The Poetry Place

Verse Surgery

To send a poem to the Verse Surgery, email trevor@englishandict.co.uk

This is the place where we look at poems written by students and sent in by you. They get published on line and I add a little comment / critique / suggestion.  We haven't received many poems recently - is that a reflection of what's not happening in classrooms?  We hope not - anyway, there are some excellent poems here. Hopefully the critiques will help all writers (not just 'aspiring' ones).

Don't forget, you can find lots of creative writing suggestions on the Workshop pages.

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The Little Flame

The flame flickers as the candle turns colors orange then red
then blue as the room darkens through the night sky
The flame flickers as it sits beside my bed
it stills as the wind stops so calm but so dangerous
I hear a noise from the flame as its winded by the wind the wind blows as it stops
And the flame goes out so so fast like a shooting star when it’s fast

NM Grade 7, Nova Scotia

This is a lovely description and very well observed. ‘So calm but so dangerous’ is good, too. Try to avoid repeating the same word too much (unless you’re sure you want the effect of repetition). Can I suggest a couple of edits?

I hear a noise from the flame as its blown by the wind
And the flame goes out so so fast like a shooting star

You’ll see I’ve only changed one word. But I think it’s stronger and clearer with a few words taken out. See what you think.

Dressage Poem

The music is like bells ringing in my ears
The rider and horse is as quiet as
A mouse and as dainty as a ballerina
Beautifully dancing across the ring.

MF Grade 7, Nova Scotia
A lovely neat little poem. I wouldn’t change anything

Spring
 
Is coming, but the flowers still sleep
I break the petals against my jaws 
The yellow jackets, in troves cling
To the net of the beekeeper’s ring
The daffodils. the lilies , even the weeds
Rush to find the softest head
Fresh air seals my hope as I wake in
Wonder… oh, the spring, the spring
Will stumble in and climb the glorious hills.
I hear squirrels softly cracking nuts…
The blackbird rolls her eyes
The sky is widening and laughing
Openly - the sun is about to rise! 
 
This is quite a surreal spring poem and a long way from the usual verses about the topic. I am not sure who or what is the 'I' and what it's doing crunching the petals but never mind, it all kind of works if you don't enquire too closely!

A last drop...

A last drop from the tap
is watching me, clinging,
almost falling in my tub, tub.

Do not take this drop -
how much you are in need
of filling your wanting top
lacking content lacking pub.

Your desire kneels between the grass
of dry summers long awaited harvests
of quietness, careful, pray, be still,
in listlessness, slow down - your motion,
wait upon - your final judgment,
it, perhaps, may never come or will it,
your last straw - the final - drop.

This has enormous potential but needs further crafting. The first stanza is fine - the final 'tub, tub' being very effective. I don't understand lines 6 and 7 so something needs to be done there. 
The next two lines are beautiful.  After 'quietness', though, I'm not sure what's happening. Perhaps some different punctuation would help?

The Furious Caveman

There was once upon a time
A caveman in his house
He trod the path to his wine-
garden and did this every hour

He was so gentle
according to his spouse
But every night he went
And his garden he doused

He poured water
out of his eyes
For he had a temper
and couldn’t express himself otherwise

His wife knew nothing
And one day it came
His fury was cause of something
We all now call gay

Now the wife cried
But was it better
For him to live on
Like this forever?

He met a man
Left his wife
married again
and is now a gay caveman with 
no wine.

I like the idea behind this, including the thought provoking notion that of course there would have been gay people even in the stone age.  I also like the way it is written with wit - and the ending, especially.  Where I think it needs more work is the nuts and bolts of the writing, the workings of the poem.  It tries too hard for a rhyme and would probably be better without one. Verse 1 works well without a rhyme. Verse two seems very strained with 'doused' to rhyme with 'spouse'. I feel some lines would work better with less. For example,
For he had a sadness
He couldn't express.
And finally, I feel 'furious' and 'temper' are out of place with 'gentle' - hence my cheeky alteration to sadness - though there might be a better adjective.  I hope that helps.

 

Winter Wonderland

In the winter wonderland
There were mountains that filled the sky
The white blanket that went so high
In the winter wonderland
 
In the winter wonderland
The winter wolves are howling
As the children gathered round
Like the ice cream man has come to town
In the winter wonderland 

Y5 pupil

A lovely little poem from this Y5 pupil.  I wonder where she got the idea of the repeated line, which works so well?  I like the wolves - not a usual image for winter poems - and the ice cream man image too - nicely original.  The only line that's a bit cliched is line 3. Blanket is so often used that it would be nice to find an alternative. 

= = = = = = = =

The following poem is the second in a series of poems by PGCE students. The subject matter is inspired by a visit to Thornwick Bay.

Coast  

I squelch across the sand,

Like a determined leader of a marching band.

This place is not just a beach,

So nearby and yet so far out of reach.

 

It is the kingdom of salty sea spray

And the wind that carries the scent away,

To fill my nostrils as I explore the place,

Where waves soak my feet and sand rubs my face.

 

The cliffs stand tall and proud.

As if they could hear my thoughts aloud,

They guard the beach with gentle care,

And protect its wonders from the sun and air.

 

‘Swoosh’ goes the breeze as it passes me by.

A glorious feeling but I wonder why

I have to leave this landscape so true,

With sky and sea of the most perfect blue.

 

K W 

I like the way the writer has had a go at rhyming couplets - one of the most difficult forms because the rhyme is emphasised and if there's a weak one, it shows up.  I think this works pretty well with the possible exception of the penultimate line. 'so true' doesn't ring true - it sounds like a filler.  I like verse two particularly: every word there has a well earned place.

 

HEADLAND

Land’s end looms before me

Then drops down;

An eroded, decayed incisor

Where the salty surge of seawater lashed.

Yet it stands – the Headland, facing ever northward.

Its white chalky cliffs, like the great Arctic bergs;

So far away, but in the cold biting wind, so near!

On feathered wings the wheeling gulls cry out

To the blue miles in between

And that is where I want to be

In solitude and flying free.

NC

I like the observation revealed by this poem. My only query is with a couple of adjectives - white, chalky (maybe it does need both, just asking!) but feathered wings? Are there  birds with any other kind?  

The imagery is carefully chosen, not overdone and there is just a touch of the personal here and there - again nicely restrained.  I also like the way the only rhyme ends the poem.  This could have been a much longer poem - but I'm glad the writer kept it short and sharp. 

 
 
 

IDENTITY

When it comes to identifying myself I find it really hard.
For it's like writing a book.
In order to identify myself I'll start off with words.
Three words.
Four words.
Five words.
Or more words.

I'm human.
A human that's able to find itself on earth.
A human that cannot be identified even from space.
Rather lost in the crowd.

I stand out in my mind.
But in reality, I remain a chameleon.
I would identify myself as someone lost.

My identity.
It takes a shovel to dig up the real truth.
In order to identify me I would go to the past.
Where my memories take the lead.

So my identity lies in my mind.
Who ever I am.
What ever I am.
I remain not described.
Unexplained.
Undiscovered.
I remain THE PERSON TO BE IDENTIFIED.

In this poem you can experience the struggle of the writer. First the struggle to get going, like starting a car on a cold morning: three words / four words / five words... and then it starts. And later the images of the chameleon and the shovel help us to understand the difficulty the writer has in answering her own question: who am I?  But in doing so, she reveals a wider truth, that we all have a similar kind of difficulty when it comes down to it.  There are hints, too (intentional or not) of a police identification or even the identification of a body. 

Improvements? Remember, good writing means questioning every line and word - so perhaps a slimming down here and there, shortening lines (e.g. line 3 'cut the first 5 words?) The only line I'm not sure about is line 9 which to me sounds a bit awkward and maybe could go. But this is a powerful piece of writing which matches honesty with careful choice of words

 

 

Writing about teaching Poetry? Why not? Lawrence did it, among others.

Teaching Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan

 1. London E7

Walking to work from the tube,

the High Road rattles with metal shutters

rolling upwards. Pavements become coastlines

from elsewhere: boxes of plantains, dudhi, arvee;

hunks of watermelon piled in a crate.

