Andrew Wright

(For the potential reader: this article is full of practical and short activities which you can use in class with almost any proficiency level of student.)

What use is poetry?

The ability to express yourself clearly, expressively and memorably is useful to everyone. You don’t have to be a professional poet to write poetry anymore than you have to be an Olympic athlete to run for a bus.
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You can express yourself but you can also influence people through poetry.
Think of some of the reasons why the following people might want to write poetry or use poetry or poetic language:
Lovers
Politicians
Advertisers
Soldiers
And other people?
………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Some ways of making writing rich:
Particularisation
A poem must be as individual as a person. You are male or female like millions of other people (general) but you are unique at the same time (particular).
The word ‘particular’ more or less equals, ‘carefully chosen detail’.
In poetry you can be particular through your observation (five senses: see, hear, feel, taste, touch) or through associations (what the thing makes you think of: ideas, feelings, things said, things done, places, situations, etc.).
Give at least three particular observations and at least three particular associations about one of the following:
– your favourite meal
– a toy from your childhood which you still have
– your classroom
Here is an example of particular observations:
I like my chips to be big, soft and not too brown. I like to put a lot of vinegar and some salt on them. I like to eat them from a paper bag and to feel the warm heavy weight of the bag in one hand and the warm, greasy chips with the fingers of my other hand. And I love the smell of the warm fried chips mixed with the vinegar and the salt.
Here is another example of particular associations:
I associate chips with cold, dark nights in Whitby. We used to buy the chips and then walk along the narrow, cobbled streets down to the harbour side. We felt the warm bags of chips in our hands and stuffed our mouths with vinegary, soft sticks of potato. We watched the lights jumping on the river as it hit the sea and listened to the crying of the seagulls greedy for our chips.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Similes
Similes give richness to your ideas and feelings by making comparisons using ‘like’ or ‘as’. The simile you choose should express how you feel about it and not just be a ‘clever’ simile! Invent three similes for one of the following:
– a person you know well
– a song
– happiness
Here is an example of a simile (not very positive!):
She is like a broken plastic toy.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Metaphors
Metaphors do the same work as similes but do not use ‘like’ or ‘as’. Invent three metaphors for one of the following:
– time
– Europe
– a place you know well
Here is an example of a metaphor:
Europe is a family.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Personification
Personification refers to an animal, idea or object as a person.
Invent three personifications for one of the following:
– a plant
– winter
– love
Here is an example of personification:
The tree’s fingers tried to catch the fat, grey clouds.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Different senses
Think of shopping…Write one sentence or phrase for each of the senses related to shopping and what you think about it.
Here is an example of the different senses related to travelling by air:
Seeing: my gate number
Tasting: the taste of tears on the cheeks of my friend.
Smelling: the in-flight lunch when I open the plastic box
Hearing: the roar of the plane’s engines.
Feeling: the plane rise rapidly from the runway
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Alliteration
The sound at the beginning is similar or the same in two or more words. (Alliteration can also be based on the same letter at the beginning of two or more words. However, the sound might be very different and thus usually less relevant for poetry.) If the sound is similar but not the same that can also offer a sensation which might be what you would like to have:
cat chasing
Make three phrases of at least two words beginning with the same or a similar sound.
Here are some examples of alliteration:
frozen face
run rapidly
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Repetition
Words are repeated…sometimes slightly changed.
Write an eight line poem in which alternate lines begin:
Love is….
Love makes me…
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………
Rhyme and rhythm
Rhyme is when two words have the same sound, for example, ‘car’ and ‘far’. Usually rhyming words come at the end of the sentence.
Rhythm is when the words, phrases and sentences seem to have a beat like music, for example, ‘wandering western sea’ (Hardy).
Write a two line poem with rhyme and rhythm. Begin by finding two words which rhyme and have a relationship. Then write the sentence in front of each word with the same number of syllables.
For example:
car/far
I want a big fast car
To travel near or far.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Onomatopoeia
Onomatopoeia is a word whose sound suggests its meaning or imitates its sound.
For example: buzzing of the bees
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Verbs, adverbs and adjectives
Special verbs
Instead of walk consider: march, stride, saunter, struggle, stagger or stumble
Write at least two other verbs which mean something similar.
Special adverbs
walk quickly or walk rapidly or walk with rapid steps, walk slowly or lazily or leizurely
Write down all the words which might describe eating.
Special adjectives
Big or massive, enormous, giant, wide, tall, vast…
Write down all the words you know which mean ‘nice’ as in a ‘nice’ person.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Contrasts and variations
Slow, fast/
Softness, hardness
Everyday language/more formal and literary language
Regular and irregular in the number of syllables, lines, etc.

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Find examples of any of these craft ideas above in the poems below
Tick off the words for making language rich (craft ideas) given in the list above (repetition, alliteration, etc.) as you find examples of them in the poems below. How many different craft ideas can you find in these two lines from Thomas Hardy?

O, the opal and the saphire of that wandering western sea
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free.

(Opening lines of a poem by Thomas Hardy.)

“I’m off, ” she said.
“Don’t go,” I said.
“I must,” she said.
“Where to?” I said.
(first 4 of 23 line advertisement poem for a car)

I am
here.
You are
there.
Here
and
there.
You
and
I .
A long way
apart.

