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Member Blog: Vivien Hamilton on Teaching Poetry to Teenagers

Posted on October 30 2017

The first in a new series of blog pieces from PBS members

If I’d said, a few weeks ago to my new class of teenage boys in care, we are going to write poetry, I think they may have sniggered. Instead we played the surrealist game of ‘exquisite corpses’, resulting in a very amusing but quite superb piece of poetry.  They were hooked.

They realised they could write anything and not be judged or questioned.  They could be funny and witty and deep and soulful all at the same time and most importantly they realised that they could write about often-traumatic experiences undercover of images, metaphors and analogies.

We have looked at Eliot’s, ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, Munro’s, ‘Living’ and Duffy’s ‘Snow’ all of which deeply resonated with them and the poems they wrote in response were quite astonishing.   Our newest class member who has joined us after spending a year on a secure psychiatric ward wrote, in response to Munro, a poem describing how,  ‘My shapeless body lumbers around the room looking for meaning.’  And ZT, wrote about being afraid of nights, and ‘the footsteps.’ C.B’s macabre Christmas poem is a metaphor for something quite different but the beauty is they are not really telling any one anything specific or concrete about themselves. 

I have given them tiny moleskin notebooks to slip into their blazer pockets to write ideas as they come and every morning I am greeted with, ‘I’ve written a poem miss,’ or I read ‘Pascale Petit’ last night. It has only been 3 weeks and we are starting an after school poetry club.

My best smile came when I overheard one of the lads asking another if he’d watched anything on television last night and he replied, ‘No, I was writing poetry’.

- Vivien Hamilton, PBS Education Member.

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