poems to get kids putting pen to paper
‘Football, Kuala Lumpur’ by Gill McEvoy
The theme of National Poetry Day 2011 was ‘Games’. As always, The Poetry Society provided an impressive array of poems to study in class and teaching resources to accompany them, including this one inspired by Gill McEvoy’s ‘Football, Kuala Lumpur’ The children with whom I studied this poem loved exploring the variety of movement described within its verbs in particular, which help to blend the animate and inanimate into a scene buzzing with life. The frogs, the rain, the football and the children all seem to merge into one exuberant entity, bouncing with joy. I asked the children to discuss how the poet conveys not only the movement but also the sounds of the scene she is describing. They loved having the opportunity to debate the qualities of certain words. For example, the combined onomatopoeia and personification of ‘chuckling’ and ‘chortling’ in reference to the frogs interested them. Words like ‘spray’, ‘sprung’ and ‘kick’ were also discussed in detail. Some children thought that these too could be taken as examples of onomatopoeia, conveying the sounds of their specific meanings. Children are often very alive to these more obscure possibilities of words, and I always find it useful for my own teaching to let them spot and comment on aspects that I might, with my more literal-thinking ‘adult’ brain, have overlooked at first glance.
The task that I then set the children was to take the title of the poem - ‘Football, Kuala Lumpur’ - as the inspiration for a poem juxtaposing a sporting activity or game with a particular place. I asked them not to fall immediately upon obvious associations, e.g. ‘Cricket, Lord’s’ or ‘Tennis, Wimbledon’, but rather, as McEvoy has done, to describe an activity taking place in an unfamiliar setting. To do this, I got them to do some research with Google Images, entering ‘[Name of Sport/Game] + “unusual setting”’. It didn’t take them long to discover some fascinating sources of inspiration. Georgia, for example, chose chess and found images of Hungarians in swimming caps playing in Budapest’s open-air spas:
Screaming children splashing glittering crystals,
The great expanse of sky filled with laughter,
Golden shafts of glistening sunlight,
Shifting through the gnarled hands of trees,
A black knight sliced through a white queen,
A smug smile spread lazily across a person’s face,
The person opposite shook his head in disbelief.
Gleaming sparkles of spray giggled gleefully.
People’s faces crunched in concentration,
Eyes flicking backwards and forwards,
Searching to find a weak spot in the defences,
Crows cackled from dark shadows.
The entire pool alight with colours pouring out,
The floor slippery with droplets like shattered glass,
Fingers wavering over a pawn or a king,
Feet tapping anxiously on the granite floor,
Screaming children sprinkling emeralds into the air.
Georgia (aged 13)
Ella, meanwhile, found a brilliant image of kiteboarders careening over a frozen lake in northern Sweden:
Kiteboarding, North Pole
The eerie quiet pierces my ears.
The ice is poisoning the top
Of my fingers, with its freezing fury.
As I watch the emptiness, I spot
The silent sun rise; at last I have a companion.
Slowly a slight draft flows through the air,
I brace myself for a rush of wind,
The wind builds up, and my kite rises.
I notice I start to glide,
I feel the impact in my blades
As they slice the ice
Moving slowly faster,
Until I am racing across
The lake of icicles.
The silence stops screaming.
Ella (aged 13)
Stephen and Rebecca independently chanced upon the iconic images of Alan Shepard hitting golf balls on the Moon during the Apollo 14 mission:
Golf on the Moon
A light in the blackness,
Warmth in the cold,
It draws closer, flash –
Darkness is returning,
Although far away
The dazzled silver lingers,
As a bright light seeks its landing.
Two dancing rabbits, hopping
Through the craters.
They retrieve their metal sticks,
And attack the dusty rock,
Silver glints in the evening light,
Blinding and reflecting,
Like a sparkling diamond,
Slicing down again to hit a small white pearl.
This chalky cotton-bud
Flies through space,
Falling into the abyss,
Never to return.
What has this clear bullet done
To anger these mice so much?
They hide away their silver rods
And scurry back to earth.
Rebecca (aged 12)
Golf on the Moon
The earth’s blue sphere
Gazing at the icy wasteland,
Both locked together in a brutal embrace.
The people all look up to the sky,
Thinking of the brave men who have ventured beyond
The glazing atmosphere.
Those brave men – are now playing golf.
The grey desert sweeps across the surface.
Although the sun still shines, it does little
To warm this place’s heart.
And all of a sudden
This dead world
Is reanimated by a golf ball,
Flying for miles before finally dropping down,
And this barren world sleeps again.
Stephen (aged 13)
Isabella, finally, found an image of ice-skaters on a Dutch canal. Thinking that certain marks on the ice looked like craters, she transferred her setting to the Moon. Having then discovered Youtube clips of astronauts making elegant leaps and bounds on the surface of the moon during the Apollo missions, she set off on a flight of fancy which earned her a commendation from Gillian Clarke in the SATIPS Poetry Competition 2012:
A place once discovered by man:
The way the darkness
A scientist’s discovery
That bids us goodnight.
It steals the sun’s
Light like a thief.
It is not a rock,
Not a galaxy gem, but
An elegant, curved
Round and linen white.
Light bounces off it as do dancers,
Dancing in the death and innocent night,
Twirling and skimming,
Leaping in the airlessness,
They skate elegantly,
Zooming and gallivanting without a sound.
You could hear a pin
Drop, not one but two, as the skaters skate
Hand in hand
Weaving a ribbon around the moon.
Isabella (aged 13)
Commendation, SATIPS Poetry Competition 2012
Isabella has clearly picked up on the the bouncing alliteration of McEvoy’s ‘barefoot boys’ and applied it to her imaginary moon-skaters ‘Dancing in the death’. Notice also how this ‘d’ sound reappears in the phrase ‘You could hear a pin/Drop’, the enjambment drawing the reader’s attention to the paradoxical sound of silence that the writer is aiming to convey. The beauty of this poem illustrates the huge potential in allowing children to explore a variety of different stimuli in order to come up with an original idea. All too often as teachers, we are tempted to tell children to ‘read this’, look at this’, ‘watch this’, ‘listen to this’, perhaps fearing that giving them a free rein to find their own sources of inspiration will either be unproductive or somehow too risky. In fact, with proper guidance as to directions in which to go, children can navigate the internet (and traditional sources) much more adeptly, responsibly and critically than we give them credit for, taking meaningful ownership of what they discover, forming their own opinions and developing their own ideas.
Sixteen years of teaching poetry to children have furnished me with a wealth of ideas. Do dip in and adapt any of these for your own lessons.