Poetry Club

This week we are going to focus on ‘Memories’ as our theme for poetry.

There are a number of different styles that I will illustrate, starting with a very clear and simple structure, then looking at a ‘year by year’ model, and then some increasingly ‘open’ styles, where you may or may not choose to use rhyme within your poem.

The first style is using an ‘I remember, I remember’ poem. Basically this line acts as a ‘sandwich’ between lines that reflect some of your earliest memories. I have to go back a lot further for early memories, and honestly can’t remember much before the age of three, but here’s an example;

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I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember,

Moving from the prefabs and stepping through the front door of our new home,

I remember, I remember,

‘Knockhall School is Marching Forward’, our primary school song!

I remember, I remember,

Our headteacher, Mr Oliver, being chased by a goat!

I remember, I remember,

The sound of the ice-cream van on Sunday afternoons,

I remember, I remember,

Going round to Peter Howard’s house and my first experience of colour TV, the wonderfully orange Dutch team in the 1974 World Cup,

I remember, I remember,

The drought and heat of ’76 and lazing beside the local outdoor swimming baths. A season ticket cost me two pounds!

I remember, I remember,

The milk float crashing in the Wilby’s front garden, a pond full of milk but luckily nobody was hurt,

I remember, I remember,

The Ingress Gardens community and the joy of growing up!

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If you want to add a little extra challenge, you could aim for rhyming pairs of lines, but only if you can keep it honest and accurate, don’t make up rhymes for the sake of it.

Here’s an example;

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I Remember, I Remember

I remember, I remember,

My name on my peg and my first day at school,

I remember, I remember,

The strong smell of polish in the old school hall,

I remember, I remember,

My very first pair of new school shoes,

I remember, I remember,

Sherbert dabs and penny chews,

I remember, I remember,

The old tin bridge and the silver sands,

I remember, I remember,

Building camps with muddy hands,

I remember, I remember,

The day the Empire Hall burnt down,

I remember, I remember,

The fossil that my grand-dad found,

I remember, I remember,

Tisha, my amazing cat,

I remember, I remember,

My first footie boots and my first cricket bat,

I remember, I remember,

Breaking my arm in a clumsy fall,

I remember, I remember,

All my friends from Knockhall School.

The next poem is a ‘building’ poem, starting at ‘one’ and going through to your current age. I think that it might be a touch too long, in fact epic, if I attempt to do this for myself at my current age, so the model is based on my daughter, Kate, and I’ll only go up to nine (because that should give you a good enough idea of the model.) You may well need your parents to help you with the first couple of lines, unless you have an amazing memory and can genuinely remember any events when you were one or two years old! This works quite well as a list of ‘favourite’ memories, but I like the idea of rounding it off with a ‘But now I’m… (whatever age) and using a simple rhyme to finish off the final line.

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Now I’m Nine

ONE… I said my first word, ‘duck’ whilst pointing at a pigeon,

TWO… Putting wax crayons in with the whites,

THREE…Singing ‘Bare Necessities, Forget about your troubles and your STRIPES!’

FOUR…Sledging down the snowy hill with grandad,

FIVE… Chased by the geese in Verulamium Park,

SIX…  Obsessed with Rainbow Fairies!

SEVEN…  Winning a competition with my necklace design,

EIGHT… My first karate lesson with Jo and Andre,

And now I’m NINE it has to be said, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead!

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The final option is an ‘open style’ where you simply think of a fond memory and write about it in poetry (rather than story) form. I have given a few examples all based on true stories. I often use rhyme in my own poems, but poems can be just as effective without rhyme, the most important factor is recalling the story (or memory) as accurately as possible. This first poem wasn’t so great at the time, but I had to laugh about it in the end!

I was teaching a Year 4 class and our topic was ‘minibeasts.’ The children had made some fabulous environments out of large sheets of Perspex (supplied to us by one of the parents). Above the ‘Snails environment was a wonderful display that all of the children, and I as their teacher, were extremely proud of. Well, I’m guessing one of the children must have left the large Perspex top to our Snailery open, because I came in early one morning to find that the snails had all escaped. To make matters worse, they’d slithered onto the display and eaten most of it. They had eaten the ‘S’ at either end of the ‘SNAILS’ title, so the display actually read as ‘NAIL!’ Anyhow, here’s the poem;

Snail Display

Top left corner, Jason’s print (yellow snail on blue)

Opposite corner, Niall’s spiral

(made of string and glue)

Endless information all about the snails.

Running around the edges, glittery silver trails.

Carefully chosen pictures, beautifully displayed

And a lovely collage habitat

(based on the one we’d made.)

Polly’s precious poem, awaiting a recital,

And Tommy’s top ten mollusc facts

Below the template title.

Then one night, from Snailery

They silently escaped,

They made their way to ‘their’ display,

Do you believe in fate?

They slowly climbed the classroom wall and next we do detect,

They nibbled through the collage and the interactive text.