Long rolls of sari cloth lean against shopfronts,

offcut squares in baskets. One day I buy one,

unfold it in class like a map, pass it round.

Its blue is that of schoolroom globes;

silver threads cross it like shipping lanes.

I ask about their aunts, their gifts

from Lagos, Ilford, Manila:

lifelines cast from somewhere to now.

2. Cumbria

I drive to work down hedgerowed lanes,

recycling lesson plans in my head.

This morning, I found the fabric,

a fragment from a decade ago,

pressed in a ringbinder marked Poems.

Different pupils run it through their fingers.

I show them Googled images

of salwar kameez, Lahore.

We are answering questions -

Discuss. Compare and contrast.

I try to answer them, see myself,

then and now, staring through vertical blinds

in Year 10 English classrooms.

KL

This needs no comment, save to say that it shows all the characteristics I keep banging on about. Beautifully observed and recollected - no pyrotechnics, just word-craft!  Lovely.   (First published in English and Education Vol 46, reprinted with the author's permission)

 

Human interest (my little girl)


The heart necklace that falls perfectly on her chest.
Is now laid to rest. With her.
My peaceful, precious girl who once meant the world.
I sit and stare at that picture with that man who left her scared.
Controlled, beaten.
My little girl.
My little girl.

M C-W

What economy of words!  The opening line is perfect - and the rest are pretty good too. My only suggestion woulkd be to look at the word 'with' as it implies that the writer is sitting with the man - an ambiguity which I don't think is intended.  Powerful repetition at the end, also.  Excellent, pared down writing.

 

Porphyria's Lover

Has a beautiful wife.
The man is getting anxious.
He just can’t take the stress.
She is getting scared and frightened.
He grabbed her long blonde hair,
He wrapped it around her thin pale neck.
He pulled it tight and tighter.
Then after a few seconds,
She didn’t make a sound.
He just waited a second,
Then he regretted what he just done.
Half an hour later,
He wrapped her body,
All he could hear is silence.
He threw the body gently into the lake.
Now he prays for her, with all his life.
Now he knows not to make the same mistake again.

JT

Here's a very good attempt at getting into the mind of a protagonist - not easy in this case!  We are left to guess his motive - fear of being found out is what is hinted at, rather subtly.  The short sentences work well in a dramatic situation. Line 13 is awkward (and there's a missing word) but would perhaps be better shorter, such as 'Then regrets began...' The line which worries me, though, is 17 - can you throw a body gently?

POP!

Pop in
Pop out
Pop over the road
Pop out for a talk
Pop out for a walk
Pop down to the shops
Can’t stop
Got to pop
Pop where?
Pop what?
Well
I’ve got to
Pop round
Pop up to town
Pop in to see
Pop in for tea
Pop down to the shops
Can’t stop
Got to pop!

A great little performance poem by a Y5 pupil!  Cries out to be performed.

 

Another Wife

Spain by my side every night,
Such passion, such morals,
Loved by all.
But no boy. No boy. No son.

Out with the old, in with Boleyn,
Dangerous, excitable,
Hated by all.
And no boy, no boy, so no head.

See more, I need a new love,
A not so plain Jane,
Gentle, kind and loving,
And a boy! A boy!
But exchanged for death.

Tears make a river to the next,
Yet I like her not! I like her not!
Picture tells a different story,
I judge the book by the cover.
Don’t read the full story.

How I move for....ward,
Light and easy.  Young.
Unlike me.
Lots of boys.
But in her bed.
So off with her head!

Finally, last chance at love.
As I near the end.
Someone to care,
Like a daughter.
I can die now it’s ok.
I have a son.

SG  Teacher of Y7

An object lesson in cross-curricular work!  I like the short clipped lines and the clever use of repetition - 'No boy, no boy, so no head.'  Also the understated imagery of 'Tears make a river to the next...' is very controlled and effective. If I have any reservation it would be the last verse which I feel is less effective - and I would certainly find an alternative to 'ok'.  Overall, a very assured piece of writing!!

 

 Red and Blue

Boom. Crack. Another falls to the floor.
The gun is dark and cold, but is it as cold as its owner, their face shrouded in shadows, a face drowned in hate and sorrow?

Blue. Lights. Coming through, the sirens scream and wail, but do they scream as loud as the Mother, tears falling, ripples spreading in the pool of red that she kneels in?

Dull. Beep. I put down the phone, staring out at the towering blocks, they reach up into the sky, but do they reach as desperately as the people, begging for help; why do they have to stare down the barrel, see the knife flash, anymore?

Shaking. Hands. The man grips the picture, a small boy, he misses him, but does he miss him as much as the boy did, waiting, alone, waiting for Daddy to come home?

FR Y8

This is extremely assured for Y8. The writer takes the risk of using a very unusual structure but handles it with confidence. It is just the right length and the contrast of the two short words followed by the lengthy question is very effective. The image of the mother with the ripples caused by tears spreading in the pool of blood is as good as anything I've read. As for improvements - you could look again at punctuation, whether it does exactly what you want it to; and 'their' in the first verse implies plural. Why not omit it altogether? 

 

Hunger

Gurgle                                               Gurgle
The African stomach wrenches, waiting
Waiting for the trickle of joy
the daily sparkle
freeing
their
body
of
hunger,
as a criminal
is cleared of his charges,
the luxurious nugget of gold,
placed  into  their   joyful   jaws
freeing    their    body   of   hunger
                                      their  face   is    illumined
                                                 lit up with appreciation
                                                             and satisfaction
                                               their body freed of hunger
                                                then, as a child waits for gifts
                                                           they wait in anticipation
                                                                for the next day
                                           for the lantern of salvation
                                            for their nourishment
                     for their body to be freed of hunger

Western hands clear their plates
Gold plummets into wasteland
They are oblivious to their fortune
Their cooled treasure chest
Constantly lit with lanterns of joy
Their ungrateful comments:
‘Too salty, Too Sweet’ are spiteful stabs
To the mouth of the Africans
Westerners scrape their valueless possessions
into damnation

                       While
                            Others
                                    Wait
                                        For
                                          Their
                                          Body
                                     To Be
                                 Freed
                             Of
                    Hunger

BG Y8

What sets this apart from other poems about hunger and poverty in developing countries is the imagery (e.g. gold plummets into wasteland) and the juxtaposition of Western taste, especially 'Too salty. Too Sweet'.  I think 'freeing their body of hunger, as a criminal is cleared of his charges' is my favouite bit - though the comparison is double-edged - should a criminal be cleared of charges? (Question to writer: would it be better to say 'as a defendant is cleared of his charges'?)  Good use of arrangement of words on the page, too, which I hope I have replicated here.

 

 

 

 

 

In the box

I will put in the box:

A gold flower, swaying in the breeze;

The stars of the blue windy midnight sky;

Some leaves of a brown ancient tree.

 

I will put in the box:

A jingly key from a white, cold door

A slipper of a teddy bear from yummy chocolate;

A black and white groaning zebra!

 

I will put in the box:

Three pink feathers of a quacking baby duck …

 

JE

 

 

I will put in the box:

A grey ladder,

The howl of a hairy were-wolf in the night,

A smash of a pot,

The shouting of a crowd.

 

I will put in the box:

The last sparkle of night

The sound of a new-born baby

 

JW

 

 

I will put in the box

Blue ice

I will put in the box

A purple tomato

I will put in the box

A ribbit of a frog

I will put in the box

A crazy gorilla

 

EH

 

These poems are from some very young writers. They took the idea of what you might put in a magic box (which can hold anything) and really ran with it. It produced some lovely and original images. I particularly like the pink feathers from a quacking baby duck!  I'd like to see pictures of all these things now...

 

Nothing gained, Nothing left 

Before the war,
The world is full of happiness,
It’s symbol of pureness,
Nothing happened,
Nothing new.

During the war,
The world was full of passion,
But that become a fiction,
Nothing happy,
Nothing funny.

After the war,
The world is full of sadness,
It will become unhappiness,
Nothing gained,
Nothing left.

J

I'm usually quite negative about poems which write of war (or indeed anything else) in the abstract or in a very general way. However, the neat and concise nature of this well structured poem caused me to make an exception. The 13 year old writer has got the essence of what a poem is and with any luck (and lots of experiments) will develop that skill further.

