Primary (7-13): Pyroclastic Poetry! Poetry Activities by Justin Coe (Part Two)

One of the wonderful teachers we work with asked us if we had any resources on geography and poetry. So we asked Justin Coe to do some digging… And now we’d love to share his volcanic poetry activities for KS1-3 – enjoy! (And watch out for that pyroclastic flow…) This set of activities is more suited to KS2-3 students. Click here for KS1-2 resources.

If a volcano was not a volcano what could it be?

Warm-up: Make or find a list of different categories: for instance, animals, people, plants, household objects, weather… You’ll need at least eight. Pull each one out of a hat and ask, if a volcano was a X, what would it be? If you’re in a group, you can argue your point. Why would it be a tiger, and not a lion? Or a kettle and not an oven? The best answer will be the most striking, and make the most sense. Write down your favourite images.

Development: Now all you need is to add a bit of scaffolding. Something like…

I am not a volcano, I am a sleeping tiger
I am not a volcano, I am a silent monk
I am not a volcano…

But you can come up with your own structure! You might want to end with a twist – what would happen if the volcano admitted it was a volcano after all?

Extension: What you have been doing with this exercise is exploring personification and metaphor at the same time. Take this further: choose your favourite line or metaphor from your poem. Now develop that single metaphor into a new poem. For example, if you start with ‘I am a sleeping tiger’, write from the point of view of a sleeping tiger. Do not mention the word volcano – but when you read your poem back, it should also make sense if you did replace the metaphor (‘sleeping tiger’) with the word ‘volcano’. For instance:

I am a sleeping tiger
Though I seem to snooze
Don’t come close…

Negotiations with a Volcano

Read ‘Negotiations with a Volcano’ by American/Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye. If you can, read the poem out loud with others and hear everyone’s different thoughts. The volcano referenced here is called Agua in Guatemala, Central America.

Warm Up: Imagine you are one of the 350 million people who currently live within “danger range” of an active volcano. Write a list of all the things you, your family and your community would do in return for the volcano not erupting and potentially destroying your home (and even your life). You can be very serious, or you can use humour – or a bit of both.

Development: If you’re working in a group, compare your list with everyone else’s – you could even create a group poem from your favourite lines, thinking carefully about the order of the lines. Add a few other lines to set the context that you are addressing the volcano, and don’t forget to demand that the volcano behaves itself too!

Extension: Volcanos are volatile. Sometimes humans are too, and we don’t realise the effect we are having on the world around us! Have you ever snapped at someone, or had so many emotions bottled up you thought you were going to explode? For this exercise, imagine you are one of your possessions – maybe your bed, or a spoon, or a cup. Writing from the perspective of your chosen object, list everything that you would do to avoid your owner erupting. If you were a bed, maybe you’d promise to be extra soft and never creak!  

Postcards from A Volcano

Warm up: Read Wallace Stevens’ poem ‘A Postcard from the Volcano’ out loud. You’re going to create your own postcard from a volcano. First, find a photo of a volcano (or paint/draw your own). Study the picture and write down what you see. Now, imagine you are standing in front of the volcano. What would you be able to hear, smell, touch and perhaps even taste? How would you feel?

Once you have written all you can think of, read back through your notes. Who will you write your postcard to – a friend? A family member? Do you wish they were here – or not?

You could get creative with the perspective. Maybe the postcard is written from this volcano to another volcano. What would it say? Or maybe (like in Wallace Stevens’ poem), the postcard is from someone who died a long time ago. What would they want us to know?

Development: Now it’s time to write your poem! Use your imagination to write a descriptive postcard, thinking carefully about who you’re writing to.

Will you write in rhyme? Or will you write as if you were penning an ordinary postcard? You could even write a haiku or an acrostic, or even a mesostic like my poem ‘Vesuvius’. Try to create really vivid images, so the reader can really imagine what it’s like. Similes and metaphors are great for this – read ‘Peace’ by D.H. Lawrence for some inspiration: he says the lava is ‘walking like a royal snake down the mountain towards the sea’. Amazing!

Extension: Edit the poem and write it up, making sure it fits neatly onto the postcard. Time to decorate – will you add a stamp? Will the address be part of the poem?

Good luck!

Justin Coe

Looking for even more volcanic writing activities? Find three more ideas for writing explosively here