In fact, the snails just helped themselves to most of the display,

And genuine trails of evidence gave the game away.

As for Jason’s lovely print…

They’d happily been scoffing,

Along with ‘S’ at either end,

The final ‘NAIL’ in coffin!

*

The next poem is a childhood memory. Near to where I lived (when growing up in a place called Greenhithe) we had a number of large chalk quarries. One of them had a beautiful ‘lake’ (although in reality it was just a very big pond and it was only waist deep at best.) We used to make our own rafts out of wood and rope and have raft races across the pond. One year we noticed that it was full of newts. We had great fun catching them (and then releasing them of course). This area has since been developed. If you ever visit the Bluewater Shopping Centre (just the other side of the Dartford Tunnel) this is where our ‘lake’ actually was. Some species of newt are a protected species but that seemed to be easily overlooked when they developed this huge shopping centre. A few years ago I was given a very strange look from both of my daughters when we were in one of the shops (I think it was John Lewis) and I told them that when I was their age I used to catch newts on this very spot! (The Swanscombe Man, by the way, was a prehistoric skull that was found in one of the chalk pits, not very far from my back garden. It was badly named, because years after its discovery scientists actually proved that it was the skull of a pre-historic woman!)

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Catching Newts

Fossil-rich chalk pits,

Our playgrounds,

Where adventures unfolded,

Where many a camp was built.

Did our footsteps actually re-scan

Those prehistoric hunting grounds

Of The Swanscombe Man?

It was here that our ‘Stig of the Dump’ imaginations ran wild,

From the secret caves to the Silver Sands,

From the rusty tin bridge to the sandmartin cliffs,

Down those steep descents that led us to the railway tracks,

Not electric of course…

Worn and old,

Where we ran and hid

As diesels clattered and ‘trackers’ patrolled.

We ventured beyond…

To our ‘swamp’.

Across those murky waters we guided our crude, hand-crafted rafts,

Through tangled creeper and brittle branch,

Challenging our resilience

But we rarely tasted defeat

As we dug our sticks deep into the peaty bogs beneath,

Until our mission was complete.

Arriving at precisely the place…

Newt-haven!

Old tin buckets at the ready,

Here we go!

Spotted orange-bellied beauties

Slithering into our hands,

Gently cupped, admired and then

Released to one day be found yet again.

Time stood still.

Until our stomachs got the better of us,

And we eventually headed home.

Many years have since passed,

Many of those childhood playgrounds are now simply abandoned and overgrown.

And as for the newts?

They’ve long moved home…

When the diggers came,

When the quarries were transformed.

Shopping centre,

Traffic-jammed routes,

But certainly no longer

A place for catching newts.

*

This next poem is fairly self-explanatory. My beautiful cat Smudge didn’t seem quite so wonderful when she decided to spend the night in my bed! And yes, I really did wake up to find her purring away on top of my head! The idea of a ‘repeat-line’ is used at the end of each verse in this poem, which I think can be quite an effective technique.

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A Night with Smudge

I’m lying in bed,

With a dream in my head,

It’s silent, I can’t hear a peep,

So I’m fairly perturbed

When my dream is disturbed

As the cat wakes me up from my sleep.

She’s the furriest thing,

Knocked over a tin,

I awake with a bit of a fright,

It’s a bit of a scare

When you’re caught unawares

By such sounds in the dead of the night.

Oh, Smudgy I say, in total dismay,

This is not a good time for a kitten to play,

This is not a good time for a kitten to play.

*

I turn over my head,

I’m snug in my bed

Such disturbance can really annoy.

It’s a terrible pain

When I’m woken again,

As she plays with her favourite toy.

It’s squeaky and plastic,

And hangs on elastic,

Next to the phone in the hall,

But it isn’t such fun

At a quarter to one,

When she’s pinging it into the wall.

Oh Smudgy I say, you are so much to blame,

This is not a good time to be playing a game,

This is not a good time to be playing a game.

*

I urge her to stop,

But it’s boppety-bop.

I try to return to my dream,

I’m playing at cricket,

Out at the wicket,

Doing the best for my team.

But I feel as I bat,

The furriest hat,

Most unusual it has to be said,

I awoke and the cat

Was most comfortably sat,

Fast asleep on the top of my head.

Oh Smudgy, I weep

At this small, furry heap,

This is not a good place for a kitten to sleep,

This is not a good place for a kitten to sleep.

*

I remove little Smudge,

She does not want to budge,

To her basket she’s promptly returned.

But to my dismay she just won’t keep away,

Her lesson is yet to be learned.

She shows she adores you,

She purrs and she claws you

At twenty to four in the morning,

I quickly awake, with a bit of a shake,

As you do when you’re clawed without warning.

Oh Smudgy I groan in a bit of a blur,

This is not a good time for a kitten to purr,

This is not a good time for a kitten to purr.