(Poem from a Polish text book for teaching English)

On a day like today
We passed the time away
Writing love letters
in the sand
How you laughed when I cried
Each time I saw the tide
Wash our love letters
from the sand

(Lyric of a pop song but I don’t know the writer. Sorry!)
*************************************************************
How do you begin to write a poem…
and then what do you do…?

How do you make friends? How do you find a birthday present for someone?
There are different ways of going about it!

Writers of poetry might begin creating a poem with a feeling or an idea

Love and anxiety: your lover is beginning to go away from you.
Love and delight: a child trusts you and likes you.
Love, sadness and gratitude: you lose a grandparent.
Mixed feelings: love, trust, familiarity, irritation, unfairness, hypocrisy, your home is comforting but restricting.
Mixed feelings of liking, admiring, irritation, criticism: someone you admire does some things you don’t like.
Mixed feelings of nostalgia, affection, memory, anxiety about the future: your coat is now too small but you still like it because you have had so many experiences in it.
Despair, desperation, fear of failure and fear of upsetting your parents and fear of failing the exams and not knowing what will happen then: you have tried to do your best in mathematics but you can’t really understand anything.

Here are some words for feelings and ideas
1) Underline the ones you don’t understand: walk around the room and try to find someone who does. Look the words up in a dictionary.
2) Group the words and compare your groupings with another person. Discuss your groupings.
3) Choose some of the words and see if you can find examples of them in your own life (as in the examples above). You might take just one of the words or you might put several of them together.
Words for feelings and personality might include: anger, arrogance, boredom, coldness, compassion, cruelty, despair, determination, disappointment, envy, fear, foregiveness, generosity, happiness, hate, hope, horror, hostility, intolerance, irritation, jealousy, kindness, excitement, loneliness, love, modesty, nervousness, patience, passion, pity, pride, regret, sadness, sensuality, sentimentality, shame, shyness, surprise, sympathy, warmth.
Ideas might include: the struggle between good and evil, love triangles, the quest, hubris, does the end justify the means?, nature is wonderful, people need a moral code to live by, there are different kinds of loyalty, change is constant and universal, our lives and concerns are minute in comparison with time and space, we humans are still very close to our hunter-gatherer past, civilisations are destroying the world…so what is a civilisation?, selfishness or selflessness?, passion or intellectualism?, good companionship is more valuable than great beauty, dilemma is deadly, conflicting loyalties, the need to be able to change one’s sense of identity, traditional roles must be changed, incompatible values, perceptions which clash, when a person’s guiding beliefs do not help him during a crisis,
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Here is one way of writing a poem.

Write down any words, phrases or sentences which come into your mind when you think of a particular topic (topic, situation, feeling, idea). At this stage, don’t think about poetry…don’t worry about whether your language is ‘poetic’. Be guided by all the things which come to your mind that you can: see, hear, smell, taste, touch and all the things that you and other people have said or written, felt, thought or done, related to the topic.

Write all over the paper not in a list…don’t start the poem yet.

How do the things you have written make you feel? Different feelings or similar?

Then begin to look for links between the ideas…

Then begin to look for what might come first…and next…lines/stanzas…

Then begin to take out words that do not help …add words which enrich the language and the ideas…

Then begin to arrange and list the words, phrases or sentences…

Then see what it sounds like…read it and listen to the sounds… and think of the sense…

Then take out more words that do not help…and add others for richness…
See what it sounds like…

Remove unnecessary words and add others for enrichment of sound and idea.

Here is another way of writing a poem

Take a poem you like and then change it until you feel it is yours.
Here is a poem about a small dragon which Brian Patten wrote. I have enjoyed changing it.

A Small Dragon
I’ve found a small dragon in the woodshed.
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
because it’s damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes.
(first verse of four verses by Brian Patten)

The Golden Bird
I’ve found a golden bird in the cupboard.
Think it must have come from a deep mountain cave
because it’s feathers are cold and the cave’s echoes
are still reflecting in its eyes.
(my adaptation)

Some advice on writing poetry
*Don’t worry about making your sentences ‘poetic’ with old fashioned poetic language.
*You don’t have to make the sentences rhyme…Rhyming is less important than your ideas and feelings.
*But poetry is not prose…remove any words which are not necessary.
*Cliches! Cliches are ideas and phrases which other writers have used very often…When you are finalising your poem try to remove any cliches you find.
Here is a cliche: Your lips are like the petals of a rose.

Publishing poetry
Poems do not belong to school exercise books!
You need to use the sister arts of design and illustration.
Postcard poetry
Poetry letter
Book of poems
Poetry poster
Poetry sculpture
Poetry internet

Performance poetry
You need the sister arts of drama and music:
One voice
Several voices
Voices plus music (chanting, singing, body music, home-made instruments, musical instruments)
Voices plus drama (mime, acting, shadow theatre, puppets, masks, make up)
Voices plus drama and music
Audio or video recording

 

 

30 Responses to “The Craft of Writing Poetry, Lyrics and Advertising Copy”


  1. 1 The Henry Brothers October 13, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Some great ideas – thanks for those Andrew – I was also wondering what to do with Brian Patten’s dragon poem and liked your version.

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