 

 

   

Pavel

Before I would wake up and think of my life

My two wonderful children, my beautiful wife

But now I wake up in a bed full of men

Too many in a bed, and then

I’ll be shoved onto the floor, the freezing dirt

And shuffle out, wearing my filthy, striped shirt

The soldiers will hit me if I fall out of line

I look to the man in front of me, his bony spine

We don’t get any breakfast, no food at all

1057 I hear the sergeant call

I shout back yes, yes I am here

Whilst thinking the barbed fence around us is a bit severe

Blocking us from freedom, our wives and family

Thinking about them makes me hurt so badly

When I serve the Boss’s food, the steak….. His dinner

I look at myself getting thinner and thinner

I’m sure that soon, I’ll waste away

Alone and uncared for on my very last day.


RH


This is a good example of a poem inspired by literature, in this case The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It's quite dificult to sustain a serious poem in rhyming couplets but this manages pretty well, partly through the good use of run-on lines. Endings are always a problem and I wonder if this would be stronger simply ending with thinner and thinner...

The other part I would look at is line 12 (does it need 'whilst'- and can you find another way of phrasing so that you can cut 'a bit' which doesn't sound good?) 

 

Misunderstood…

    We heard about what happened
    At our sister school, up north
    We were truly disappointed
    But everyone makes mistakes…
    We didn’t really intend
    To offend.

    It was misunderstood
    What Hitler and Nazism meant
    That was the cause
    We are strongly positive our sister school….
    Didn’t really intend
    To offend.

    Besides now they’ve learnt a lesson
    To understand something before acting on it…
    We didn’t really intend
    To offend.

    We hope everyone understands the cause of the event
    It wasn’t an act to irritate anyone….
    We didn’t really intend
    To offend.

    
    SW

Not knowing the circumstances in which this was written, (except it's from a Y8 student in an international school in SE Asia) it's difficult to comment on the specific content. However, the structure and rhythms of the poem are very effective: e.g. the conversational opening to each verse leading into the repeated refrain. The use of 'we' makes a nice change from the ubiquitous 'I' of poetry and I also like the touch of ambiguity - is the writer being ironic? 

 

 

Sailing

 

Sailing is a completely different world to the one we know,

Its boring rate is very low.

It is guaranteed to entertain you with great twists and turns,

But is that not how we all learn?

 

When everything goes wrong sailing is your best friend,

And when it comes to trust that’s what it’ll lend.

If you live safely a lifejacket is your friend,

No matter how much you bend.

 

By the end of it you’re bound to be sweating,

But hard work is the main setting.

Losing a race can be frustrating,

But when you win it is reward making.

Sailing may drive you round the bend,

But it’s worth the fuss in the end!

 

ST

 

Here’s a variation on the sonnet form from an 11 year old pupil who has managed the rhymes well, without stretching the meaning to fit them. (‘Reward making’ is a bit awkward but I like the fact that the writer has been happy to go for a near rhyme rather than a full one.)  I think the writer is confident enough now to have a go at writing something with run-on lines – not having to finish each line / rhyme with a full stop or a comma gives much more freedom.  Love line 4, by the way – there’s a message to all teachers!

 

The Avalanche of Jonny and Tim

One day some people were skiing along,
When suddenly they realised something was wrong.
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

They were skiing off-piste where the snow was soft,
When jonny let out an almighty cough.
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

The cough was loud for all to hear,
It shook the ground and everywhere near.
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

The cough made the mountains shake and tumble,
The avalanche had started, Tim could only mumble.
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

The snow fell down like a massive cloud.
Jonny was terrified; it was all so loud!
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

Fantastically fast it flew down the mountain,
Jonny screamed out, “Its like a massive ice fountain!”
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

As it travelled down the mountain, catching them up,
Absolutely terrified Jonny said, “What bad luck!”
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

Jonny and Tim’s life was coming to a close,
The snow was settling still, the wind no longer blows.
This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

The moral of the story,
Is… it all could end quite gory.
If you’re coughing on the snow,
 You’ll be buried deep down low.

This is the story of Jonny and Tim,
Who were fighting a battle they would never win.

MB

Here's a great example of a narrative ballad - not the easiest of forms to carry off.  I like the repeated refrain and the way that the writer manages the rhyme - note the near rhyme of up and luck rather than worrying about an exact rhyme which would probably spoil the meaning.  Improvements?  I think I would omit the last six lines. The previous verse is powerful and makes a strong finish. (Plus the  fact that death by avalanche isn't likely to be gory.)
 

NEWS

Fortunately only 1 dead
The newsreader said
Before moving on
To a runaway horse causing a jam
On the M1
It could have been much worse
They said as a mother, a brother, a father, wife, and a daughter wept.
It couldn’t be any worse
They said

NJ

I like this because it says so much in so few words.  It's immediacy and power don't depend on lots of heaped up emotive words so it's a great example of the adage: 'less is more'.  Poets take note!  What else?  The neat almost-repetition of 'worse...said' plus the detail of the runaway horse - an awful comical contrast to the tragedy.  Brilliant.

 

 

 

Two 'I am' poems

I am the boy who gets in trouble
I am the boy who bursts teachers' bubbles

I feel as if they don't like me
I believe that there is no good in me

But the one thing that NO teacher can see...
Is my creativity

-------------------------

I am the bark on the elm tree
I am the captor of time
I am the reader of books
I am the entertainer onstage

 

These are from Y8 and the thing I like about them is their honesty.  Honesty makes for a sense of the real in poetry as in much other writing.  'I am the boy who bursts teachers' bubbles' is a great line!

 

Sadness - and excitement

A few quotes from poems sent to me from a primary school in Worksop:

The first two are extracts from poems by Year 2:

Sadness is grey
It tastes like cold mushrooms
And smells old

Excitement is turquoise
It tastes of chocolate biscuits
And smells of rabbits, kittens and puppies.

And some great Sad I Ams...
including:
The hurt little boy
Crying in the yard
Baby's first birthday
Without a single card
and
The chameleon which couldn't change colour
And the boy who got duller and duller

 

Ash

Black and grey,
Dotted about,
Changing the colour of my day,
Cursing my mind in doubt,
Like the signal lost on a TV,

Air filled with smoke,
Hard to breath,
Makes me choke,
Not the hardest blow to receive,
As the agony grows,

None emerged from the fire,
Engulfed and swallowed,
Standing near is me the liar,
The silence is only borrowed,
Even though more noise is unwelcome,

For the ash on the floor,
With burnt carcass’ lying,
The tear creating gore,
Now dead the end of dying,
Is all that seems left,

But I am burning,
Trapped in misery strong,
My stomach churning,
Knowing all is wrong,
I did it, I started the fire,

Now my heart is burning,
Whilst it turns to ash...

BS

I like the confident handling of the verse and rhyme scheme. Sometimes the rhymes are a bit forced, but it’s compensated by the overall effect.  I also like the way the last lines return to the theme in a new way. I’d look at punctuation, which can play a major role in poetry.  A full stop at the end of each verse would seem better to me and maybe some of the other commas could go? And take a look at some of the details, make sure they all really work, e.g. you wouldn’t have any gore from a burnt body.
 

If...


If kisses were raindrops,
I’d send you showers,
If hugs were minutes,
I’d send you hours,
If love was waves,
I’d send you the sea,
Because I love you for eternity,

BS

I really like this for its mixture of cleverness and simplicity. First six lines are great -but I really don’t like the last one!  From really strong concrete images it collapses into a vague cliché. (Fix that and you’ve got a poem I’d be happy to send to a loved one.)
 

Valentine

Not a red rose or a satin heart

I give you a mirror

It is a person who will always be there next to you

When you have a mirror that person will always understand you

 

Here

It is your other side

Like a lover

The mirror's reflection will make you understand your mistakes

I am trying to be truthful

 

I give you a mirror

That you can always clean

Like a heart, you can clean of mistakes

By forgiving

 

JR

 

This is another response to Carole Ann Duffy's wonderful 'Valentine', this time by a Y6 girl for whom English is a relatively recent second language. What to say?  Perhaps we don't need the word 'mirror's' in line 8; perhaps 'help' would be better than 'make' in the same line. When you get to that level of editing, you know that you are working with something of value.

