Friday, 23 September 2016

Museum Workshop

Writing Children’s Poems
Workshop with Helen Clare

1.              Poemlets.     
Find 3 or 4 objects which inspire you. Take time to look at them properly. Think about the other senses too. Think about the object’s history. Answer these three questions. (No need to try to rhyme or be deliberately poetic)

What do we say about the object?
What does the object say about itself?
What does it really mean?

There are examples on a separate sheet.

2.              Bring your poemlets back to share.

3.              Find a phrase you like that you can build a poem from

The easiest way to do this is to make your phrase the last line of each verse. Make the verses as long or as short as you want.

Your verses can rhyme or not. If you want them to rhyme you might want to shift your last line around to make it easier. There are rhyming dictionaries provided or try There are also some sheets that help you rhyme.

There are more complicated forms such as villanelle or triolet in the books provided (or look online) if you’re feeling ambitious.

There are examples on separate sheets.

Don't forget you can share your poems as comments on this thread, or ask for help if you need it. 

Poemlet Examples

Maharajah: walked 200 miles from Edinburgh to Belle Vue zoo in 1872

Look at my huge feet, how easily they carry my weight.
It was a long way. It has been a long time.

Spice Racks: India 1865, wood

I have treasures. I have secrets.
Spin me fast enough and my pods pop off, fizz like stars.

Bark Cloth: made of beaten Masi stems, stencilled, Fiji, before 1942

Roll me out. I will hold your nights and your days, your lives and your children.
I will whisper to you in my patterns, sing the wind in the Masi.

Chinese Dish, Porcelain and enamel, decorated with bats and long life symbols, for export

Sprinkle me with leaves, lay me with fruit.
I am yellow like the sun. I came across the miles. I was always here.

Helmet: metal, Iran, donated 1946 

I was Persia, the Orient, Asia Minor.
I was war, death, dignity, defence.

Head-dress: Manchu, China, Kingfisher feather, bamboo, silk, more than 60 years old. 

I know your greatness. I will make you great in the eyes of the world.
I am pain - the kingfisher, the oyster, the silkworm, the hands that cut. Did you think it could be otherwise?

Iron Core of Meteorite:  Campo del Cielo (Field of Heaven) Argentina, 16th Century. 

I am alien. I am earth.
We are all spacedust.

Jaw: Hammerhead Shark

It was only ever hunger, life.
When there were nerves, this mouth knew the whole world which spewed into it.

Cabinet of Tiny Fossils: 19th Century Collection

I am the deep history of the earth. Collected, ordered, classified.
The earth resists this project. It flirts with chaos, comes back to us giggling with surprises.

Plaster Cast of Dog buried in Ash: Vesuvious, Italy

I am every dog, scratching his back. I didn't see it coming.
I might have followed you, begged for scraps, licked your face. I have smelly breath.

Green Tree Python: Modified muscles, prehensile tail, climbs trees, sleeps during the day, head tucked in the middle of its coils, bites, Australian rain forest. 

This is my tree. I have not moved all week.
I am more threatened than threatening. Let me sleep.

Fragments of Pottery: Archaeological interpretation and analysis. 

Each one of us was part of something, a jar, a dish, a cup.
Our mismatched fragments become a new whole.

Frog and duck weights: Mesopotamia, 2-3rd Millenia BC

The balance, the baking, the baggies. I am your history too.
How might it be not to apportion - mass, time, value, love?

Examples of poems using patterns of repetition


When the night is cold and you’ve far to go
the rain will rain and the wind will blow.
You’ve a cloak of velvet over sleeves of lace,
and it’s my job to pin that cloak in place.

I’m beautifully crafted, bejewelled and gold,
your nobility’s shown and need not be told.
I’m precious enough to signal your grace
for it’s my job to pin you in your rightful place

Peasants and merchants can never own me -
the law won’t let them, though they’re told they’re free.
They may make their money, they can’t join the race
as it’s my job to pin them into their place.

The up will stay up and the down will stay down
The poor will stay poor and the king keep his crown.
Perched on your shoulder, right next to your face,
it’s my job to pin the world into place.

With a big furry body and a skull on my back
I surprise you, when summer turns to gold.
Do you know what kind of journey I’ve made?
Do you wonder what kind of luck I hold?

Do you know I hover? Do you know I squeak?
That I smell of bees and hide in their hives?
Do you know of all the places I’ve been?
The luck I’ve had living all those lives?

Have you been to the tip of Italy,
Have you been to the highest points in Spain
Where my caterpillars feed on potato plants?
Luckily their bites don’t cause you much pain…

Do you know that I burrow when I pupate
That I change my form within the earth
And emerge with wings and a nectar tube?
Metamorphosis. The luck of rebirth.

Do you know I fly over land and sea?
That I visit just briefly when the time is right
When the sun by your home sits high in the sky?
That you’ll be lucky to catch a sight?

Do you know they said that the devil made me?
That I brought hunger and war? I am taboo?
There’s some kind of luck in my skull and my squeak.
But which kind of luck is up to you.

