Primary (10-12): A Billion Brilliant Moments: Poems as Memories for Year 6s by James Carter

It’s a strange time to be in Year 6. Normally, you’d be celebrating your time at primary school and preparing to move to your next big adventure, but sadly things will be different for this year. To help you capture the special moments with your friends and teachers at primary school, James Carter, one of our poets who visit schools, has put together a writing activity so you never forget.

Photo of an empty classroom with the chairs turned over on the tables

How Easily…

the present
escapes into the past.
Like raindrops on a lake,

like moths into the dark.
That afternoon you learnt
to swim. The night

you tried to count
the stars. Ever passing
through your hands,

moments disappear
like sand. So catch them.
Trap them. Write them

down. Preserve them
as your memories.
Turn them into

                                words
                                            like
                                                      these.                                      

by James Carter
from Weird Wild and Wonderful (Otter-Barry Books, January 2021)

“The poem you have just read tells how quickly life goes. Being 11 (or very nearly!), you will have discovered this for yourself.  If you don’t do things to remember the billions of brilliant moments that can happen throughout your childhood, they’ll vanish.

Now – you can’t take a selfie of every single moment, or even make a video of everything you do, but a poem can be just the thing to preserve and even celebrate some precious life stuff from disappearing!

In this workshop you will write something for and dedicated to your future self – something you will rediscover when you are 25 and go ‘Wow, did I write this…? I’d completely forgotten about…’

‘How Easily…’ is a rhyming poem, but when I write my own memory poems, like the ones that follow below (apart from occasional lines in ‘Sweet Meadow’), I don’t usually rhyme at all, as a) it takes much longer to do as rhyming is actually difficult to do really well, and b) is too sing-songy for something that really happened. An example: ‘We went to the beach / I ate a nice peach / a seagull went screech…’ See what I mean? A memory poem ideally needs to sound as if it is spoken, as if you are actually talking.

Have a read of these two memory poems below, ‘The Shooting Stars’ and ‘Sweet Meadow’.

The Shooting Stars
by James Carter

That night
we went out in the dark
and saw the shooting stars
was one of the best nights ever

It was as if someone
was throwing paint
across the universe

The stars just kept coming
and we ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’
like on bonfire night

And it didn’t matter
they weren’t real stars –
just bits of dust on fire
burning up in the atmosphere

And we stayed out there for ages
standing on this tiny planet
staring up at the vast cosmos

And I shivered
with the thrill
of it all

Photo of a snowy mountain range at night, with the stars visible, and in the foreground two figures made out of light looking up at the stars

Sweet Meadow
by James Carter

The short cut
to the sweet shop
was a meadow wild
with summer flowers.

Those afternoons
were hazy-hot,
that high sun
amber-bright,
and so we’d slowly
walk the mile
to the shop.

Heading home
with paper bags,
we’d stop and swop
our black jacks,
our white mice,
our multi-coloured
chocolate drops:
then sugar-fingered
sit amongst the grass
and scoff the lot.

That meadow
is a road now; cars
swiftly pass today,
the grass verges
neatly cut, a dandelion
clock remains:
half-blown away.

from Weird Wild and Wonderful (Otter-Barry Books, January 2021)

Photo of a meadow with yellow flowers in the foreground, and trees and mountains in the distance

See how these poems use simple language, and how they are laid out with short lines and often short verses. Although you will note there is some descriptive language:

‘hazy-hot’, ‘amber-bright’, ‘sugar-fingered’

and simile:

‘as if someone / was throwing paint / across the universe’

… there’s no unnecessary detail in these poems, just enough to bring the events to life, to celebrate those short moments in words. In your poem, you could even use speech if you want – and all these details help, and make it seem more real, as in this extract –

Where are you going?

                Just popping outside.

Outside? What for?

                To ride my bike.

Careful. It might be slippery.

                Okay, will do.

And put your coat on. It’s cold today.

                Sure.

Now either pick a single favourite moment from your time at school in a poem (as in ‘The Shooting Stars’), or even a series of mini-moments from school in a ‘Photo Album’ style poem. If you are trying to choose a single moment, it might be good to pick two initially – and see which one works best. I often do this.

Photo album on its side - lots of pages stacked with memories

It could be any kind of moment. Even a quiet moment. A funny moment in class or the playground. A surprise. A time you surprised yourself. Finding a new friend. A moment or  achievement you are really proud of. A school concert, play, match or assembly. Scoring a goal against another school. Finding a favourite book in the library. Something you made, drew or painted. A conversation with a teacher or friend. Something that happened on a school residential trip… Above all, it must be something that is special to you and you want to remember for ever. (You might even want to dedicate your poem to a friend, or your class, or a teacher. It’s up to you!)

Rather than going straight into a poem, scribble your ideas down first. You could (as I do) think about it for a few days, until words start appearing. You could even write it as prose – i.e. a paragraph of text. I sometimes do this, then start chopping it up so it’s a poem, with fewer words and shorter lines. Don’t be afraid to lose lots of waffle – I do! Bring it to life as much as you can, as if it were a short film in words. Paint the scene with descriptive language, similes or metaphors. And if you want to write it as prose, and keep it like that, do. I sometimes do that too – and call them ‘prose poems’.

Here are some possible opening lines (you can change these around as much as you like), but you can start however you wish…

Here I am with …. and we’re…

It was the day / morning / afternoon / time… It was Summer, and…

I’m standing / sitting / listening / waiting / chatting…

I remember…

With a photo album-style poem, you could even call it something like ‘(name of your school) Photo Album’ if you wish, and could start lines/verses as if you were showing someone a real photo album, like…

This is me.

My first day at…

Here we are in Class xxx….

In your first draft, write down as much as you can. Use all the details you can find/remember – such as the weather, or sights or smells or sounds, things around you, anything and everything to make the past come alive!

When you are editing, remember that the shorter your poem is, the more powerful it will be. It’s hard to edit down your writing, but be strict with yourself: cut out any repetitions that you don’t need. Try and include lines that stand out, and say something in a refreshing or unusual way, that paint the picture so clearly you could almost taste it. Then you’ll really have a poem to remember.

Good luck with the poems and everything beyond, Year 6!”

James Carter
National Poetry Day Ambassador
www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk 

Photo of poet James Carter, who wears glasses and smiles James Carter is a poet and educator. Find out more about his work here.