Poems are personal and represent an individual perspective. Each has as many possible interpretations as the grains of sand or the shape of a shell on the beach. Poetry offers different entry points for creativity – from reading to drafting to writing.
To encourage students to believe that they are creative, help them make creative decisions using poetry. Read some strategies suggested by Ross Clark during his Masterclass I attended in July. Ross Clark’s Writing Poetry Masterclass
Poetry can also be used to foster creative writing through discussion of word choices and language features. Recently, my Preliminary class used two poems by Deb Westbury – shells and Dapto dressing up – as stimulus for writing about journey.
Choose poems that lend themselves to interesting interpretations and positive links for your students. At Lake Illawarra High, we are blessed to be near many beaches and have an understanding of the suburb of Dapto – Westbury became familiar with the suburb when visiting her grandmother and later, through her teaching at Dapto TAFE.
shells is interesting because of its structure, even though it is free verse. Students understand the narrative and can track the shifting tone from the freedom and joy of youth through to the diminishing physicality of aging. Many students can reflect on memories of the beach, and even recall specific events from different ages. Once discussions about who, what, where and when have opened creative opportunities, we then looked at the specific features Westbury has used. For example, how is the increasing negativity revealed in the fourth verse? Through repetition and listing and alliteration and word choice and juxtaposition. All of these features can be effectively used in prose to further a particular idea WITHOUT TELLING. Incorporating features into imaginative writing means that the narrative is showing the reader and allowing them to understand the story in their own way.
We then considered the who, what, when, where of Dapto dressing up where Westbury personifies a place. Again, a free verse poem with minimal capitalisation, Dapto dressing up has used interesting words to create an image of a perhaps desperate middle aged woman trying to extend her attractiveness. Students need to consider why a particular word was used: why does ‘aubergine’ work better with ‘deep bruising’ than purple? Is it because of the earlier use of ‘turquoise’ and ‘peacock’ which create an exotic and unique image? Are we asked to consider the unique qualities of beauty?
Then, as always the challenge: actually writing. Students needed to:
- choose a place to personify. Consider its unique qualities – would it be male of female? what age? what emotions would they display?
- develop a word bank – write down every idea. Be surprised by the different avenues your mind wanders down …
- use specific language features to create an image – similes are more easily achieved, metaphors are trickier. Aim to write down the first ideas, which are usually cliches, then adapt into more original ideas eg. as ‘cold as ice’ could become ‘as cold as a freezer’ which could become ‘freezer-like cold’
- think of a specific childhood memory and create a word bank – aim for emotions and specific sensual details of the event, such as colour, sounds, food, clothing and textures. Consider looking at my Memory Makes Us story below as an example of writing about two different events using a song as a linking device or motif.
How do all these ideas work together? Give students structure to begin their narrative. Remind them that writing about ‘journey’ doesn’t mean they should document a series of actions like buying a ticket, getting on a train, sitting with passengers … Consider some of these instructions:
- begin with a single sentence that engages the reader by creating a sense of mystery, such as the opening line Music memory makes me, more than any other.
- write four sentences of rich description about place – use elements of personification if possible
- identify two techniques not used and begin another paragraph with these – perhaps onomatopoeia? dialogue? shift in tone?
- introduce an element of journey – try and play with sentence length
- introduce elements of the memory – try to maintain mystery
I modelled words and ideas on the board based on the south coast town of Narooma, which I saw as a female. My recollections and overall tone tended toward the positive.
bridge old people tight community quiet
ridges Blues festival oysters
winding road – made me think of the winding roads in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh
My first draft, written during class while students were also writing, reads like this:
She came to recall that summer as a watershed moment.
Emerging from the winding road, she caught a glimpse of sparkling blue. Water winking brightly – an overwhelming welcome and warmth. the trees spread across sweeping lawns, linking arms in a cheerful embrace. A deep sigh escaped her smiling lips.
Swoosh! Seagulls dipping toward the wharf and crying their delight with each passing.
At last. After five ling hours of bumping and snoring and aching to arrive. If that old man didn’t finally stop snoring, I would have shoved my fist in his mouth. shake off the anger and breathe deeply.
This will do.
Her first trip to the coast – staying for days in the Log Cabin Hotel. Sea. Sun. Sand. And the whole family, of course. Mum said to go and fill the jug with water to make cordial. The cabin was connected to a water tank: all the wriggling larvae ended up swirling and squirming through the glass.
We skipped and danced through the sunset. The septic tank hard concrete base became our stage. A long wooden staircase took up the whole length of the lounger room.
“Yech, I’m not drinking that!” Smashed glass shattered as she jumped backward, splashing green across the lino.
“Come here. Wrigglers. That reminds me – let’s get some worms.”
what now? growing older … I’m taking my kids to their first beach holiday. AND their going to go fishing
Walking from the bus stop, she passed the men yelling to each other. Boxes slapping onto the wharf.
Dead fish eyes. Cringing. Stepping widely away and slipping slightly. a strong arm grabbed her as she began falling.
a sentence of simile and shift
then twist the memory into a more negative tone
It became increasingly difficult to maintain my idea whilst delivering instructions to the class. Hopefully, I’ll tighten this and include a more polished piece soon – especially since I’ll be heading south in the holidays …
Both poems were published in Westbury’s anthology titled Mouth to Mouth and were previously on the HSC Prescriptions for Standard English. I include both poems here.
on some beaches
the shells collect
in undulating tidelines
across the sand
on others they’re coloured grit
between the toes
or piled up in midden mounds
against the dunes
as a child you explored
the rock platforms
at the far ends of those beaches
ignoring the pain of feet lacerated
by oyster shells and periwinkles
you found each rockpool a miracle
rock enfolding form
shells enclosing life
the infinite horizon of the sea
and the wind that came from everywhere
tugging at your buttons
exposing you to all that
grown up now and growing old
investing what you have left
in fibro aluminium and canvas
the tide of your youthful dreams
your working life
carried you this far out
a hundred miles from Sydney
or as far as you could imagine
leaving you to form colonies
with the aging playmates
of summers past
clustered like limpets
where the land ends
and the sea begins
at housie at cards
at the club
at the everlasting barbecues
dull drunken domestic
bliss and the fishing
the flapping of annexes
loose in the wind
cancers and cars
sometimes night calls a truce
and the elements abate
in this silence
you can hear the tide change
the inlet emptying into the sea
with your ear to the shell
you can hear the echo
of your own breath
in the diminishing spiral chambers
of your heart
Dapto dressing up
the sky at dusk
over the escarpment
is turquoise or peacock
she wants to wear short skirts
while her legs still look good
the earth smells warm
after the rain
Dapto is beautiful tonight
because the trees grow here too
and the sky is turquoise
with silver spangles
the lights of the mines
and the traffic
up and over
the colour of aubergines
and deep bruising
dusk is laid low
and becomes night.