The Uncertainty of the Poet by Wendy Cope

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Wendy Cope

This poem is a great example of wordplay. It encourages children to experiment with language and the results can be very funny. It is said that the poem is based on the painting, Uncertainty of the Poet by Giorgio de Chirico (see below).

Wendy Cope (born 1945) begins with a simple verse:

I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

She then uses the same ten words in all the following verses – but changes the order and the sense, and throws in the odd extra bit of punctuation. For instance, her second verse is:

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

Pretty clever, yes? As the verses develop, they become increasingly bizarre until the final verse reads:

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?

Suggested activities

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Uncertainty of the Poet by Giorgio de Chirico

First, have fun with reading and performing the poem. Can the children get what is going on? If there were a rule for this poem, what would it be? There are eight verses, so split the class into eight groups and get them to memorise and perform their two lines. Try it in different orders, different voices, different volumes. Put the emphasis on different words.

Then try getting the children to write their own verse. We need two statements and they can only use ten words. For instance…

I am a swimmer.
I like to pat my dog.

Then ask them to write more verses using only those words. They are only allowed to change the punctuation. Who can write the most verses? On this occasion, some artwork could be created to accompany the finished versions (though poetry does NOT need to have decorated borders ordinarily).

The full text of the poem can be found here.

41sAbATNtDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This poem appears in this excellent collection, Best Poems on the Underground.

 

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A poem is a city by Charles Bukowski

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Charles Bukowski

One of my favourite poets is Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994).

For anyone who hasn’t read either his poetry or his novels, Bukowski could possibly be described as Tom Waits without the music.

You are probably wondering what he is doing on a website which recommends poetry for Key Stage 1, 2 or 3 children. Well, I think something can be done with some of his wonderful poems – providing they are carefully selected. One example as: A poem is a city.

This is a great opportunity for young people to be as creative as they like, by thinking: What is a poem? What can it be?

The answer is: anything – and that description of anything by children could be very exciting. Take the opening of Bukowski’s poem:

a poem is a city filled with streets and sewers
filled with saints, heroes, beggars, madmen,
filled with banality and booze,
filled with rain and thunder and periods of
drought, a poem is a city at war,
a poem is a city asking a clock why,
a poem is a city burning,
a poem is a city under guns
its barbershops filled with cynical drunks,
a poem is a city where God rides naked
through the streets like Lady Godiva,
where dogs bark at night, and chase away
the flag; a poem is a city of poets,
most of them quite similar
and envious and bitter …
a poem is this city now,

The full text of the poem is here (but remember to edit some lines out – sorry, Charles)

Suggested activities

You could try giving each of these images to a child and asking them to draw one (you could live without God riding naked, perhaps!) Imagine, though, the dogs barking a night, the city burning, a city filled with rain and thunder. Imagine putting all these pictures together on a wall and creating a landscape for this poem. The teacher could point to the picture and encourage the class to remember the phrase that inspired it.

Obviously, you have to be selective about some of Bukowski’s images but you could go with at least three-quarters of them. Think about “small music from broken windows” and “small men rant at things”. Brilliant images.

From your collage, ask the children to dream up a few images each about what a poem could be. It is SO EASY for them to write this poem. Then, put them into groups and run the images together in order. Once they’re happy with it, get the groups to perform the poem.

What a great lesson!