Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Poetry Workshop

Recently I ran poetry workshops for classes of schoolchildren from Year 3 – 7, as part of cultural program and competition called The Wacky, Sticky, Soaky, Flowy Thing, devised by SA Water, the State Library and the State Art Gallery.

My brief was to encourage kids to write and enter poems based on the theme of water.

I was given a free rein – any aspect of water was okay.

The first thing I did was set to work with my scissors – I found over 30 magazine pictures with some connection to water, and cut them out. My plans, however, about how I’d use the visual material as part of the poetry writing process were still hazy.

Tip 1: when trying to sort out problems in your head, start by doing something practical but somehow aligned to the project. I find it helps me get into the topic before I begin the nitty-gritty of planning it.


I collected poetry books from my own library shelves, as well as those from other libraries and a couple from the SA Water Education Unit Library. I chose appropriate poems – both mine and others. (see Flood in the Poetry Page of my website:

Tip 2: poetry is meant to be read aloud. Provide examples where the class, groups or individuals can do so. Also, the use of examples is vital when discussing poetry – and can also be used as scaffolding for their own poems.


As in all writing, but especially in the concentrated, tight form of poetry, use of the senses must be emphasised.

Tip 3: I searched the Internet for Royalty-free water noises. One track provided approximately five minutes of water sounds; trickling streams, rushing rivers, rain on roofs, wild storm and crashing waves.

I thought I’d either use it as a background to the children’s writing or provide it as their only sensory motivator.


If you’re using a particular picture as part of a poetry-writing exercise, it needs to be large enough so the class can focus on any details you’re mentioning, or that takes their interest.

Tip 4: photocopy pictures and get them enlarged.


After much thinking and sorting, and clarifying a scaffolding process with my friend and writing colleague Lorraine Marwood, I began to devise the six one-and-a-half-hour poetry-writing sessions.

I tend to over prepare!

Tip 5: however, it can take the stress out of the actual session if you have more material than less.


One of the writing processes I used involved 5 steps:

1. Brainstorm a personal situation that involved water in any form.

2.Do a fast-write based on the ideas generated in the brainstorm.

3.Underline any phrases or ideas that may potentially become part of the poem.

4.Next set them down in poetry format – leaving the rest of the writing.

5.Shuffle those selected phrase - add, delete or expand to create the first draft of a poem.

I demonstrated.

First I began by brainstorming an idea on the board.

Next I explained my brainstorming and how each phrase was connected to the anecdote I intended using as the basis of the poem – about once being aboard a boat in a fog-bound bay in Hong Kong. I emphasised the sensory aspects, the details, and my feelings in that situation.

I then did a fast-write while the children did their brainstorming.

I held up my rough, scrawled page of fast-write, emphasising that at this stage we were creating a bank of thoughts and mind-images. I showed them how messy my page was. I didn’t stop to rub out or correct or check spelling. I wrote as I remembered - as clearly as I could.

They then did their fast-write while I began to underline any phrase or line that drew my interest. Later I wrote up several lines to show how I might begin the poem.


Several days later I looked at the writing I’d done at the workshop and decided, for my own interest, to proceed with the fog poem. Many drafts later I finished. Here it is:

Whiskery mist

Island boat moored in bay

breathing in-and-out grey morning tide

oily water licks its sides

while whiskery mist slips and slopes

down gangplank.

Island boat putters

sputters, nosing through

the dim shroud

of sea-meets-sky

a great soft cat with hushed paws

blurring, furring

furring, blurring till

a shriek rips the mist

fog horn



Island boat heaves about, crouches

moors again

breathing in-and-out grey morning tide until


the great soft cat stretches and

slinks away.



  1. Hi Janeen,

    Great breakdown of the process of preparing...all that work to make it appear effortless!

    Love the poem too

  2. Thanks Claire! I was able to use other processes as well. It was fun . . . but tiring!! Glad you liked the poem.


  3. So glad these workshops went so well and you scored poems too- wonderful!

  4. Love your poem Janeen. And these are such excellent ideas for anyone who wants to encourage kids to write poetry!

  5. Thanks Susan- and your support is always so wonderful!