Poetry workshop ideas: #writerinschool

As you know, I was Writer in Residence at St Gregory’s School, Bath, in the academic year 2017-2018, and I’ve been using this blog as a place to record my experience, especially workshops I’ve run.

This is a post about using two poems by Katherine Stansfield, ‘How to make a good crisp sandwich’ and ‘Socks or cheese?’ from her poetry collection Playing House (Seren, 2014).

I used these poems in workshops with students aged 11 – 14 but I think poetry readers and writers of all ages would respond well to them.

I first shared the title of ‘Socks or cheese’ and asked students to name as many different types of cheese as they could.  Cheddar, inevitably, turned up.  Goat’s cheese, sheep’s cheese, cow’s cheese.

“How is cheese made?” someone asked and someone else answered.

Camembert, Brie and Gorgonzola were mentioned.  Then we turned to the poem and imagined a life without socks or cheese.

The poem begins with the lines

You can only have one

for the rest of your life

so the game goes.

Most students felt that they wouldn’t miss socks (We could wear tights! I don’t wear socks anyway! You can buy shoes with socks built in!).  Then we read the poem, and, like its speaker, began to consider the “seriousness”:

…./ If picking socks


you’ll always be taunted

by feta, begrudge the Cheddar

sandwiches of others….

More than one student said “I hate cheese!” – so an easy choice for them.

Then it was their turn to write a ‘socks or cheese’ poem.  If they wanted to, they could weigh up the benefits of socks or cheese or they could think of other choices to make.  Here are some of their suggestions: phone or computer; Xbox or Playstation; food or water;  long hair or short hair; day or night; phone or chocolate; cats or dogs; eyes or mouth; feet or hands; listening or speaking; trousers or toast – to name just a few!

The second poem we read was  ‘How to make a good crisp sandwich’.  Some students were already skilled in this art, others had never experienced such a culinary delight.  Surprisingly, perhaps, most students voted for plain crisps as the flavour of choice, like the speaker of the poem:

… / Flavour’s

up to you. These are plain – I’m a purist –

but ridged.  Think texture. Think noise.

Students liked the way the poet took the matter seriously and gave a lot of thought to a task that others might think trivial.  When it was their turn to write their own ‘How to make…’ poems, some suggestions were ‘the perfect avocado on toast’; ‘the best baked potato filling’; ‘the quickest breakfast'(“become an expert at dressing one-handed”); ‘the best value pudding’ (“lean over your neighbour’s fence and pluck an apple from their tree.”).

As always, thank you to St Gregory’s students for working hard and writing great poems and thank you Katherine Stansfield for the inspiration!

It might interest readers to know that for one week, 23 – 29 July, all Seren titles, including Playing House,  are half price in the summer sale!  Details on their website.

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