By Mandy Coe
Close observation can be as exciting as invention when it comes to writing a poem. Encourage students to think of themselves as detectives as well as poets. Ask them to look carefully at their subject, ask questions, take notes, miss nothing.
This exercise requires writers to choose one moment as a focus for their poem. The moment is only 30 seconds or so. There is no back-story and, if you are brave, not even a conclusion. Let the reader imagine what has happened and what is to come. If you do feel the poem needs more information let your title do some work (this small but powerful component of a poem can play many roles by guiding, tricking or confirming).
- Choose a moment, perhaps one with an element of suspense. Try making a list of moments such as swimming, running, dancing, dropping something, opening a gift, waiting for something to happen.
- To better recall details of the event slow the moment down as if it were a film. Study every frame and ask questions about each second.
- Decide on the tense of the poem and choose the voice – does it work better in first person or neutral observer? Is the voice to be human, animal, or inanimate object?
- Look at the shape of the poem. Line lengths and enjambment (running sentences over a line or a verse break) can alter the pace and rhythm. Try varying line lengths and verse structures then print off a few versions so you can see how they look.
- Do a bit of weeding. Can you rearrange verses or delete the first or last lines? Can you remove any unnecessary words?
- Give yourself time to write a couple of poems.
- Read your poems out loud. Have someone read them to you.
- Ask someone to check and your punctuation and grammar.
- Give each poem drawer-time (a couple of weeks if not more) where the poem is put away. When you next look at it you will read it through a stranger’s eyes which will help you see what needs changing.
- Celebrate having written a poem! Enjoying the process of writing is a prize in itself. See who else would like to read or hear your poem. How about pinning it up on the wall or sending it out into the wider world?
A selection of other poems of the moment:
- ‘The Catch’ Simon Armitage (The Works 5, Macmillan, 2006).
- ‘Child on Top of a Greenhouse’ Theodore Roethke, (Wicked Poems, Bloomsbury 2004).
- ‘The Apple’s Song’ Edwin Morgan, (Sensational, Macmillan 2004).
Read the poem The Diver. Emily Middleton was a Foyle Young Poet in 2005. This poem appeared in the winners’ anthology, When the Thunder Woke Me.