The Time Traveller

The hardest part is standing still ,
though I’ve been waiting all of my life to die,
for the blow of the axe that’ll smash my skull.
To travel I need to feel the thrill.

An animal’s stringy bit’s wrapped round my throat –
I’m dizzied with a pull on the tourniquet
then lighter as it’s loosened to let the blood flow.
To travel I need to feel my head bloat.

It takes a fair few hacks to get through my neck.
The axe wedges in bone and has to be yanked
back out, is lifted again and  falls with a crack
To travel I need to give into black.

My brains rot to soggy in a Salford bog,
The peat’s soaked in and tinged my skin
the colour of a dried up tangerine
To travel I need to sleep through the fog.

For two thousand years, folk walk past
The words they speak, are a strange music,
with a meaning that I can never grasp.
To travel I only need to last.

The Celts walk by and the Romans walk by
The Saxons walk by and the Vikings walk by
The Normans walk by and the Tudors walk by
To travel I only need to lie.

They farm their flocks and they farm their crops
and they build their houses and they build their homes
and they build their factories and they build their cities
And my waiting never stops,

until I’m discovered by a peat-cutter’s blade
and I’m pickled and scanned and placed in a case
and my blue glass eyes are confused and afraid
Because it’s time that moved while I stayed.

Things change

We really thought we’d always be fish
and then the ancestors went and grew legs
hardly more than fins, tough enough
to take their weight as they crawled
onto the earth and used their little lungs
and before we knew it we were frogs.
Things change.

We really thought we’d be just a few
amphibians, in the shallows
the land was ours, full of plants
and no-one to eat us (except us)
and the air was wet and warm.
There were millions of us
and toads, newts, salamanders
and the blind ones. We ruled the world.
Things change.

Dinosaurs came. We got crafty
hid under rocks and in the cups
of plants. We changed our colours
to be the colour of light on leaves
or sour yellows and reds
to put them off. We learned
to ooze poison from our skins.
Things change.

And me, the Golden Mantella,
I have lived my lives in the swamps
of Madagascar, where they fell
my forests and drain my ponds
so they can farm and mine.
They build cities and squeeze me
into the small spaces in between.
They sell me as pets.
There’s not many of me now.
Things change. People change things.

You’ll find me too in zoos and museums,
click-clicking for a mate
in the artificial mists, laying my spawn
to hatch into tiny tadpoles.
Come and visit me.
Watch carefully, you’ll see
my membranes flicker. Wait and I’ll jump.
Soon, they’ll take me home, release me.
Maybe I’ll be numerous again.
Things change. People change things.

How big is a dinosaur egg?

Just how big is a dinosaur egg?
Is it bigger than a nutmeg?
As big as a potato?
As big as a tomato?
As big as a plate, Oh?!

Just how tall is a dinosaur egg?
Is it taller than your leg?
As tall as a street light?
Is it higher than the Dolomites?
Higher than the flight
of a runaway kite?

Just how heavy is a dinosaur egg?
Is it as heavy as a beer keg?
As heavy as my chubby cat,
As heavy as a leaden hat?
As heavy as a falling acrobat
going splat?

Just how wide is a dinosaur egg?
Is it wide as Winnipeg?
Is it wide as your settee?
Wide as the beaches in Torquay?
Wider than a very wide wide-screen tv?

Tell me now, don’t make me beg,
Just how big is a dinosaur egg? 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Meditation on Migration

From the beginning of this project, the gallery that has enticed me the most has been the Money Gallery. For a start it’s the quietist – many people are so enchanted by the live amphibians and reptiles that they don’t notice there’s anything beyond. Even better, the way through was blocked during most of the project due to building work, so you had to know which back stairs to go up. It’s also one of the least interpreted galleries, which in tandem with the quiet makes it a good space for meditation.

But it’s more than that. Right from the beginning I sensed that you couldn’t think about migration without thinking about money, although this was so much a gut feeling that I’ve struggling to find the rational bones of it.

Certainly from the earliest history of our species, people have travelled to to find the things they need or to exchange things. That much is obvious. None of our ancestors found food or water or shelter by staying in one spot. But there must have been a time when they began to farm and build and store when they began to travel less.

From the start there was someone who filled their knapsack and crossed the mountains – or filled the barrels that filled their boat and crossed the sea. Who knows what proportions of need, greed or curiosity motivated them, but it seems something as fundamental to our human species as the Deaths Head Moth making its journey North from Southern Europe each year.

So from being a people who moved around, we become a species where just some of us move around. Just as we become a species in which just some of us build, and just some of us farm, and just some of us raise children. But those people that move round are fulfilling that function for all of us. They’re bringing us things we need, they’re selling what we’ve got a surplus of, and they’re sharing information about the world.

Now of course we’ve divided the labour even more. There are a dozen other groups of people that move the stuff we sell and buy, and even more that share the information round. So we all get to be a little more still and everything comes to us. And the people that travel come to sell us their labour rather than their goods. But is there really that much difference. The beans we buy from Kenya aren’t just beans. They are the labour of the people that planted and nourished them, picked them and flew them to us. Our phones are the often cheap labour of the people who mined for minerals and assembled them (and I’m a bit sketchy about the rest to be honest!).