 

This one is a cut down version of the original - and I think more powerful as a result:

"Broken & Sealed"

My broken soul is burning
 in a locked room
no air no lights
I have a heart of stone
 or so I'm told,
no medication
nothing to call my own
tired of running
being haunted
so I will sit here
fade slowly away
 go to sleep
where demons wait
watching my movements
filling my heart with hate

DD (Grade 8)

 

“The Dancer”


The girl’s movement is like the wind

Swaying her hips and letting the music take her away

Her arms bent as they glide through the air, brushing against his face

Her sweet smell hits the noses of young children as she swings her long legs up to the sky

They watch, only wishing they could move as graciously as her

Or be able to touch her silky smooth dress

Her hair golden brown shines bright like the sun

And her shoes sparkle in the dark night

For when the music stops

She will still be

THE DANCER


I like this poem because it moves away from the poet herself to consider someone else (or perhaps the writer seen from an impersonal angle).  It’s evocative and sparse, not overwritten.  Even so, there’s room for pruning, perhaps. (See below)   Does that make it too minimal? The writer might also try to find another way of phrasing ‘hits the noses’  - and ‘graciously’ should, I think, be ‘gracefully’.  The final shape is, of course, up to the writer!


The girl moves like the wind

Swaying her hips, letting the music take her away

Her arms bent as they glide through the air, brushing his face

Her sweet smell hits the noses of children

As she swings her long legs to the sky

They watch, wishing they could move as graciously

Or be able to touch her silky smooth dress

Her hair golden brown shines like the sun

And her shoes sparkle in the night

For when the music stops

She will still be

THE DANCER

 

My Magic Box

I will put in my box
A drop of lava from the hottest volcano
The biggest mountain
Sloppy, slimy snakes skin.

I will put in my box
A chuckling snowman
A sip of tea from the finest mug
A sparkling pattern from a golden fish.

I will put in my box
Three golden phoenix birds
The last breath of Henry the 8th
And the first miracle of Jesus

I will put in my box
Six summers and the 10 planets
A wizard with a gun
and a cowboy with a wand.

WBM

This is from a KS2 boy using Kit Wright's 'Magic Box' as an inspiration. Makes me wish I'd written it myself.  Improvements? Well, I might tweak the order of the verses a bit and perhaps alter 'sloppy, slimy' as descriptions of snakeskin (as snakes are actually dry and not slimy at all). Overall, though, these are wonderfully original images. I bet our secondary colleagues can't come up with any better examples - or can they?
 

Satisfied Customer

I love the way a new book feels
crisp, fresh,
like cracking open an egg.
It’s new.
It’s MINE!
I hold the gates to a magical land
crafted from raw imagination.
But no -
the real thrill is the book shop,
that seemingly ordinary place
(to the unimaginative eye)
secretly brimming with imagination.
Questions race through my mind:
When will I read it?
How long will it take me?
Can I get away with reading it in class?
I try anyway,
stealing glances at my possession
under the desk,
half listening to the teacher,
half absorbed in the black ink
stained on the page forever.
The teacher says:
“Put the book away, please.”
I do as she asks.
Ah well,
there’s always the end of the lesson,
the chance for me
to lose myself
once more
in the private cinema that is my mind.

CS

Lovely stuff.  Great opening and closing images: they stick in your mind. I might trim it here and there.  I might take out '(to the unimaginative eye)' and 'I try anyway' so that the question runs right through to 'forever?' I think that makes it sharper - but it's your call, poet!

Song of the Young Father

A teacher writes: 'Based on your workshop on 'The Song of the Old Mother' my Y11 have written their own songs, as you suggest.  I like this one very much. I've left in the student's comment at the end.'
 
I rise at five to sounds of blue surf
Until child cries bring me back to Earth
Then I must soothe and comfort and wipe those tears
Pull curtains to daylight which shadows those fears
Children’s eyes gazed on celebrity and fame
Television, DVDs and now even video games
And their days pass by in idleness
And will sigh if clothing looks a mess
While I must work and be a good father
As life weighs heavy and days are harder.

'I found writing this poem very difficult as I felt it was hard to modernise another poem and make it my own. It was also very hard to be able to keep a good rhythm in the poem as I felt I was limited with the amount of words I could use.'

I'm not going to add my comments as the teacher's are more than adequate:
'I like the way he's opened in the style of 'Island Man,' but reality bites early in this poem.  I find the fourth line quite interesting.  I wonder whether he's really thought about the word 'shadows.'  If it is supposed to be with an 's' then it's the daylight doing the 'shadowing' which is quite an interesting oxymoron. 
 
I also quite like the way he's used some of Yeats's original and, although this becomes fairly simplistic after the first four lines, it's as 'real' and sincere as the voice in the original.
 
They always enjoy the challenge of being a poet themselves, so thanks for the ideas, as always.  You're right that this teaches them as much about the oh-so-important understanding of 'how' poems are written vs the awful, slavish technique-labelling.

 

Sonnet for Year 10

My students' eyes are nothing like the sun;
It is as if they are not yet awake;
They yawn and shuffle in, but never run,
Until it gets to time for morning break.
I have seen some of them arrive on time,
To smile at me and greet me at the door.
It is delightful when they stand in line
And tell me that my lesson’s not a bore!
I love to hear my year 10 students speak
In pairs, in groups and often on their own.
I grant, I teach them just three times a week,
But help them sometimes when the rest have gone.
Some teachers think my pupils are too loud:
As long as they can speak they do me proud.

KR

I'm sorry, writer, I can't think of anything to say except - wonderfully done. I hope you share this with them at some point. It does reinforce my oft made point about writing about the specific rather than the general - and, as here, about a topic that actually means something to you.

 

Fear
 

You feel a block in your throat,

A sharp prickle in your finger tips,

An ice-cold hand that touches your bones.

 

You see a dank dangerous darkness,

A black cloak that smothers you,

Four walls boxing in on your mind.

 

You taste a poison that drains you to stillness,

A sickening taste when you've done something wrong,

Windswept sand caught in your throat.

 

You hear heavy footsteps behind you,

A scream that you wish you'd never heard,

Your breathing as sharp as a cliff face.

 

You smell a damp cold room,

An acrid burning that clings to your nose,

You smell the unknown threat.

 

You sense the fear.


CH


Great series of images - I might use these as an example when next I'm running a poetry workshop.  I particularly like the unexpected images like 'Your breathing as sharp as a cliff face'.  My suggestion would be to try to select the most striking from each verse and see if they would make a poem on their own: it would be very powerful! (One small niggle - I feel dank dangerous darkness is overdoing it.  Perhaps lose the dank'?)

 

 

Bullying

Click on the link to read ten poems by Y11 boys about bullying.

SUNSETS

I spent the first half of my life
blinded by sunsets,
looking westward
hoping things would
get better
tomorrow.

Now I will only spend my life
illuminated by sunrises,
gazing eastward
confident things will
be fine
today.

How I like the simplicity of this. The writer (a teacher?) asked how to make it better but I can't see what more could be done.  My advice would be to apply the same approach elsewhere. What other topics might respond with the same flash of insight?  (e.g. I have spent the first half of my life... waiting for Spring...)  Perhaps students might respond to a similar opening: I have spent the first part of my life...   If you had the confidence to share the poem with students it might be a very powerful way to get them to start a piece of original writing. 

May Sonnet

Darkness dwindles in churning purple skies,
And from the thicket sings the nightingale
In silver waterfalls of song, then flies
As moonlight fails, and east horizon pales.

Early light is white as hawthorn flowers;
Bud and blossom deck the woods with candles,
While sycamores burn green in starry towers,
And eaves grow great with nests of swallows.

Lilies flare with orange flames; chandeliers
Of yellow-bright laburnums droop, ignite
The break of day.  Then weary watchers hear
Among the wind-stirred leaves the pigeons’ flight.

From trees and trees the clear, cool blackbird calls
To herald morning.  Summer waits for all.

