national poetry day - Forward Arts Foundation
NATIONAL POETRY DAY
THURSDAY 8 OCTOBER 2015
secondary classroom resources
National Poetry Day, 8 October 2015, is a nationwide celebration of poetry: a day to think of a
poem and brighten life by sharing it. Everyone is invited: everywhere the starting point is you.
This year’s theme is Light, so let poetry shine from the nation’s streets, shops, trains,
playgrounds, schools, airwaves through events, chants, songs, parties, happenings,
conversations, broadcasts, tweets and spontaneous uncontrollable outbursts of verse.
Use the hashtags #nationalpoetryday and #thinkofapoem to share your celebration in
pictures, words, music and film.
National Poetry Day is 21 years old this year: it is run by the Forward Arts Foundation, a
charity that celebrates poetry and promotes it as part of everyday life. We award the
annual Forward Prizes for Poetry and publish the Forward Book of Poetry, an indispensable
anthology of the year’s best poems.
These teaching resources, on the theme of Light, are produced by Forward Arts Foundation
and its partners for National Poetry Day 2015. They are available at
Executive Director, Forward Arts Foundation
Conception and production
by Thirteen Ways
Illustrations throughout by
Matthew The Horse
L is for Lies About Light
Create a group poem using metaphors, sounds and emotions to describe different elements of
light. You’re going to tell some lies about light!
Take the words ‘the Sun’, ‘fireworks’ and ‘candlelight’ as your starting point.
Now all you need to do is tell a lie about each of these words.
Start each line with the thing you’re describing:
Lies About Light
Then think about some questions you might ask yourself
to describe these:
If the Sun could speak what would it say?
What would it know?
If candlelight could read what would it say?
What would fireworks say if they could whisper?
Look at these examples and think up some of your own:
The Sun knows night is coming
Candlelight reads poetry in the comfy chair in the corner
What do fireworks think of you?
What does the Sun sound like?
Think about things like: stealing, secrets, favourite colours,
treasure, shoes, coats – these are all good things to get in the
Come up with some other sources of light and give them the
same treatment. Write at least 10 lines, then read them out to the
rest of the group.
An activity by Kate Clanchy and
First Story for National Poetry Day
Together all the lines can be formed into a poem about Light –
listen to each person’s lines, then form everyone’s lines together
into the best order (e.g. starting with ‘The Sun is the beginning
of all things’ and ending with ‘Candlelight crumples around itself
into nothingness’). Then you can perform the poem as a group in
its finished form.
I is for Images and
Bringing Light to Life
Drawing on art for inspiration, each poet will select one of these types of light:
starlight, electric light, neon light or firelight.
Everyone will pick one of these and portray their chosen type of light as an invented
imaginary character, describing his or her powers and influence on the world.
Take a look at these
pictures and think about
how each artist explores
light with colour, setting,
Select which type of
light you would like to
transform into a
character, and then ask
yourself three questions
Go through your draft
poem and use the
following tips to redraft
and refine your poem:
The following poems, by
young poets, look at
similar ideas and objects.
What do you think of
by Vincent Van Gogh
shows the sheer physical
force of starlight
by Edward Hopper
an electric-lit diner at night
Cave Art of Chauvet Cave
was painted when firelight
was integral in making the
work come alive
An activity by Mandy Coe for The
Poetry Society, for National Poetry Day
Each artist captures how a
specific type of light can
alter mood and narrative.
Jot down a few words
inspired by each picture.
How does your
through the world?
What effect does your
character have on his
or her surroundings?
What does he or she
Turn these thoughts into
a first draft of a poem.
Your poems can refer to
the paintings and imagine
other scenes too. Don’t
worry too much about
form or structure just yet.
If you need to give your
poem some shape, try
grouping ideas into
Make your writing vivid
by including sound,
movement, smells and
statements and speech.
detailed and accurate
rather than vague or
Consider what tone
suits your character
best. Think about the
verbs and adjectives
you’ve used. Do they
suit your character?
As you work, read your
poem aloud - this
will help you hear the
rhythms and ‘see’ the
by Nat Norland
by Lisa Clarkson
G is for Glow
Simon Barraclough’s collection Sunspots shines a spotlight on the ultimate source of light in our
galaxy: the Sun.
In this poem the letters are scattered across the page to reflect the solar system and the Sun’s
place at the centre of it. Barraclough has changed the placement of words in this poem to play
around with an otherwise common phrase, a feature of the calligram poem.
