Resources on poetry by the poets themselves

The Man in the Wilderness

Junior Workshops on selected poems

The Man in the Wilderness

The man in the wilderness said to me
How many strawberries grow in the sea?
I answered him as I thought good
As many as herrings grow in a wood.

The man in the wilderness said to me
How many stars in the sky? said he.
I stare at the moon till it makes me shiver
And wonder and wonder, who made Forever?

The man in the wilderness said to me,
Who’s that breathing in the sycamore tree?
Who goes by on a silver hoof,
Rattling windows, tapping the roof?

When you’re lying in bed at night
What’s that thing like slithering light
That slides through the curtains and down the wall,
Under the door and into the hall?

Like a flat star falling out of the sky
Whenever a car goes driving by?
What’s that ticking in the central heating?
Whose heart is that so loudly beating?

The man in the wilderness said to me,
How many buckets could empty the sea?
Who-who’s that crying in the cold night air?
Who-who? Who-who? Who-who goes there?

How many strawberries? How many stars?
Herrings, owl-cries, passing cars?
How many galaxies more or less?
Oh get lost! Man in the wilderness!!

Gillian Clarke

Children’s Observations

...I liked all the questions the man asked, especially the odd one like strawberries in the sea… They’d drown wouldn’t they?… and when she said ‘Get lost!’, they’d had enough of the questions… the girl answered to try and trick the man…

Teaching Ideas

Enjoy reading the poem together! Then talk about nursery rhymes, and nonsense rhymes – and perhaps attempt to categorise the distinctive types.

Explain that the poet has taken a single verse (all that exists?) and developed her own poem, continuing the nonsense – but making some of the questions have credible answers, like shadows on the wall and car headlights.

Using a prepared ‘scaffold’ compose together some more verses, where a particular type of person whom the children recognise (a checkout girl, a TV weatherman, a sports reporter)  is asked a nonsense question – and gives a nonsense answer. Children need to be aware that their lines must rhyme with those given in the ‘scaffold’

The girl in the supermarket said to the queue
How many…..………………………………
They answered her as they thought right
As many as ………………………………   

The astronaut in the spaceship whispered to the stars
……………………………………………
They answered him from the twinkling sky
……………………………………………..

Another anonymous nonsense rhyme which Gillian chose to  include in her  anthology The Whispering Room*  was ‘There was an Old Woman’. This one lived in a wood. She was not the one tossed up in a basket! The poem is in rhyming couplets, and the second verse begins

There was an old woman who lived in an oak
And when she went out she wore a black cloak

Make a list together of as many trees as possible, and then devise rhyming couplets for each. These could be displayed on appropriate leaf-shapes on a colourful frieze of a wood – complete with a witch, and an owl, who ‘at the door as a sentinel stood’ – and maybe even some herrings growing there!

There was an old woman who lived in an ash
Who fell off her broomstick and made a great splash!

There was an old woman who lived in a holly
From sleeping on prickles she never was jolly!

Continue the theme of nonsense and questions by looking at some Riddle-me-Rees, and trying to find out how they operate – that is by using specific letters from given words to create a complete word. Usually riddle-me-rees are also written in rhyming couplets. You’ll find the answer to this one in  Gillian’s poem.

Riddle-Me-Ree Round the Wilderness

My first is in cherry and also in chin.
My second’s in evil and never in sin.
My third is in raisins and even in rain
My fourth is the same letter used once again.
My fifth is in seaside, my sixth is in sand
My seventh’s in growing, but not on the land
My whole is a fish, and it’s true that you could
Catch him at sea, but never in a wood!

Choose another noun from the ‘wilderness’ poem, and create a selection of riddle-me-rees. Make a display which children from other classes can see. Invite them to work out the answers.

Examples of children’s responses  in poetry

The man in the wilderness said to me,
‘How many strawberries grow in the sea?’
I answered him as I thought good,
‘As many as herrings grow in the wood.’

The girl in the supermarket said to the queue
‘How many Cds are seen at the zoo?”
They answered her as they thought right,
‘As many as moths that flutter round a light”.

The player in the stadium shouted to the crowd
‘How many droplets are in each cloud?”
They answered him as they gave a cheer,
‘As many as bubbles in a pint of beer.”

The astronaut in the spaceship whispered to the stars
‘How many aliens are on the planet Mars?”
They answered him from the twinkling sky
‘As many as blackberries baked in a pie”.

The TV personality  grinned at the screen
‘How many celebrities have you ever seen?”
The viewers answered from leather armchairs
‘As many as sky dishes walking up the stairs!”

Girls, spacemen and players, and stars of the ‘soaps’,
Kitchens and cooking and apple pie hopes!
What do they think is the wilderness now?
A pint of good poetry, surprises – OH WOW!

Junior Class Wolfscastle

* The Whispering Room is now available in paperback, titled Scary Poems