EG
 

A beautifully constructed sonnet - again, from a teacher. I particularly like the 'chandeliers / Of yellow-bright laburnums droop, ignite / The break of day.'  It does have the feel of something observed rather than remembered, or (what is often the case) imagined or repeated from elsewhere. Are the watchers weary from having been out all night? It doesn't matter: it provides an unusual perspective because most descriptions which cover a length of time go from dawn to dusk - not the other way round.

 

Sun - and you

Sun,
and you,
Amongst the blackberries.
Purple fingers pick their juicy ripeness.
Reverently we collect our autumnal offering.
 
Rapid movements distract
Our shaggy companions.
Your sharp calls
Echo
Your control,
My pride.
 
Eager spotter-
You identify species,
Explain habitat,
And hold my hand.
 
The afternoon is unseasonable warm.
Sun glares off shimmering water,
I shelter under your arm.
You said;
"If the dogs hadn't been here"
And fill me with anticipation.
 
I walk in someone else's shoes
Drifting from the anchor of my life.
Out of my depth.
I stay afloat,
Treading deeper waters.
 
Backing though bracken
You pave a path
For me to follow.
 
You conquer new territory
Untrod by man before
And
Facing me
You
Reverse
Into
My
Heart.

JH

What a lovely poem!  The writer (a teacher) said that it was a bit 'cheesy' but that it was true. I take cheesy to mean tackily sentimental and, basically, dishonest.  This is honest, wonderfully detailed and in its simple way, quite moving.  The only thing I would question is in the last section: I wonder if we need 'Untrod by man before'?  It repeats the sense of the previous line and has a certain 'Ho ho ho' quality which I think is out of place!

Cloud Song

High sail, clouds by-pass my roof
Stacked chimney crooked
Smoky black
The sky a sea of light on water
Here by the path, sun gold
Bringing spots of vision
The overgrown tangle of winter releases
To its missed cousin
You stand in twisting weeds.
Rooks call coarse, omen-black wings
Slapping the new air,
Full of cloud-light and fading birdsong
I see your eyes tense,
Listening to the awakening sound.
The earth is back.
In labyrinth hollows,
Underground otherworld, the life grows
Water spreads like cold fingers
Out and above,
Spiralled shoots stretch up,
Peek above ground, pulled out
By the tempting light.
Inside she stirs,
Wakes with a sleepy pink-mouthed cat yawn
The tiny clean tongue
Shaping unheard words,
Bends back her body as the fragile dream
Dies in her, thwarted by the impatient sun.
In the doorway she languishes
In the pale, warm light of spring
And as she casts her head back in laughter
The light catches her long, white neck
With a gleam
The colour of new plants still unfurling
Pearly white, in earth’s sunshine.

RD

Although a little long for my taste, this is a very accomplished piece of writing. Just look at the way this extended comparison begins: Wakes with a sleepy pink-mouthed cat yawn / The tiny clean tongue / Shaping unheard words... Beautiful and evocative too.  I would go back and see if punctuation could be used to better effect, and maybe even introduce some verse breaks - just to help the reader.

Valentine

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

Here.

I am trying to be evil.

Not a small bird or a pussy cat.

I give you an octopus

Leave it,

(oops - something went missing here. Must try to locate it.)

I should mention that the writer is Y7...    I'm not sure I transcribed lines 16 and 17 correctly from the photocopy I have - and they are the only ones which perplex me.  Apart from some work on punctuation I don't think I would change anything. I particularly like the beginning and the ending: very powerful.

The sweepers

Moonlight skims the mountaintops
Showing them in the eerie light
The stars dancing in their blackened home
Silence surrounds them
Nothing moves there as the sky sparkles with light
Yet it is so dark down there
Houses cold and quiet
Everyone is still
Even the sun doesn't move
In that time before dawn.
 
Suddenly the sun rises
A pinky light appears and the stars twinkle and disappear
In the morning
 
Women rise and sweep away
The dirt on the street
They sweep away the night,
And as they sweep the day begins,
The moon sleeping above.

E.Y

This is an accomplished piece of writing with the best kept to the end. The image of the women sweeping away the night is just right. Some very small suggestions: try taking out 'there as' and creating a line break there; and why not remove the 'and' from verse 2 also?  I'm not even sure that you need 'In the morning'. Finally, punctuation - why use commas in the last few lines when you've almost done without punctuation elsewhere? I'd be inclined to omit all punctuation and let the reader do the work. I've given it a title - hope you don't mind.

 

My Dreams

I dream in black and pink
Of Mummy turning into a zigzag
The Gelth creep into my bedroom and my heart goes wobbly
A fairy wriggles and whispers in my pocket
Oscar, the purple dog, sings opera, elegantly
A boyfriend is squeezed in my jewellery box
And I twirl and squiggle into an ugly puppet
Collecting diamonds in a world of spikes and jammy dodgers
Or flamenco dancing on a thunder cloud
Then my Mummy cuddles me as tight as a knot

AS (aged 6)

You're never too young to be surreal, obviously! I particularly like 'I dream in black and pink' but there are so many intriguing images - and the final comparison is beutifully down to earth and effective.  Now then, you older writers, see if you can do something as good as this.

Happiness: Haiku

Warm glow inside you
Jolt of joy inside your heart
Skipping all about

HP

Nice little haiku - harder to do than you might think.  I like the jolt of joy: just right. Improvements? I suppose I'd try to get avoid having two uses of the word 'inside' in so short a poem. Replace one of them with 'within'?

No title

Mick Jagger says time's on his side,
but my time's running out.
I'm slipping down reality's slide
much too terrified to shout.

Too proud, too stupid to ask for assistance -
but where's it to be found?
Too tired, too lazy to offer resistance -
my brain and tongue are bound.

I'm weary from the wars I've fought,
but still nightmares haunt my sleep.
Just how much time have I bought,
and how much can I keep?

LF

I've no idea of the age or background of the writer of this poem (or is it a song?) It strikes me as very adult and accomplished. It's very hard to sustain a double rhyme (ABAB) and at the same time make it seem as if the rhyme word is exactly the one you wanted!  In addition, where there is repetition, it's effective (time...time / too..too/ how much...how much). Who is saying this, we ask? And we construct our own answer.  I wouldn't alter anything.

You

You.
How could you do this to me?
You were my best friend.
You heard all the things I didn’t say, as well as the things that I did.

We were almost like one person.
Closer than friends.
Beyond brother and sister.
We even shared our dreams.

But one day you weren’t there.
It wasn’t your fault, you had to go.
They needed you.
Perhaps… I needed you more.

When you went those dreams turned into nightmares.
Every day you weren’t there.
More and more of me faded.
Faded into darkness.

I stood outside.
On the bench.
You remember don’t you?

It’s midnight.
I am surrounded by pure darkness.

But don’t worry, it matches my black heart…

BC

I like the way this poem leaves things unstated. It makes us wonder, what happened? I particularly like the line 'You heard all the things I didn’t say, as well as the things that I did.' and the two lines beginning 'Closer...'
How to develop this?  Well, there are lots of things you can try. Try leaving out the first lines of the first four verses so that it begins 'You were my best friend... / Closer than friends... / It wasn't your fault.../ Every day you weren't there...'  Is anything lost or is it in fact stronger?  Another thing you experiment with is changing the person who is 'speaking' and just see how it feels (e.g. How could you do this to her? / You were her best friend / You heard all the things she didn't say / as well as the things that she did...)  Have a go!  Experiment!


I Met at Dusk

I met at dusk the prince of night,
His cloak was made of twilight mists.
He swept a silent cat between the trees,
Hidden in a night-time moon.

He glided across the streams,
Whispering a thousand secrets of darkness.
To the naked eye, merely vapour.

He is clouds over country hills and fields.
As herds graze, he swoops a traveller,
Not noticing the silent intruder.

He returns a mere shadow to his home,
A dark misty swamp.
He glides through the grasses to lie,
And wait for the dusk to come again.

I met at dusk the prince of night
His cloak was made of twilight mists.
He swept a silent cat between the trees,
Hidden in a night-time moon.

