A pair of underwater poems
Junior Workshops on selected poems
by Chris Stephens
Under the ocean, where water falls
over the decks and tilted walls
where the sea comes knocking at the great ship’s door,
the band still plays
to the drum of the waves
to the drum of the waves.
Down in the indigo depths of the sea
the white shark waltzes gracefully
down the water stairway, across the ballroom floor
where the cold shoals flow,
and ghost dancers go,
ghost dancers go.
Their dresses are frayed, their shoes are lost,
their jewels and beads and bones are tossed
into the sand, all turned to stone,
as they sing in the sea
Currents comb their long loose hair,
Dancers sway forever where
The bright fish nibble their glittering bones,
Till they fall asleep
In the shivering deep,
In the shivering deep.
...It’s an unusual way of talking about the Titanic…. I like the sea, like the stronger underwater currents taking their hair away… and I like the image of the bones tossing, I can imagine a clown juggling their bones, there is a clown fish you know…. It’s all like having a scene of the fish dancing with the music…
Make a list of all the dances you know – from watching popular TV programmes such as ‘Strictly come Dancing’and ‘Strictly Dance Fever’. Using a chart or table, add adjectives, nouns and adverbial phrases to accompany each dance, trying wherever possible to include alliteration in your choice of words.
|adjective||Undersea noun||Type of dance (used as verb)||Adverb(optional)||Prepositional phrase|
|wonderful||weaverfish||waltz||wearily||across the watery waves|
Choose your best combination, and add it to a class poem, about the dancers in the Titanic ballroom.
Find out all you can about the sinking of the Titanic, particularly what went on in the ballroom. There is a lot of argument about what the band did actually play as the ocean liner sank. You could surf the net – try www. You could combine this research with finding out about the music of the times – and making an alphabetical list of all the song titles you can find from the 1910-1920 period.
Compare this ‘graveyard’ poem with some other poems on a similar theme. You might start with Gillian’s ‘What the Wood Remembers’, which tells the story of five servant girls found dead in their beds in a country house in Wales (choked by chimney fumes) and move on to ‘Full Fathom Five’ (from Shakespeare’s The Tempest).
Change the mood with some moving epitaphs (Wordsworth’s ‘She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways’ and John Pudney’s simple ‘For Johnny’ – or create your own amusing ones, to echo the poem ‘Titanic’
Here lie the bones of a dancing queen
Who never heard the sailors’ scream
Only the tune of the ragtime band
As she tightly grasped her partner’s hand.
If only she’d heeded the music’s plea,
For those in peril on the sea!
She’d be waltzing still with a rescuer brave,
Not quickstepped to a watery grave!
Examples of children’s responses in poetry
Terrifying Titanic Dances
Under the waves of a skeleton sea,
Fish gills beat to the harmony
Of quickstep, waltz and rock ‘n’ roll jive
The only creatures left alive……
Deadly dolphins disco-dance under the empty cabins.
Slow-moving starfish samba around the old rooms
Fluttering flying-fish flamenco down the rotten staircase
A robbing rockfish rock’n’rolls under the captain’s quarters
Terrifying tiger barbs tango along the tunnels of the Titanic
Wriggling weaver fish waltz through the portholes
Thin frilled sharks foxtrot across the wrecked ballroom
As a rusty red cichlid rocks around rigid regal rooms
The band plays on as the fishes dance
Scale to scale, taking one last chance
To twirl their partners in a sea of bones
Where ghosts still whisper and wreckage groans…
Wolfscastle Junior Class
on the sea-bed
in its bone head.
in its claw hand
a black ace
on the pale sand.
A fish swims
near a fourth queen
where a shirt sleeve
would once have been
Carol Ann Duffy
….the man was cheating with a 4th card up his sleeve… it’s got a really good picture with the skeleton lying in the sand… and I like the image of the cards in the sand… and the simple rhythm of the last verse… it’s mysterious, it doesn’t actually tell you why he was shot, you have to solve it for yourself… Gweithiwch e mas (work it out!)
After reading the poem together and discussing its meaning, place it to one side. Ask children to prepare a range of questions to ask a new pupil entering the class for the first time. The responses invariably include What is your name? How old are you? Have you any brothers or sisters? Where have you come from? or Where do you live? What do you like doing? or What are your hobbies? Referring back to the poem, create a set of answers to the questions, which describe the character.
My name is Three-card Pete.
I am older than the sand on the seabed.
My brothers are the corals of the reef, and
My sisters are the seaweed dancers.
I come from the OK saloon, where I played my last hand
I like holding the Queen of Diamonds –
She is my best trick!
Using a pack of playing cards for a stimulus, create large collage cards as a centrepiece for a display. Find out all you can about the cards which appear in the Alice in Wonderland stories, and perhaps include photocopies of some of Tenniel’s illustrations from Lewis Carroll’s books. Find out the whole nursery rhyme poem of ‘The Queen of Hearts and the Stolen Tarts’, and create a simple stick puppet show, to retell the story to a younger class. Use playing cards attached to green garden sticks to represent the characters.
There are several poems and stories, which are centred around skeletons. Look through Carol Ann’s anthologies, for ‘The Red Skeleton’, ‘Cuddling Skeletons’ and ‘Skeleton, Moon, Poet’ and compare these with ‘Poker’. Which poem do you prefer? Share all the poems you have found and then organise a mini-ballot to find the class favourite. Record your results in a variety of ways – a tally chart, a venn diagram, a bar chart, a line graph, or even a simple pictogram - using bones as the counters!
Write a poem, a curse, as though written by the skeleton, to his murderer. This gives a chance to use the second person (you / your) and perhaps include some archaic language, such as thee, thou, wilt, wouldst.
Oh card sharper!
Thou hast beaten me, and seemed to gain the upper hand.
Thou has left me here to rot amongst the rocks
And wreckage, my body tossed overboard
To feed the fishes.
From the depths of my sandy bed I curse thee!
Never again wilt thou be a proud gambler
But always a loser like me.
Death always holds the winning hand.
You won’t always be sharp!
Example of children’s responses in poetry
Return of the Poker Player
I am a spirit,
and cheating is what I do.
My name is Frank – Frank Poker!
I have come from the watery grave,
where I rotted.
I am older than time itself.
I only know the man who shot me.
I like revenge.
The Card Player
I am bones, and nothing else.
My name is Bob the Snob.
I have come from the ocean rocks,
And am older than the blue, blue sea.
I only know my cards.
I like pain.