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!

 

 

 

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Robin Williams and poetry

Who could resist poetry after watching Dead Poet’s Society? This wonderful, moving film shows what happens when a group of students find themselves inspired by their English teacher, played by Robin Williams.

He urges them to cast off an analytical approach to poetry, which attempts to measure the effectiveness of a poem using a graph, and think about the beauty of the words; how they make you feel.

If you haven’t seen the film, watch this memorable clip.

In this scene, he inspires a reluctant student to think creatively and find the poetic voice within him.

If you are teaching at secondary level, what better way to encourage students – especially boys – to consider poetry in a positive light?

And what can one say about Robin Williams? A truly great actor.

Can you think of any other movies which would encourage students to write, read or perform poetry? I’d be interested to hear from you.

 

Let no one steal your dreams by Paul Cookson

I used to encourage my class to follow their dreams. I used to ask them to think of what they wanted to become – a great inventor, a doctor, a professor, a teacher, a designer, an actor, a musician… and inevitably a footballer. I told them about people I knew who had followed their dreams, no matter what setbacks they might have faced.

Once we had shared our different dreams, I asked the children to think about how they might get there. What do they have to do now to succeed in achieving that dream? I was trying to get across the idea that everything they do now, at school and at home, can play a part in the journey towards that dream. Yes, I was trying to get them to think about working hard and behaving well, but I also wanted them to consider the bigger picture and how their lives could contribute to making the world a better place.

If someone wanted to be a footballer or a wrestler, then fair enough – but I did try to suggest other occupations which might benefit the world, and also to try to break down gender expectations and move away from stereotypes.

This poem, by Paul Cookson, picks up beautifully on this idea. It is perfect for a PSHE lesson looking at jobs and growing up. It is also perfect for one of those introductory lessons when pupils meet their new teacher and are looking ahead to a new school year. This is how the poem begins:

Let no one steal your dreams
Let no one tear apart
The burning of ambition
That fires the drive inside your heart.

Let no one steal your dreams
Let no one tell you that you can’t
Let no one hold you back
Let no one tell you that you won’t.

Here is a link to the full text which can be downloaded.

Here is an unusual video performance of this poem:

Here is a video of poet Paul Cookson performing another of his poems in a workshop with children:

Suggested activities
1. Ask children to think about being grown up. What will they be doing? How can they make the world a better place?
2. Share these ideas. Then consider: what do I have to do now to make that dream come true?
3. Share with them some well-known people who have fulfilled their dreams. Ensure there are positive images of females within the selection and a good mix of cultures. Try to avoid the obvious (David Beckham etc).
4. Work towards a class performance of the poem.
5. Ask each child to write their dream down and list three things they need to do this year to make it come true. Seal these in an envelope and open them on the last day of term.