TS

A good balance to this poem, helped by the repeated first verse. I like the lines 'Whispering a thousand secrets of darkness. / To the naked eye, merely vapour.' especially. I've a question about 'he swoops a traveller, / Not noticing the silent intruder.'  Should it be 'swoops upon'? and as it reads at the moment it sounds as if it's the prince of night who doesn't notice the silent intruder - surely it should be the other way around? I'm sure the writer can fix that very easily - but it shows the importance of having a critical friend read your stuff.

Moving silence

The tear that trickles down your face,
You leave the room without a trace,
The way you use your fun-filled brain,
You look around without the strain.

As you rush around the house,
You step as quiet as a mouse,
You look at me with lots of grace,
You look directly to my face.

You're in my heart with lots of love,
You look as beautiful as a dove,
I cried and sobbed as you fell,
Your hair was golden like a bell.

This, and the following poem, really is anonymous but they'll know who they are!  There's a mystery to this, which I like. It makes the reader ask 'What can have happened? What's the story?'  The person being described seems a bit of a mixture: crying / fun-filled / quiet / rushing...   As ever, I'd want to push the writer a bit on the use of rhyme. Is 'lots of grace' there because that's really what you want to say - or because it rhymes with 'face', for example?

I feel, I see, I need u

 I can feel something inside of me
 And it’s so strong so strong
Something I can feel
It lasts so long so long

I feel
I see
I feel
I need
You, to help me through this yeah e yey e- yey yea

I can see something beyond my world
And it’s so far, far away
Something I can see
It looks so cute to me

I see
I feel
I see
I need
You, to watch me do this yeah e yey e- yey yea

I need you to be here with me
By my side by my side
Something that I need
Is you (is you …….)

It's good to get a song lyric for a change. I can almost hear it. (Do you imagine a slowish beat? Or something quite sharp and rappy?)  The words in blue were written like that when I received it, which is also nice. I've tried to reproduce it as the writer intended. Are the words in blue sung by a different voice or perhaps a backing chorus? Think about writing a song lyric - how different is it to a poem written to be read aloud or read on the page? Whoever you are, keep writing (and singing)!

Poems from John Spendluffe School

A special page for some 'Memory Snapshots'.  Might give you some ideas... Remember, keep it short, keep it snappy and be prepared to snip, move and change the words.

A poem from a teacher

I wrote this poem when I was about 17 years old. I used to write a lot of this sort of thing, partly inspired by the poetry I was studying for A level. It was ‘published’ in a school poetry magazine, which we sold to raise money for charity. My teacher told me this was one of my ‘better’ poems but it is not necessarily a particular favourite of mine.

Jazz

A clown-white face tensed like a pain cut
bodily away by the lightless hair and clothes
in the shadows like a mask breathless
dispossessed of head or body, a façade
connected to the white lit hands
in a beat. Anatomy remote
but moving separately to one will, like
the loose components of an articulated puppet.

Face and hands both dance in an architecture
of keys and strings, dance in the slender
key-like fingers and suspended strings
of the puppet master.

Brief notes ducked into the springing blood
and mind, spinning consciousness unsteadily
like a spindle. The strings of the heart are not stirred by the footless
fish-like grace of the jazz. The grey smoke
rises to the ceiling washed with a white
and immodest light.

(1968)

The writing was inspired by some jazz music I heard while watching a TV programme. The poem was also influenced by the rather unlikely combination of T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. In particular, I was influenced by Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’. The personal background is that I have always had mixed feelings about jazz. Some jazz I love; some I hate. Hence the negative aspects of the language and portrayal you may notice in the poem. The punctuation and the rhythm, such as they are, are intentional.

Although I do not write poetry much if at all any more,I am glad I spent so much time as a teenager writing poetry. I think it did help develop my writing and my appreciation of words and language. I also think it is important for English teachers to write in order to understand the position and difficulties of the writer.      JN

Bloody Mary

Fell to her knees.
Her white dress now crimson,
Eyes glaring, blood shot now,
Wheezing, coughing, screaming
He twisted the knife in her heart.
She felt his warm hands on the knife and pulled.
Her paper face stained by bloody tears froze.

She took her last breath.
She wasn’t scared of death.
She lay down on the cold pavement
And let out her last warm breath.

“Goodbye”

EK

I wasn't sure what to make of this when I first read it - but there was enough in it to make me want to read it again.  So much is unsaid, which makes it effective (as long as enough is said: getting that balance can be difficult).  Little edits: perhaps a full stop after 'screaming'? Otherwise it reads as if it is he who is wheezing, coughing etc. And who pulled the knife?  A word I would question is, in fact  'screaming'. If the victim is wheezing and coughing, a scream doesn't quite seem right.  I like the title and the way it goes straght into the first line, I like 'paper face', and the contrast of cold and warm, white and red.  Because the economy of this is what makes it effective I might even suggest cutting a couple of lines - just to see if it works even better.  Try reading it without line 6 ('She felt...') and line 12.

All the world's a stage

Here's an interesting piece of writing which starts off from Shakespeare's famous 'All the world's a stage...'

All the world's a stage, with the men and women playing each part, firstly there’s the baby being so sweet until it pukes making the carpets bright green, then there’s the first Christmas getting ready for the big fat red guy to come and giving them everything that they have ever dreamed of, now comes the first birthday with the parents delicately wrapped presents in pink and green paper with a yellow ribbon. Now comes the first day of nursery, parents crying because there little kid was growing up! Now reception, oh, how hard? The next step is school with all the reading and maths, no wonder nobody likes it. Lastly, secondary school, kids are nervous but they know it will not be that bad.
MA

I thought it would be good to edit this so that it appeared in lines like a poem - and to slim it down. I hope the writer doesn't mind.  See what you think.  Would you have made the same choices?

All the world's a stage,
with the men and women playing each part:
firstly there’s the baby
being so sweet - until it pukes;
then there’s the first Christmas
getting ready for the big fat red guy
to come with everything they've ever dreamed of;
now comes the first birthday
with the parents' delicately wrapped presents
in pink and green paper with a yellow ribbon;
now comes the first day of nursery, parents crying
their little kid is growing up!
Now reception, oh, how hard?
The next step is school
with all the reading and maths,
no wonder nobody likes it.
Lastly, secondary school,
kids are nervous
but they know it will not be that bad.

The last part isn't as strong as the earlier parts - and the last line is a bit of an anti-climax. Perhaps just cut the last three lines - or make the last line stronger, more specific?

The dark

Is a claustrophobic fear.
It is a ghost home.    
A silk blanket covering the sky.         
A growling bear.         
A room with no lights on.        
A sky of nothingness.      
The Queen of night      
The weird dementor    
Sirius black     
A Childs nightmare       
The werewolves' howl

A really effective series of images. So much so that some of them could stand alone - and might do so in a shorter poem like a haiku?

Where have you gone?

I watched you from a distance
Tried to figure out your mind.
I spoke so much to you that holiday
Worried about you, you seemed so upset.

A new year came, back to school.
I started to feel for you, understand you.

I’m not sure why
But as I look at you now I don’t see the boy I once loved.
I see someone scared
Someone wanting out of this place, this life
Wanting to be left alone…

I miss that person,
The fun loving, carefree person.
Where have you gone?

HC

A heartfelt piece of personal writing. I like the ... after alone and then the change to the present and, perhaps, a recognition that the past is the past. I would like just a little extra something somewhere that made the person and the situation real. Where did the conversations tale place, for example? Those little bits of detail make such a difference.


Congratulations?

I’m four years away from the edge that you flew off
Dangerous or fun
I didn’t know who you were with that night
But I soon found out.  How I hate him

I threw a flower in the sea below
I can only imagine the flower as you
What was going through your mind that very moment
I’ll never know

A tear slides down my cheek
You always said “the good die young”
But you had an amazing life ahead of you
So much within your reach

I picked up the letter as the doorbell rang
I crumbled to the floor as he told me
Not my little girl.  Suicide he said
I swore to myself “she’d never do that”

“Congratulations” the letter read
You had all you ever wanted
You had reached your dream
But would never live it.