The second part of this argument comes from a different gallery. I spent some time speaking with Phil the entomology co-ordinator talking about insect migration. There are a lot of butterflies and moths which used to just visit us seasonally – but which now stay here all year round and breed here – because our climate is getting warmer.

Is this a problem I ask? Do they compete with our native species, many of whom are under threat? Is there anything we do about this? I’m a Botanist by trade. I know about Oxford Ragword and Japanese knotweed. Phil pointed out that by and large our efforts to control insect species backfire on us. Pesticides usually end up killing or damaging the insects we don’t want to damage. Biological control hasn’t turned out to be as clever as we thought either – think how cane toads, introduced to kill insects that fed on the sugar cane have become a pest themselves in Australia and the Caribbean.

And of course it makes perfect sense. If we want to stop this happening we have to deal with global warming. If we want to protect our native insects we have to look after their habitats.

You probably don’t need me to draw the line back to human migration. Human beings have always moved around. Now many of us don’t, it’s money that moves as our proxy. Underlying those movements of people, desperate of hopeful, is the movement of money around the globe. Yes, it’s because of war too, but peel back the grotesque veneer of war and someone’s being impoverished and someone’s being enriched.

Building walls and dragging people kicking and screaming onto aircraft are as pointless and self-defeating as introducing cane toads.  If you want to balance out migration, you have to balance out global financial inequality. And funnily enough as you do so, you’ll probably do help balance out the carbon dioxide level and save a few polar bears into the bargain.  

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Aaaargh Dinosaurs! with Dommy B

Dominic who's been such a help on this project, reflecting on my writing with me and working with me on my performance, has a new show touring - and coming to Salford on September 23rd. I haven't seen this one but Dom's shows are well worth watching, with plenty of giggles for grown-ups as well as children.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Weeks 31-33

The posts are getting fewer and farther between and soon this page will be archived and replaced with this one: That's mostly because the main thing happening at the moment is me hammering away on the keyboard and learning my lines.

In the meantime, there are a few things you should know: there's a preview of the show at the museum on Wednesday 26th October, the teacher's pack has been drafted and is ready to be reviewed by Tania, my colleague at Sustain Education, and we've a filming day with Jason booked next month to create films of two of the poems to be featured on youtube.

So here are the details of that preview - also featured on the Juice from Oranges, Rocks from Space page. Please do book as numbers are limited.

Juice from Oranges, Rocks from Space
Wed 26 Oct
11.30am - 12.15pm & 1.30-2.15pm
A new poetry performance from Helen Clare, about exhibits from around the museum; where they came from and the journey they’ve made. There will be happy poems, sad poems, gory poems and fun poems – and opportunities for children to join in and create too.
Find out about the giant carved tusk, a moth, bloodworms, a man who was murdered and left to rot in a bog, a Greek God, Stan the T. Rex, and an ancient rock from outer space. 
For children aged 8-12 and their parents/carers

Friday, 5 August 2016

Week 27-31

Today, as I chatted to Jenny on reception I stood feet, possibly inches away from the woman who unwrapped one of the mummies on display in the Ancient Worlds gallery. I ought to make that the over-arching metaphor of this blog, but in truth I mention it just because it's so unbelievably cool, and even though I don't really like the mummies I find it exciting in a way that's almost certainly uncool.

It's also been a notable day today because it was Debbie's last day. Debbie's been a crucial part of the project since the beginning helping to facilitate my needs and support the production of materials for the Learning Team. She's going back into school to work full time as a secondary Drama teacher. She'll be great! Good luck Debbie!

We met in the cafe for celebratory cake but Debbie was a bit green around the gills after her leaving do last night so Cat and I tucked into Red Velvet cake.

It's been a while since my last blog, not because I've been doing nothing but because we seem to have reached the stage where there's a lot of beavering behind the scenes.

We retrialled the Trading Words activity with one of our schools and edited that - so that's more or less finished. I've also worked on teacher instructions for turning the children's sentences from the activity into a class poem. And the Dinosaur egg activity is also now written up. Hopefully a member of staff is going to take a look at some of the design elements because that's really not my strong suit!

Dominic and I have been working hard on the script - which is now a script - with words and staging and everything. We had a really productive rehearsal session on Tuesday. I think I've got away without jokes - although there's a new dinosaur poem about Stan the T,Rex, which is fun, if not actually funny (I think it's funny, mind you, but that's not a guarantee of much!)

My next job is to make an axe so that I can brandish it during the Worsley Man poem about a man who was murdered, probably sacrificed sometime in the 2nd century AD and spent the next couple of thousand years pickling in a Salford bog. It'll be made of foam rubber and spray paint so no children should be harmed during said brandishing.

I also need to find music - I'm having music! Something exciting to start things off with a journeying theme and something electronic for the meteorite poem. It seems strange to accompany the 'oldest thing you'll ever see' with such modern sounds - but of course we do receive radio waves from space - check out this video from NASA with the sounds of space. Again, so cool I'm decidedly uncool about it.