Using Rebecca Perry’s ‘Wasp’ and Brian McCabe’s ‘Seagull’ in a poetry workshop — #writerinschool

I’m back at St Gregory’s Catholic College, Bath, for my final term as Writer in Residence and I thought I’d mention two poems which students have particularly enjoyed. Both are about creatures  – one about a wasp, and one about seagulls.  The students loved reading the poems and they’ve written brilliant poems in response.    The two poems are Wasp by Rebecca Perry from her wonderful collection Beauty/Beauty (Bloodaxe, 2015) and Seagull by Brian McCabe from his collection Body Parts (Canongate 1999). 

Wasp by Rebecca Perry is available to read online here at The Manchester Review.

I’ve mainly used these poems with Year 7 and Year 8 students.  I first read Wasp aloud.  Students listened and wrote down what they thought the poem was about.  Most thought that little snail-slime wings and little alien, little feeler was describing a creature, possibly a bird or an insect.  little pollen sucking bead made some think it might be a bee.

Students were then each given a copy of the poem (with the title hidden) and we read it aloud a few times, taking turns to read a few lines each.

little gave the hint that it was something small!  The shape of the creature was hinted at by little clinging cashew nut.  Students roughly sketched a cashew nut to think about this more carefully.  little yellow-black armadillo gave a clue about shape and colour.  little zebra told them it might be striped.

There was a lot of discussion.  Students liked working out the clues.  Once they knew it was a wasp, they enjoyed reading the poem again and seeing how the poet had closely described the insect.  We imagined that she’d observed it at very close quarters.  They mimed the action of a little sifter, sifting for gold.

Flowers would look like gold to a wasp, one student said.  Pollen is like gold.

A wasp would see the world differently.

This poem is about something small with a lot of power.

‘little pocket knife’ tells you it might be dangerous

After the discussion, students wrote their own poems.  One Year 7 student wrote this super poem about a caterpillar:

Caterpillar by Xavier

little rope, little nibbler
little green dancer
little eater, little engine
little lawnmower
little friend, little searcher
little explosion

Since we were thinking about ‘creatures’, Seagull by Brian McCabe fitted in nicely as a companion poem to Wasp. The poem seems to be very available on the internet so I thought it would be alright to reproduce an image of it below:

Again, students read this with the title hidden and they quickly worked out what the poem was describing. They loved the thuggish image of the bird “preying on pizza and killing kebabs.” There was much discussion of the times that we had fallen victim to seagulls’ hooliganism. After several readings and discussion, students wrote their own poems. Some of them are so impressive, I’m going to enter them into a competition, so I can’t reproduce them here. Watch this space!

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