pupils in my workshops produce on the given theme. I was partly inspired to write the following poem by reading Rachel Rooney's piece Nobody Knows on the CLPE Website. What interested me was the title, and the notion that each of us might contain a truth (real or imaginary) that nobody else knows. What I did was take this idea, and write the following poem, which is exclusively for NPD 2019 and this years theme of 'Truth'):

Nobody Knows This

Nobody knows this
but just beneath my skin
a volcano is preparing
to blast. 

Behind these eyes,
inside the prison
of my ribs, magma
bubbles silently. 

Smoke is filling
the cavern of my chest
as fire flicks the basement
of my tongue. 

As I sit still
to write these words, 
nobody knows this. 
But they soon will.

Why not have a go at writing, or encouraging others to write, a poem using 'Nobody knows this' as a prompt? The ideas could be as meaningful, metaphorical, profound or as playfully silly as you like! Perhaps start by exploring some possible ideas as a class. Ideas might be along the following lines:

- nobody knows this, but when I smile I'm really sad
- nobody knows this, but my dad turns into a dinosaur at night time
- nobody knows this, but I can fly
- nobody knows this, but I am actually a spy

If anyone has any ideas, or would like to contribute a poem using this theme, please do get in touch (either by email or using the comments section below) and I would be delighted to add your poem to this blog post! Here are some examples sent in so far by by fab poets:

Misunderstood by Philip Waddell

When they tell me to behave
And ask me crossly, ‘Why?’
And, hands on hips, they roll their eyes,
Nobody knows I try.

When they jab their fingers
Snapping, ‘Look me in the eye!’
And threaten me with this or that,
Nobody knows I try.

When, exasperated,
They shake their heads and sigh
And swear they’ll give me, ‘ONE LAST CHANCE,’
Nobody knows I try.

And when I’m in detention
Staring outside at the sky
I really cannot understand
Why nobody knows I try.

Ten Things Nobody Knows by Philip Waddell

Nobody knows when the earth will quake
Nobody knows how to cure heartache
Nobody knows what the great whales sing
Nobody knows what next year will bring
Nobody knows, quite, how birds migrate
Nobody knows what will be their fate
Nobody knows what their God intends
Nobody knows who’ll be lifelong friends
Nobody knows what made Einstein shine
Nobody knows much of Auld Lang Syne

Nobody Knows by Liz Brownlee

Nobody knows this
not the friend
that didn’t come
to play yesterday

that didn’t share
the chocolate
I didn’t have
or play the Xbox

I’ve never owned.
Not the friend
I don’t have
in the playground

that doesn’t come
to help when
bullies taunt or push
or call me names

not the friend
I dream of in my sleep
the one who doesn’t
take my lunch

or shares a joke
instead of making
jokes of me
and of my family

nobody knows this
but I am seldom
here at all, not
in the playground

nor classroom
corridor or hall,
on the bus or street
I am nowhere

no one knows
I am nobody
think nothing
know nothing

no one knows
I am nobody at all.

Tuesday 3 September 2019


Here are a selection of poems, all based on the idea of giving advice to someone. Having read Bukowski's poem, I wrote my own version, and encouraged some of my students to do the same. Have a read of the poems, then have some fun writing your own versions!

Friendly advice to a lot of young men by Charles Bukowski

Go to Tibet.
Ride a camel.
Read the Bible.
Dye your shoes blue.
Grow a Beard.
Circle the world in a paper canoe.
Subscribe to “The Saturday Evening Post.”
Chew on the left side of your mouth only.
Marry a woman with one leg and shave with a straight razor.
And carve your name in her arm.

Brush your teeth with gasoline.
Sleep all day and climb trees at night.
Hold your head under water and play the violin.
Do a belly dance before pink candles.
Kill your dog.
Run for Mayor.
Live in a barrel.
Break your head with a hatchet.
Plant tulips in the rain.

But don’t write poetry.

Friendly Advice to a Lot of Old Men by Joshua Seigal

Sit in a chair
Talk of the ‘good old days’
Wear cardigans and slippers
Pull your trousers up too high
Keep your glasses on a little string round your neck
Claim that music nowadays is ‘just noise’
Repeat yourself
Talk of the ‘good old days’

Forget things
Repeat yourself
Talk of the ‘good old days’
Insist your vegetables are boiled for a long time
Turn the TV up too loudly
Go to bed at 8am
Let your dentures hang out your mouth
Suck Worther’s Originals
Wave your walking stick at people
Get a hip replacement

But don’t try to be hip.

Advice to Parents by Marukh (Year 8)

Don’t force your children to do something
Don’t hit them badly
Give them pocket money if they want
Help them grow up to do something for their future
Don’t come to collect them from school in a chicken suit
Don’t follow me on Instagram
Don’t share my baby pictures with strangers
But do get me some sweets.

Advice to Josh by Laila (Year 9)

Stop wearing glasses and man up
Get a new phone – something that isn’t a Nokia
Let Laila off when she does something wrong
Get some new trainers and a decent haircut
Don’t wear 80s clothes
And get cool!
No offense Josh.

Challenge: can you write your own advice poems? You might want to write a poem giving advice to any of the following:

- friends
- classmates
- teachers
- bullies
- celebrities
- politicians