Teacher Trailblazer Write-Outs

One of our brilliant new Teacher Trailblazers, Gareth Ellis from Whitley Bay High School, has been busy putting together some short exercises for fellow teachers and poetry enthusiasts. Like a work-out for your poetry brain, these only take a few minutes and are all about seeing ordinary things differently. We’ll be adding to these regularly, and you can read all our Teacher Trailblazer tips here.

  1. November 2020. Poetry for Breakfast.
    Bowl of cereal with a spoonAre you a cereal poet? Who spends breakfast time as hungry for words as they are for the first meal of the day? So hungry for words that you scour the cereal box for linguistic sustenance? Who becomes intoxicated by ‘molasses’ and intrigued by ‘riboflavin’? Who loves the contrast of an earthy ‘malted barley’ with the latter-alphabet exoticism of ‘zinc oxide’? Well it might just be us, but poetry can be found in the most mundane corners of our lives. This week’s task is to read the ingredients (of anything!) and see what lurks, hidden in the small, boring print on the sidelines. What seeds of poetry can you find and sow? You might simply construct a ‘Found Poem’ and make a list of all the wonderful words you discover. Or perhaps you’ll explore one specific word, give it a new life and a new context, or create a completely new meaning for it, born from its little connotative echoes, its hints and suggestions.
  2. December 2020. The Leaves of Language.
    If language was a tree, reach for the highest leaf, not the leaves that are closest to hand. Try to think of words that you wouldn’t normally use. Why are they out of reach? How could you use them in your writing? What new perspectives could they bring? But equally, do not forget to keep your eyes on the ground. Sometimes the fallen words are the most beautiful. Which words haven’t you used for a while? Why have you discarded them? And don’t dismiss the tree’s roots. What etymological connotations can you scoop from your favourite words’ earthy past? What early-life surprises do they hold in their Latin sapling form, for example?
  3. January 2021. Dribbilance.
    So we all savour a sensuous and stunning slice of sibilance. But have you heard of ‘dribbilance‘? Most likely not, because we just made it up. It’s the repetition of the letters d and b. For example: dead bodies bound in dreary dank dunes dried bearing beauty. Create a new poetic technique, give it a name and share it with the world. It might just catch on…
  4. February 2021. Dismantling words.Silver Nokia phone with a cracked screen
    Once upon a time, in the olden days, when people had phones with buttons, predictive text functions used to throw up all sorts of alternative words that sometimes became used instead of the original. For example, when typing ‘cool’, texters found the word ‘book’ would come up instead. Either through laziness or intent, the word would sometimes stick. ‘Oh that’s so book’ became a synonym for coolness (but we all knew that anyway, right?). It’s almost as if words have their own secret reflections, a linguistic avatar that only the right tool (or the write tool?) will illuminate.This month, spend some time with a word. Break it up and put it back together. Feed it into the churning algorithms of a search engine or tickle it in a text message. What does it do? What can it do? What can it become? Use it as the opening to a poem. I opened my cool and started to read…
    I lost my book in the endless queue…

  5. March 2021. Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
    A mirror gives us a reflection of ourselves, but it isn’t quite how other people see us. We’re reversed in the reflection so that our personal perceptions of ourselves are slightly different from how we might present to others. What happens when we show a poem to a mirror? Literally, it becomes unreadable, the lines run from the wrong side, the letters are reversed completely and so the sense is quickly lost. Or is it? What happens when we afford our writing the opportunity of reflection? Is a poem could speak to itself, what would it say? Would it approve of the shape it makes on the page? Perhaps it would express itself differently given the opportunity to rethink itself. Use these questions and ideas to interrogate a piece of writing you’ve produced.
    What does it see in the mirror?
  6. April 2021. Finding room to write…
    The word ‘stanza’ is said to have derived from the Italian word for ‘room’. Poets have often drawn comparisons between poems and houses. Houses are important spaces. They hold a version of ourselves: their nooks and crannies, their spaces and sounds, make us who we are. Write the poem of your house, or any house you know well. Write one stanza for each room. How can you use the form to replicate the sizes of the house’s different spaces? How can you use a meander through a house as a way of exploring or ordering your thoughts, ideas, feelings? Is the house happy and warm? Is it empty? Is it haunted? How can a house replicate the movements of a mind?
  7. May 2021. Unlocking a map…
    Maps are the most wonderful things to look at. two hands covered in a map of the world, with a background of cloudsThey are treasure troves for unusual names too, little mouthfuls of language that in their utterance bring a history of allusion and a connection with place, with landscape, with people. Spend some time scouring a map. Make a list of the names you’ve never heard before, those little moments of language and sound that appeal to you. Then write the poem of that place, explore the location through words, evoking a feeling, a sense of it, imagining what it might be like.
    Or perhaps, think of a brand new meaning for the name. Turn it into a verb or an adjective. Change it a little. Is there something in the word that suggests its new meaning? Or is there a new meaning lurking in the sounds and the beats of the name, a new identity waiting to be unlocked from the map?