Now look at these different examples of calligrams
and shape poems. What are the poets trying to
achieve with these layouts? Do you think that they are
Swan and Shadow, by John Hollander
Easter Wings, by George Herbert
40-Love, by Roger McGough
Now you’ve looked at some, try creating your own
A calligram is a poem which uses letters or words to create a
visual image. Guillaume Apollinaire, an experimental French poet,
popularised the calligram form. He invented the word, which is
a combination of ‘calligraphy’ and ‘telegram’. In calligrams, the
shape of the poem is just important as the words it contains.
An activity by Poetry Book Society for
National Poetry Day
Have a look at his calligram of ‘The Eiffel Tower’ which plays with
the design and placement of words to both create the shape of
the Eiffel Tower and poke fun at the Germans.
The words read ‘Salut monde dont je suis la langue éloquente
que sa bouche O Paris tire et tirera toujoura aux allemands’, which
means ‘Hello world where I am the eloquent tongue, which Paris
will forever stick out at the Germans.’
Start by thinking about a type of light that you
could easily illustrate – a candle, the Sun, the Moon
or a firework.
Think about a short phrase that you would like to
use. As you can see in Barraclough’s poem, it does
not necessarily need to be about light.
Now have some fun playing with the phrase and
turning it into something that can represent your
chosen light source.
When typing it onto the computer, think about how
you might use different font sizes to emphasise the
meaning of your phrase.
H is for Hallelujah!
Martin Daws wrote the poem “Hallelujah! She Is Born” in response to the brief for this project:
to write a poem on the theme of Light, focussing on the the letter H.
Hallelujah! She Is Born
The creative process
She holds healing light in her two hands
extends a gentle tenderness
soft cupped to catch my tears
To write the poem he thought
about what light meant to him, and
wrote a list of words beginning with
H that could be related to a
concept of light.
On an A4 piece of paper, follow the
same creative process as Martin:
She calls me to go back
home to her
let out the hurt
gift my truth
in her I’m blessed
her palms sing psalms
illuminated hand on heart redemption
a sparkled path before me
halos round my head
This list included;
An activity by Martin Daws for Literature
Wales, for National Poetry Day
All the pain and past dissolves
timelessness this love like light
outlasts the dark a thousand times
she’s making day break in me
clearing skies for blue to shine
Choose a letter of your own from
the word Light
Make a list of words beginning
with that letter that can relate to
the word Light
Write some lines about Light
using some of these words
Edit them into a poem
Doing this gave Martin the idea to
write a poem on the theme of a
healing woman, or light worker,
who heals with her hands.
Hallelujah! She is born
Think about what Light means to
He wrote the first line using the
words holds, healing, her and
hands. As the poem progresses
Martin uses fewer H words.
Why do you think that is?
T is for Transformation
Jacob Polley’s poem looks at the way the Sun can be transformed into honey. It is about how
you can hold the Sun in a jar. It uses the simile of a jar of honey as a light bulb and asks you to
hold it up to the light. As honey, light takes on a weight.
A Jar of Honey
You hold it like a lit bulb,
a pound of light,
and swivel the stunned glow
around the fat glass sides:
For this exercise I want you to think
about all of the ways in which
sunlight can transform.
Now you have sunlight in your
hands, I want to imagine yourself
walking around on a dark day.
I am going to give you a series of
things to imagine. After each of
these, I would like you to write the
first thoughts that come into your
head even if they make no sense.
Write for about five minutes.
You have the power to touch
anything, anywhere in the world with
a drop of sunlight.
I want you to imagine you are
capturing sunlight in a jar.
Now go to the sink, or to a river, or
to the sea and wash your hands of
the remains of the sunlight.
it’s the sun, all flesh and no bones
but for the floating knuckle
attesting to the nature of the struggle.
by Jacob Polley
from The Brink (Picador, 2008)
The second stanza tells us it wasn’t
an easy transformation and asks us to
consider the process of the making.
An activity by Helen Ivory for the
Writers’ Centre Norwich, for National
The poem uses the metaphor of a
knuckle to show us this struggle,
pointing us in the direction of the
hardworking bees who made the
honey from the flowers which need
light to grow.
How would you do this?
Do you have helpers, like bees?
Where would you go to trap the
Now you have the sunlight, I want
you to imagine pouring it into your
How would it pour - slow like
honey? Splashily like lemon juice?
How would it feel, holding
sunlight in your hands?
What would it smell of?
What would you touch?
What would happen to the things
that you touch?
What does it look like mixed with
Read back what you’ve written and
pick out your favourite parts from
each section. You should have the
makings of perhaps four stanzas,
which you can think about drafting
and refining with your teacher’s help.