poems to get kids putting pen to paper
‘Not The Furniture Game’ by Simon Armitage
With another class, Luke Wright gave a reading of Simon Armitage’s ‘Not the Furniture Game’, in which a barrage of metaphors describe the poem’s protagonist from head to toe, all building up to a shocking climax when the focus shifts to a woman, described as a ‘chair tipped over backwards’ in an allusion to the poem’s title, who has, we suppose, been attacked or even murdered by her larger-than-life partner.
This was certainly not the kind of poem that one might typically expect Year 7 children to be grappling with, but they responded with incredible maturity and insight, using the regularity of the structure together with the openness of the metaphorical possibilities to make profound statements about things that matter to them. The standout response was by Charlie, an unassuming Year 7 boy, who had never shown any particular inclination towards poetry and had previously struggled to find a voice in his creative writing in general. Requiring no further external input or assistance, he quietly got on with writing this:
His hair was icebergs clashing together
His eyes were whirlpools pulling in ships
And his bite was blacksmiths smashing steel
His neck was a spear
And his shoulders were tree trunks in the autumn
His handshake was fire
His elbows were knives blunted
His shadow was a cumulonimbus
His legs were steel doors
His feet were bells ringing with every step
His fingers were snipers
His footprints were maps
And his heart was a bus
We were the sword that cut through his cancer.
Charlie, aged 12
When we convened in the school hall for the final hour of Luke’s visit, during which the children were given the opportunity to read their poems aloud to the rest of the school, this was the one poem that stopped everyone in their tracks, pupils and teachers alike. I think it stands as proof of the cathartic effect of poetry on children, allowing them to access and publicly express emotions which they might otherwise be embarrassed or unwilling to share. Poetry, in common with other art forms, creates a protective bubble around its creator, letting them explore that which might be too challenging or awkward in the literal world. It enables them to revisit, dissect and rebuild complex memories in an effort both to discover the truth behind them and to render them more manageable. Seeing his words wield such power over an audience demonstrated to Charlie that this is a great poem. Entirely at his own initiative, he decided to enter ‘Dad’ for the 2015 Hippocrates Young Poets Award and was awarded an honorable mention by the judges. There can be no better proof that children have at their disposal, within their own memories, the material to convey a message that is relevant and profoundly meaningful to anyone and everyone. All that we, as teachers, need to do is to give them the means of sharing these memories.
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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.