*

Try again I suppose,

As my tired eyes close,

And I feel in a bit of a fix,

You could think it quite rude

As she miaows for her food,

And it’s only a quarter to six.

In the morning I yawn

And I struggle at dawn

I could easily fall in a heap,

As I set off for school,

I spot Smudge, in a ball,

Quite content in a deep, dreamy sleep.

Oh Smudgy I say as I stand and I stare

You’re so fast asleep and it just isn’t fair,

You’re so fast asleep and it just isn’t fair.

*

This is a poem where I’ve not wanted to rely upon rhyme, but simply tried to capture the memory as best I could. I loved Boxing Day as a child, I think I actually preferred it to Christmas Day. My Uncle Len, who was a wonderful uncle, used to drive from Charlton and collect us all early in the morning. Nobody in my immediate family drove a car, so it was actually quite rare when we ever travelled anywhere by car. Anyhow, we’d go to my Uncle Len and Aunty Betty’s house (Betty’s still alive by the way, she’s 96 years old!). Len was a fabulous cook and we’d enjoy a wonderful dinner, we’d then share presents under the tree and my cousin, Nicky, would sometimes play on the piano. We’d then play all sorts of family games and I’d be exhausted by the end of the day. We’d just curl up in the back of Uncle Len’s car as he drove us back to Greenhithe. The reference to the Siamese cat is because my uncle had two absolutely beautiful Siamese cats!

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Boxing Day

Boxing Day.

Best day of the year.

Tiny faces

Pressed right up against the bedroom window

In anticipation

Of Uncle Len.

No fanfare or carnival,

Just cosy and comfortable,

Like the purr of the Siamese cat.

Warm conversations,

A splendid tree,

Feast around the round table,

Family games of secret codes and killer winks,

Nicky on the piano.

Perfect.

And when the time came

We’d wave our fond farewells,

Curl up in the back of the car,

Lulled by the romance of the night traffic,

Gently chauffeured home.

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This next poem is about my daughter, Erin’s first ever Christmas performance. She loves singing, and we’d heard all of her songs countless times before the night of the show. However, on the night of her performance she decided  to take her camel role to greater lengths… and as we all ought to know, camels don’t sing!

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Camels Do Not Sing!

A debut on the Christmas stage,

At the tender age of four,

Nursery Nativity,

She got ‘the hump’ for sure.

Cast to be a camel,

We thought it would be fine,

She wasn’t really nervous

Because camels DON’T HAVE LINES!

No, not a word was uttered,

And just one other thing,

She’d happily wear the costume

But camels DO NOT SING!

All the other children

Were in sweet, angelic voice,

But Erin as a camel

Simply didn’t have a choice.

Silent she remained,

And sustained this all the while,

Whilst looking rather miserable,

For camels DO NOT SMILE!

She kept her blank expression,

This role she had to fit,

With camel concentration.

Well at least she didn’t SPIT!

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I’m going to finish off with a special memory from childhood. My youngest brother, Peter, came home from school really excited on the final day of his very first term at school. He’d made our mum a ‘clay face,’ It was bright blue and very difficult to distinguish any of the features. Peter was so proud, and mum treasured it. My other brother, Alan, is a couple of years older than Peter, and I’m couple of years older than Alan. To our great shame, we gently teased Peter about his clay face. We have since grown up with great regret at teasing Peter about his masterpiece. (We were usually VERY kind to him by the way, and would really look after our younger brother.) He has now forgiven us!

Peter’s Clay Face

Peter couldn’t hide his pride,

On that momentous day,

When he handed mum the little face that he’d made out of clay.

Just a glazed, funny shape

Quite surreal from above,

But of limitless value

When offered with love.

We tried to work out what it was

(That was tough.)

But Peter explained

And that was enough

To have mother in raptures

Of genuine joy,

For the gift she’d received from her four year old boy.

It was all she could wish for,

A lovely surprise,

And the two larger dents were quite possibly ‘eyes’,

Then the lump was the nose,

(So obviously.)

And tiny clay ears,

Who cares that there’s three?

We took just one look and could tell,

(All together,)

That he’d made it himself

With no help whatsoever.

He was ahead of his time

Was our Pete, to be true,

It was long before Smurfs

Yet he’d painted it blue.

Mum simply adored it,

It took pride of place.

Her most precious possession was Peter’s clay face.

She’d kept grandad’s trophies from when he played bowls,

And family photos all over the walls.

But nothing,

No, nothing

Could ever replace

The pride and affection for Peter’s clay face.

A masterpiece truly, held in esteem,

The rest of the family?

Well, we were quite mean.

For a short while,

To our shame and disgrace

We relentlessly teased Pete over his face.

How could such a thing

Bring so much pleasure?

I guess it’s the gifts from the heart that we treasure.

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Have fun with your own poems. I look forward to hearing about your own memories, whether you use the ‘I Remember, I Remember’ structure or a more open approach to your poem. Please send them to head@skyswood.herts.sch.uk

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