POETRY_WORKBOOK


NOTES ON BEING HELPFUL

Dialogue is very important- after all, writers rely on inner discussion to generate and improve their writing: this very sentence has been thought, developed, constructed, queried and revised as it was written.
This process is basic to writing, so basic that adults can forget that they do it, but children need help to concentrate on each stage: you are the memory they cannot hold long enough in focus and the questions they do not ask themselves.

The Project's poem-writing games, even the simplest, provide basic information or starting-points for discussion. These can be used first to establish a clear subject, talking through possibilities until the child knows what the poem is to be about, not in vague terms like "rain" but focussed, as on "the rain on the window while I was in maths last Tuesday thinking about not being able to go out at playtime".

This discussion can now continue allowing useful detail and perception to emerge. Try to remember all that the child says, and if a good phrase pops up, or a fact or image surfaces, get it written down. To help, you have to be what they are developing - a critical memory. Help them to pursue lines of thought, to build up ideas and inventions by asking "what if?", to draw out factual or fictional information from themselves.
You are trying to help them explore and control not only language but also their imagination.

At first you can expect general statements, like "in a room". You have to encourage them to look for significant details by drawing the thought out: what room? where in the room? what else is in the room? - those bits of information that will inform the reader, give a sense of being there, even in fantasy.
These details may well include speech, their own or others, and thoughts.
Try to find adjectives and adverbs, many children tend not to use them more from indolence than style. They may be unnecessary and edited out later, but thinking about them helps form a clearer mental picture. This is also true of choosing accurate verbs, for actions are often expressed in a weak form.

Some consideration can be given to figurative language - the question "what is it like?" or, for example, "what else is round and yellow?", will lead to suggestions which if followed by a consideration of the effect of the comparison can enhance the poem, but pressing such matters is often pointlessly time-consuming since the child is most likely not to be using comparison because (s)he has not practiced inventing metaphor or simile either in everyday life or class.
The use of comparison and of precise vocabulary is the result of taking pleasure in language and of acquiring, as for arithmetic, a trick of the mind. Time needs to be spent playing independently with these aspects.

It is important to read widely yourself, to be aware of the wide range of possible forms a poem can take. This will help you to suggest options as the poem develops.
In the beginning you will be trying to get the ideas out, to get a rough shape; but often the child will need help in choosing a course and you can show the different effects so that the possibilities are understood.
Read the draft aloud (but not out loud) trying to show the rhythms in what has already been written, helping them to improve phrasing as they get deeper into the poem so that they can feel the work as a whole, can apprehend the sense, sound and feeling and be encouraged by where they have reached and to "see" and develop the rest of the work.

Please help them to write in their own words and word order as much as possible, making them aware of their natural rhythm.
They need to feel they can use their own inner and spoken voice rather than mimicing some poetic voice. If awkward, it can be sorted out later, as with spelling and punctuation .. getting the first draft down swiftly is important, concentration is limited.
If you are keeping them focussed on the poem they will be less likely to waffle up blind alleys - once they have chosen the point, the direction of the poem, help them hold to it.

Spend as little time as possible in assistance with spellings. Many children use spelling enquiries as a time-wasting ploy, others don't write the word they are actually thinking of, either because they can't spell it or because it "feels" difficult to spell properly.
Certainly their final draft should be corrected with dictionary and rewriting, but first improve their confidence in simply getting their thoughts out onto paper by encouraging them to write first and tidy up later.
Obviously some children have great difficulty in shaping letters, and for these it may be better to take dictation - they can revise or copy from that.

You should make it clear from the start that there will be several drafts and explain why. If the children become used to the practice they will become more willing to make an effort to consider improvements, rather than sticking with their first thoughts simply because reworking seems to need too much effort.


Although the development of a poem is extremely individualistic and often interesting work will emerge unexpected, there are some aspects of style that enhance or weaken a poem.
As is often the case, the positive points are harder to define than the weaknesses to avoid, but include imagination and honest recall of experience, the expression of the writer's own voice and feelings, use of clear interesting or playful language, the ability to create or hold to a structure and fresh or inventive ideas.
The weaknesses are more precise and causes and cures can be suggested:


Forced rhymes:
these usually arise either because the writer has set up too tight a structure or has been too rigid in following one way of expressing an idea. Suggesting a looser rhyme pattern and discarding the weakest phrases is often more help than reworking one line since the problem tends to recur.

Plagarism or hackneyed obvious phrases:
Stating the obvious (wet rain) is usually cured by finding a more lively adjective. Plagarism or the use of well worn `poetic' phrases is sometimes subconcious, sincere imitation or a song or phrase "stuck in the mind". Bear in mind that a child may be unaware of how overused some phrases have become, but deal with it as a false voice. Parts of songs can sometimes be made effective by making the lines into a quotation around which the child can develop a poem of their own.
Occasionally some children will offer a complete copy of something they've memorised. I feel it depends on the particular child whether this is a success, however misplaced, or a total lazy scam. If the latter the problem is psychological not poetic.
Part borrowings can be cured by pointing out the relevant bits or ideas and suggesting that they are used as a model to be built on or rewritten to make it their own. There's nothing wrong in this, a lot of famous poets have done it.

Purposeless waffle:
Since one of the best things about a poem its brevity, filling space needlessly is to be avoided. Waffle is often caused by an attempt to approach a poem in the same way as an essay. The cure is polite pruning until a healthy shape appears. If caught early enough the child will usually be more grateful than protective, especially when they see the best bits standing out freed from the dead wood.

Pointless repetition of words, use of overworked or weak words:
this is largely a matter of insufficient vocabulary or inability to hunt out the best word. Discuss, suggest, poke the memory. The search for the best, the vivid, word is so fundamental to poetry that there is no other cure than to say: this doen't tell me what it was really like, now what word would give me a better picture or idea of what you're thinking about.

Lastly, a special effort is needed to bring the poem to a decent end. There is no need to hunt for a perfect epithet or to settle into a comfortable convention (the then-I-woke-up syndrome) but a poem that peters out or drifts on in confusion is not satisfying.
Often possible endings will surface early and will only need recording or re-arranging, but in poems that tell a story it is worth at least enquiring about the ending quite early on, if not actually demanding a plot; and in most poems the ending is best considered before weariness sets in.

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