CN & KB

Powerful stuff. My only advice would be to make a few neat cuts. 'How I hate him' and 'that very moment', for example.
(Did you mean 'crumbled'? I expected crumpled - but perhaps your choice is better.) These are small things - but a good poem is always worth going back over - many times.

The King and I

A 'Before You Were Mine' poem:

The King and I
My mother and me
And yet, I was still a bump
In your womb I had my first encounter with that there stage.
Your dancing feet...

As strict as a cane she was;
The whip, her voice.
For suffering her harshness so,
The reward!

Partnered up.
The dance in which we met:
A cakemaker of which the sone of Skelton he was.
Our friend...

CP

I know this isn't finished, but it's such a good example of a personal response that I wanted to share it. I'm not clear quite what is going on in the last verse and the third line clearly needs a bit of work - but what nice detail and what an effective image in the second verse!

This is in response to my piece about my father, and Heaney's 'The Follower':

 Grandmother

Up and down the needle went
With a measured stroke
And with well aimed scissors
She cuts the thread
And continues her work

I sit on a chair nearby
Working on my own venture
A small coin purse
Messy stitching and loose
I am nothing compared to my master

She looks up asking me to stand
I do as she says
Measurements are taken
We carry on with our work
Never looking up

A pale pink ribbon falls to the floor
I scramble to get it
Falling in my eagerness
She continues and the ribbon is sewn
To the unnamed work

She finishes her venture
A masterpiece
A pale pink frock for me
My purse pales in comparison
Yet I present it all the same

We stand together
I in a pale pink dress
With pale pink ribbon
And my grandmother
With a new coin purse
Made by her grandchild

She is a master at her craft
I am a child in her shadow
But both with glee in our hearts
As we inspect our gifts
Both masterpieces in our eyes

NG 

This is a beautiful piece of writing. What could make it better? Change 'went' to 'goes' in the first line, yes. Elsewhere the control of tense is perfect. I itch to shorten it and cautiously suggest that verse 5 could go.  Does it still work? I think so. The secret of this poem is in the observation / memory of detail.

 

Dancing with Death

I danced with death,
His eyes were cold and grey.
He wore a ragged cloak torn and ripped.
He beckoned, I followed.

We waltzed, tangoed and jived.
He led me up the hill,
Down the hill,
Over the bridge,
Under the bridge,
Round the bend and then…
I saw it,

The vast, grey, miserable place he was leading me to.

Suddenly everything went black,
My feet left the floor.
But we carried on dancing,
Twirling faster and faster when he suddenly let go!
And I fell.
Going down and down into a pit of nothingness,
Then a bright light pierced the darkness.
And the pit became full of happy times,
Life had come.
I will dance with death again,

      Someday


HB

I like the mystery of this. What's happening? Is it a dream? Is it symbolic? I love the way we are led, bit by bit, down the street, under the bridge...   Perhaps trim it here and there. I'd be inclined to cut 'Going', 'bright' and at least one use of 'suddenly'.  It's a relatively simple way to improve your writing - see which words could possible be waved goodbye!

My Nan

This next one from a sixth form where students have been writing some additions to 'The World's Wife' in the style of Carol Ann Duffy.  Just what the Poetry Doctor ordered...

Mrs Christ

They forgot to mention me of course.
In the biography. Those men.
I’d read it twice since print-
‘The Greatest Story Ever told’
Jesus Christ!
What a story.

But that’s all it was, a story.
They’d skipped the facts;
Who kept the bread
and wine
on the table? Me.
Fruits of my labour. Love.

Daughter in Law of Man
doesn’t quite have the ring it should-
But sure enough, I do have it.
Still on my finger.

I was good at my job-
catering.
Fed what seemed like five-thousand
once.
A miracle I managed, but
he did help.
Brought the supplies. Served. Bless.

To be fair, he always did his share.
I’d been dreading a wedding
Friends of ours. The barman
hadn’t showed.
Not a drop of drink. Embarrassment.
And then he came, and the wine
flowed. I smiled when he said it was from
the tap - My saviour. I ruffled his hair.

The crowds gasped at his clothes, dazzling white.
No appreciation for my washing.
Oh yes. He had talent.
Teacher. Healer.
Saved our neighbour’s life once
She said his touch was heavenly.
Oh my God! I stared. He looked. Grinned.
The preaching caused the bother.
Look where those friends have got you
I cried.
Forgive them.

Follow me. He took me on long
walks.
Take nothing. Said he was special
People believed, I knew.

40 days and sleepless nights.
The morning breaks and a blackbird speaks
from up on that tree.
Now I read it again. As I flick each page
his light fades from me, yet
in the dim, I still hear
Follow me.

HH

This is a very mature piece of writing and harder than it looks. If you are attempting one yourself too, then immerse yourself in the originals as well as in the details of your character. Then go for it!  Even if it's half as good as this it'll be worth doing.


The Trapped Stallion

I see the lonely Stallion,
Standing in his field.
His eyes tell a story,
He no longer can be healed.

He feels that he is trapped,
Never to run free.
Enclosed by the fences,
He doesn’t want to be.

He wants to be set free,
To roam across the land.
He wishes to escape now,
But he can’t, so here he stands.

He didn’t want to be here,
He wanted to be free.
To run and disappear now,
If only he had the key.

One day the gate was opened,
No one knows quite why.
But away he ran, so happily,
It felt like he could fly.

DG

This is a poem by a Y8 student who has understood the craft of scansion and rhyme - see how the word order is altered from the more common 'He can no longer be healed' to 'He no longer can be healed' which suits the rhythm better. I have one query, though, which relates to 'cannot be healed'. It seems to me that in the last verse he is indeed healed. But the writer needs 'healed' to rhyme wth 'field'!  Problem. So, can the last line be altered to a question - 'Can he ever be quite healed?' for example? 

 

The Christmas period brought some nice gifts. This is an acrostic from a Y5 pupil:

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease - an acrostic

"Are we going to get one, dad?
Because I will look after it!
Cuddly and cute..
Dogs are friendly,
Elephants are really kind,
Ferrets are really lively..."

"Gee, I'm going to lose my mind if you carry on asking!
Have you forgotten we're at the zoo?"

"I think you're getting it wrong, daddy, we're at the pet shop.
Jolly good thing, too. Hmm...
Kangaroos are really bouncy,
Lions are really fluffy,
My! There are the penguins!
Nothing will stop me getting a pet.
Ooooo - insects...
Please can I have a pet?"

"Quiet, the show is beginning."
(Rustle, rustle, going through his backpack...)
"Stop it!"
"Twix, please."

"U can't have one!"

"Vole, a vole!"

"What? What?"

"Xmas is coming up..."

"You can have a hamster."

"Zebra?"

MB

All I've done is put some speech marks in to show the dialogue more clearly. In terms of advice, I'd only suggest that perhaps there are too many uses of 'really' - but maybe that's ok?  I like the way we gradually get into the pestering situation and I love the ending. Much older students often have trouble making a good acrostic and one using a complete alphabet is hard - just try it!  (For those who ask whether acrostics really are poems, I'd draw attention to the way it makes you concentrate on the concise use of language, inessentials pared away, which to me is a hallmark of poetry and which is good training for further writing...)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This one is from a teacher and I made an exception to the rule that this is really for students' work.

Stroke

Stroke; a lovely word.

Brings to mind images of
Purring, pouched grey kittens,
Wet-nosed dogs with flapping tails,
Lovers in a sweaty, steamy pause.

To my dad, it meant
Sterile wards, dribbling bald men,
Jerking movements
and sudden shouts.

My dad; young, tanned, sleeping.
Normal in rest.
But awake, a softer, younger, stranger
Using a foriegn tongue.
Stilted, stuttered words
Tears clouding a confused face.

A stroke of genius!
Not to us.
A stroke of luck!
Think again.

Chattering, laughing, roaring; then
Sobbing uncontrollably
Like a knee-injured child.
Waving me away.
Embarrassed,  Guilty.  Afraid.

My father, now my son.
Soon to be my father again.

RD

It can be hard to write about very personal things and make them meaningful to others. This, however, speaks to us all. The comparison between the happy associations of the word and the upsetting ones are particularly forceful. The wet-nosed dogs compared to the stilted, stuttered words, for example.  I wouldn't change anything, but I might shorten it. I think  to end after  'A stroke of genius! / Not to us. / A stroke of luck! Think again.' would be very powerful indeed.

