National Writing Day is an annual celebratory project designed to inspire people across the UK to get writing. The message is simple: everyone has a story to tell and sharing it can be a source of pleasure and power. We suggest you tell your story in a poem. The following activity is inspired by Kate Clanchy’s work with students at Oxford Spires.
Poems grow from poems. Rukiya Khatun (17), a Bengali/British teenager living in Oxford loved to read Tagore, the national poet of Bangladesh, mostly in Bengali but sometimes in English too. Her beautiful poem, My Mother Country, grew from Tagore’s poem, I Cannot Remember My Mother, Tagore’s poem is about the mother he lost when he was three; Rukiya’s is about the country she lost when she was six. Rukiya’s poem started with Tagore’s but it is also its own poem, an independent work of art.
Why not do some borrowing too, and grow your own poem
Read both poems aloud and enjoy the sounds. Neither of them rhyme, but they have very rich soundscapes and are packed with assonance.
Think of a place, or a person, that you half-remember. The house you lived in when you were small. Your great grandad. The country you once lived in.
Try to remember it with your senses. Make an informal, messy, list
What were the smells of that place or that person? Shuili flowers, tobacco smoke, creosote, fish curry…
What were the tastes….? Mango, dates, chili, baked beans, toffee apple….
What were the feelings …? Heat, cold, a comforting garment, a blanket over my toes, frost…
What were the sounds? A tune, lagoon water sizzling, birds singing, Radio 2 in the shed…
What are the important images, the pictures in your mind? The blue of the sky? The green of the grass? A door, a fire, a garden?
Find a Shape
You can borrow Rukiya’s shape:
‘– I don’t remember’, then a list.
The irony will help your poem be powerful.
Or you can borrow Tagore’s shape.
‘I can’t remember but..’
You can give a stanza to each sense, or mix them up.
Your poem can be long or short.
Be guided by the best phrases in your notes, the ones that sound good to you. Don’t push rhyme scheme onto them unless you have a very strong idea for one.
Don’t miss Kate’s book England: Poems from a School for more inspiration, and some truly unforgettable poems.