Invention : Senses and colour : Elementary Poetry

Elementary Poetry was one of the earliest games devised and shows it, both in physical scale and the number of subsidiary activities our budget could cover. The workshops ran for a week on each site and used a massive converted coconut shy to introduce the themes of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

For Earth, the coconut shy was converted into a bowling green, where a ball was rolled to collect four bags filled with things from the Earth - seeds, soil, plants, metal etc. Players wrote poems based on the objects onto green or orange paper. The poems and objects were arranged on green boards cut into the shape of fields, which were laid out as a landscape of poems. Then the player could illustrate the poem or part of it on cotton cloth using batik dyes and make cushions; create seed collages, or plant a word in flowers in seedboxes.

For Air, the coconut shy was set up for a game of darts, thrown at a giant weather map of the British Isles, to collect four objects from a range of clouds, suns, feathers, even wind instruments. These objects were included in the poem, which was later attached to a gas-filled balloon. Sent off with a label requesting replies, some were answered from over 100 miles away. Other workshops included the making of kites and inflateables.

On the Fire day, players snuffed out candles to collect coal, and images of smoke, flames, etc. for the poem. The poems and objects were arranged in a communal fire sculpture.

Workshops included writing poems out in plasticene and pressing matches upright into it, about 1/4 inch apart. This was dramatic when set alight and left behind black sticks twisted in remarkable shapes with the lettering beneath intact. Or players could try "grilled poetry" - writing selected words on bread with tin-foil stencils or cheese, then toasting it.

On the final, Water, day, players threw pennies into a pool to collect boats, fish, shells etc. to start the poem. The poems were squeezed into bottles like messages from shipwrecks. Workshops included using the poems for badges and mobiles of umbrellas and fish; or decorating them with `marbling' - oil paints on water.

Despite the size of the game and the quantity of related workshops, the players are simply collecting several related ideas (if we agree to call a word, a flower, a rubber whale, ideas) to help them focus their thinking. These ideas could have been displayed simply for view and touch, or provided at the writing desk or passed round for discussion or collected on a field trip. However " winning" the ideas avoids dithering and complaint on playschemes and appears to increase interest in the object-ideas themselves.

We were interested not in nature poetry but in poetry involving the natural, the elemental. So much of the discussion was sensory - the smell, the feel, even the taste of the object was important. Usually discussion will provide a relationship that can spark the poem, and sometimes it's useful to get players to jot down thoughts about one object, then another, to help things along. An alternative version of the game is to collect objects from a small defined area for examination and comment, which could perhaps be combined with some science or micro-geography.

For further information on this sort of game click on games listed under INVENTION in the INDEX side bar.

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Windows Workshops Dave Calder, The Windows Project ,1997,1998,1999,2009