. . . . .

A couple of Dream Poems from Y7.  Any other dream poems out there?

Silly Dreams

When I was only wee,
I dreamed that I should be
Awesome at footy.

Dreams are weird,
like my uncles beard.

Sometimes they are good,
sometimes they are bad.
Sometimes they are happy
and sometimes they are sad.

I dreamed the world was chocolate,
I dreamed the world was gold,
I dreamed that I owned it.
I dreamed that I was bold...

AB

I really like the last four lines - they seem as if they could be from a song. And the first three lines have a Spike Milligan feel to them.  Less happy about uncle's beard; this is an example of the rhyme deciding the line! (Apologies if you really do have an uncle with a weird beard!)

 

I Had A Dream

I had a dream - a scary dream,
I had a dream - a happy dream,
I had a dream - a worrying dream
But this one came true!

I dreamed about a bully,
A big one too.
I told my teacher and she said,
He should be in a zoo!

BF

I like the way the poem moves from vague to specific, which makes it seem much more real. I wonder if there could be a final line or two, just to bring it down to earth, such as taking line 4 and repeating it, slightly changed, at the end: But the dream came true...

Before I was Yours
 

Late nights, shallow sights
The occasional fight.
Where exactly would I be?
A few girls, my best boys and me.
 
Before the worry of love and money,
Back in the days
When things all seemed funny,
Responsibility was never my thing,
I'd go to town with the occasional fling
 
Until I met your mother.
Now I could imagine no other.
All in all, I will not lie,
Before I was yours, it was
Me, Myself and I.
 
BG

(One teacher gave his  Year 11 students my poem inspired by 'Before You Were Mine.'  They wrote, in their parents' voices, poems entitled 'Before I was Yours.' )  I love this example.  The 'voice' is right, the choice of language appropriate and it's wonderfully concise. I like 'best boys', 'shallow sights' and 'go to town with the occasional fling'.  And it manages rhyme with confidence. This doesn't need a poetry doctor!

 

Lost…and forgotten

I am not here
I fell my fall
No eerie seeming empty halls
No sleepless nights since nothing’s changed
I wasn’t around anyway

But what did I expect to see?
Despair that drags you to your knees
And tears staining grieving cheeks
Memoirs of what I used to be…
Flowers falling at your feet?

I am not here
I never was
Pushed you away as I got lost
I am not here but nothing’s changed
You didn’t know me anyway

AF

This one is mysterious, though the overall emotion is clear enough.
Sometimes writing isn't crystal clear to the reader but still makes an impact. I 'fell my fall' is odd - is it deliberate? Would 'feel' be better? Probably not - poets should feel free to play with language.  I'm also interested in 'memoirs' rather than memories... Curious....

Lost

The places in which once we grew,
Are quiet and empty.
The bed in which you slept
Remains untouched, unmade.
The books that we read together
Turn yellow, and dusty.

I visit everyday our secret hiding place,
In the vain hope that once again
I’ll see your smiling face.

RS

I like the brevity of this. Hard to improve it; perhaps a question mark over ‘vain’ it’s probably unnecessary – we sense the unlikeliness that he or she will be there. I also like the fact that not everything is stated. We are told enough to make us interested but there is enough mystery to make us wonder…
 

In a corner,
knees against lips 


In a corner, knees against lips,
Sepia photos, yellow tipped,
Lay waiting under an inch of dust,
Within a dated cardboard box.

A photo framed with the fingerprints
Of those who touched it last,
Awoken by the gentle breeze,
Stirring its blanket of cobwebs.

Faded smiles, a forgotten day
Echoes the regrets of the past:
Friends, foes, faded faces,
Now grown up, making their own way.

In a corner, light shines through birdsong, carries away the old stories.
The photos, returned to their bed of dust,
Rest, until some distant night. 

BH

I love the detail here. ‘Knees against lips’ is wonderful. And the fact that the cardboard box is dated. To me, the first two verses are the best because they are the most concrete they feel real. Just a suggestion: an inch of dust is a lot! And inside a box, not likely. Perhaps ‘a film of dust’? Similarly, a blanket of cobwebs is a bit overdone. Something lighter – a tissue of cobwebs? 

 
The Lost 

Our faces appear on newspapers,
on TV. We are the lost.

Helicopters search but never
find us here. We are the lost. 

Time goes by and searchers give
up on us. We are the lost.

We keep scavenging for food,
water and hope. We are the lost.

We make symbols, but no-one
looks for them. We are the lost.

All our hope is gone, replaced
by fear. We are the lost. 

Fear of the end, fear of
dying alone. We are the lost. 

Our time has run out. We are
at the end. We are the past.

JJ


Structure - or pattern - whatever you call it, can make all the difference to a poem. Here it gives the writing power as does the repetition, of course. The writer suggests but does not tell us all. My only criticism is that it becomes a bit abstract towards the end. I like the specificity of TV and helicopters; not so engaged by abstract nouns! 


Tumbledown 


Lush green grass tickles her feet,
She trails down the sloping valley,
Blue rocky mountains rising steep.
Imaginary.


Cool sea breeze blowing through her hair,
Oceans reaching the horizon and beyond,
Laughing out loud without a care.
Gone.


Fleets and flurries of snow sent from above,
Adds to the mountains that are capped,
She flies above them as a white dove.
Trapped.

Vast open orange plains stretch so far,
The hot sun burned her as the heat landed,
Melting everything, making it tar.
Stranded.


Bleak grey buildings passing by,
Her angry tears streaked with dirt,
Looking out the window with her bruised eye.
Hurt.

 
Down the sterile white corridors she walked,
Straightjacket tight around her chest,
Behind her, like panthers, two guards stalked.
Pressed.

She was pushed forcefully into the room,
The white padded cell, she held her breath,
She knew that she would stay there, until she met her doom.
Death. 

Very good command of form here. Rhyme is hard to do without it becoming intrusive or comic. I like the way the last line in each verse is a single word very powerful. Look out for unnecessary words: hot, for example. I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting the last verse. See what you think.

Pushed forcefully into the room,
The white padded cell, she held her breath,
Knew she would stay there, until her doom.
Death. 
 
-----
 

The Awakening 

Prisoner of darkness
Chained by ancient sorrow.
With clouded angel wings.
And a heavy silenced heart.

She finally stirs,
She finally awakens.
A mystic glittering aura,
Eyes cold and guilty.

Body pale and shimmering
Shadow black flowing hair. 

She is the one chosen,
Slave of the almighty unknown. 

Her will puppeted eternally,
Her destiny in his hands.

She is merciless,
Numb to all emotions.

They were sealed away long ago,
Now she is but an assassin,
Gifted in every aspect,
Skills of a goddess.

One question only haunts her,

Why me?

DCJJ

Once again mystery is balanced by specificity. There is enough detail to keep the reader interested. Very sparsely written, which I like as this kind of topic could well be over-written. I like the made up word ‘puppeted’. ‘Slave of the almighty unknown’ jars a bit. Perhaps omit ‘almighty’ or change it? I’d also look again at the punctuation perhaps it doesn’t need any? 

 
Lonely Road 


The road extends in to blackness – emptiness.
The road is like a passage into my heart,
You can see how empty I feel,
I wouldn’t notice if I was the only person
In the world … or the universe.
Up ahead I see you
… I think …
It’s because of you I’m out here,
In the darkness,

ALONE

You left me – pushed me away
Pushed me into the darkness. 

So here I am,
Walking the lonely road in the night.
Deleting
Your number
From my phone.
Goodbye friend. 

Goodbye. 

EK


I like the way the layout of this poem reflects the subject. The ALONE is alone and the Goodbye is very final. The best part, I feel, is ‘Deleting / Your number / From my phone’. It turns what might be vague into the real and concrete. A couple of queries. Do we need blackness and emptiness in the first line. I think one would be more powerful than both. I’d put a full stop after feel – and perhaps change the ‘I wouldn’t notice’ to ‘You’, or even ‘But you wouldn’t notice…’

 

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