Poems that find a way to say what isn’t said #writerinschool

I wanted to write a few posts before my residency at St Gregory’s Catholic College ends, especially mentioning poems that prompted a lot of animated discussion and produced some exciting creative writing from school students.

‘Other Clouds’ by Rebecca Perry from her collection Beauty/Beauty (Bloodaxe, 2015) and ‘what my mother (a poet) might say’ by Mary Jean Chan from pamphlet collection  a hurry of english (ignitionpress, Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre, 2018) have been two such poems.  Mary Jean Chan’s poem is available to read in full at The Poetry Society website (linked above) but I couldn’t find Rebecca Perry’s poem online so I’m including a short extract here.

I used these poems with Year 9 students (aged 13 and above).

When we first read the poems, students talked about how and why the poets had used or not used punctuation, spacing, keyboard functions (crossing through text in Chan’s poem).  They suggested that Rebecca Perry had used this spacing to perhaps replicate the to and fro conversation that was taking place between a father and an adult child in a car (they worked out the ‘child’ was driving so must be at least 17 or 18 years old).  They thought that perhaps someone had died,  perhaps one of the father’s parents, and they were driving to or from the funeral.

Then they discussed times that they had had conversations with a parent or grandparent, and had a go at writing their own poems using the same lay out as the Perry poem if they wished.  They could also borrow some of the poet’s phrases if they got stuck.  This gave students the space to write about reflective, intimate conversations they’d had with an adult they trusted and were close to.  One student wrote about chatting with their grandmother while shopping, another wrote about gardening with their Mum, another about walking with their Dad. Students shared snippets of advice adults had given them (as Perry does “remember, if you get married, to pick a ring bigger than your finger, because your fingers, like your mother’s, swell slightly in the heat”.)  Often these poems were tender and moving, and even if the conversations were stilted and awkward,  humour and love shone through.

Mary Jean Chan’s poem ‘what my mother (a poet) might say’ offered students a means to write about sometimes difficult topics.  One student wrote about what their grandfather thought about serving in the army during WWII in and what he actually said.  Another student wrote in the voice of someone being bullied, and used the crossing out text technique to describe what a victim wanted to say compared to what they were actually able to say.  Again, students produced powerful and often moving pieces of writing.

I haven’t given a detailed lesson plan in this post because, often, we simply read and discuss poems and then students write freely.  Sometimes just being introduced to exciting writing like this is enough to spark a student’s inspiration and motivation to write.   If they ever come to a stumbling place while writing, they are free to go back to the source poem and steal a phrase or line (always giving proper credit when they submit their finished poem, of course).

I’m in the process of compiling an anthology of poems that students have produced during my residency and I’ll share some extracts in a future post.  You can read all of my posts about writing with students by using the search term ‘writer in school’.  I’m also copying these posts to my Medium site so they are together in one place.




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