Junior Workshops on selected poems
by Chris Stephens
Near the cromlech
lies my favourite.
It’s fallen out with the others,
left out of the circle,
ditched in a damp hollow
like a huge toad
keeping its head down.
Megalith, giant stone.
Nobody knows it’s there,
hidden in long grass
cooling its bluestone bones,
asleep under the sun,
under the stars
for four thousand years.
So when I stroke it,
I’m sure it’s the first time
anyone gave it a friendly scratch
for at least four millennia.
I’m sure its stone heart
is beating under my thumb.
I’m sure it’s breathing.
...it helped me learn a bit more about history… what the stones were, I didn’t understand how the capstone got on top… but I learned a new word, ‘lichen’… it was effective… it was as though the stone was alive… it was weird like… stroking a rock, and rocks aren’t really alive, are they?
Find out all you can about cromlechs and/ or ancient stones in your area. Try visiting www.stonepages.com.wales for information on sites like Pentre Ifaf, in Pembrokeshire, which is the stone site which the poet visited. It was Britain’s first legally protected ancient monument, (1884), following recommendations from General Pitt Rivers who examined the site and recorded it in his sketchbook. (see www.gtj.org.uk/en/subjects/1987)
Discuss Gillian’s treatment of the stone, and how she assumes that it has feelings and ideas of its own. Discuss how other inanimate objects – an empty shell, a broken branch, a feather from a red kite or an osprey might feel if they were picked up by a human being – or even what they might say. Make a list of different kinds of stones (pebble, rock, grit, chippings, boulder, brick, limestone, granite, chalk, flint, slate). Create a poem composed of the words these stones might say - in given circumstances.
If Stones Could Speak
If stones could speak what would they say to us today?
‘The waves are tickling my back’, whispers the pebble on the beach.
‘My back is breaking’, groans the boulder at the bottom of the castle wall’
‘I have been sharpened by ancient men’, boasts the flint arrowhead.
Further work might be developed on the use of comparatives, with line beginners such as ‘I am older than….’, ‘I am harder than…’, and ‘I am smoother than…’.
N.B. See other work on personification using Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Meeting Midnight’.
Encourage children to devise questions which they might put to an ancient stone, if the stones could, indeed, speak. (These could answer a range of queries which archaeologists have failed to solve over the centuries!) This gives an opportunity to use the knowledge which ahs been acquired through initial research – a leap from acquisition of historical and cultural facts (or supposition) to imaginative response.
Why are you here? What do you mean? How were you used?
Obviously questions need answers, and the secret of success in this type of poem is to incorporate the response into the question.
Are you there to remind us of the past – or to prepare us for the future?
How were you carried to this plaec? By water? By man? By magic?
An alternative would be to write a rhyming monologue – as though by an ancient builder, or mover of stones.
We moved the bluestones one by one
To make a circle in the sun
Rough side to the mountain, smooth side to the sea
Places to worship, for eternity
The stones were heavier than the night
A hundred men dug through the earth
Examples of children’s responses in poetry
Do you show us the way of life?
Do you tell us the direction of heaven?
Are you a messenger sent from the Gods
To warn us of danger from the devil?
Do you show us the landscape of the past?
Do you think that the stones will crack,
Or do you think that the stones will last?
Do you point to a safe life,
Or do you point us to have a painful death?
Are you a memory place
That people come to visit
Leaving their footmarks behind
In the ancient soil?
Robbie and Samantha