Resources on poetry by the poets themselves

Poems based on common themes

eg space, school, animals, families, feelings, friends.

Here are some poems to enjoy based on various themes. There are no activities suggested here, as the aim is to enjoy reading and discussing the poems. But you might like to use some of the poems here as models to stimulate writing.

School

TEACHER

When you teach me,
your hands bless the air
where chalk dust sparkles.

And when you talk,
the six wives of Henry VIII
stand in the room like bridesmaids,

or the Nile drifts past the classroom window,
the Pyramids baking like giant cakes
on the playing fields.

You teach with your voice,
so a tiger prowls from a poem
and pads between desks, black and gold

in the shadow and sunlight,
or the golden apples of the sun drop
from a branch in my mind’s eye.

I bow my head again
to this tattered, doodled book
and learn what love is.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Good Child’s Guide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber 2003)

ELVIS LIVES

Elvis lives.
He’s in my class at school.
He’s cool.
He walks across the playground,
swirls his hips.
He sings hymns in assembly,
curls his lip.

Elvis is alive
and well.
He took a piece of chalk
and on the blackboard
while the teacher took a walk
wrote out the lyrics of
Heartbreak Hotel.

Elvis talks.
He did not die.
He;s top in Maths.
He’s good at swimming, French and cookery,
good for a laugh.
He wears school uniform, school tie,
school blue suede shoes.
He keeps his head down when he’s got the blues

or, by the bike shed,
plays an air guitar.
Love Me Tender
on the playground air.
My best friend, Elvis Presley, with his slicked-back hair.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from Meeting Midnight; Faber, 1999)

THE LAUGH OF YOUR CLASS

Your class laughs like fourteen birds
in a tree.
Your class laughs like ice in a glass
on a tray.
Your class laughs like the stars
in the Milky Way.
Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho hee hee.

Your class laughs like the horn
of a bright red car.
Your class laughs like the strings
on a loud guitar.
Your class laughs like the harmony
of a choir.
Ho ho ho ho ho hee hee ha ha.

Your class laughs like the hiss
of skis on snow.
Your class laughs like the screams
at a circus show.
Your class laughs like a trumpet player’s
blow.
Hee hee hee hee hee ha ha ho ho.

Your class laughs like fourteen seals
in the sea.
Your class laughs like a drunken chimpanzee.
Your class laughs like the buzz
of a honey bee.
Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho hee hee.

Your class laughs like the mighty
ocean’s roar.
Your class laughs like carol singers
at the door.
Your class laughs like an elephant
wearing a bra.
Ho ho ho ho ho hee hee ha ha.

Your class laughs like doh ray me
fa so.
Your class laughs like seven dwarves sing
hi ho.
Your class laughs like blue whales
when they blow.
Hee hee hee hee hee ha ha ho ho.
Ha ha ha ha ha ho ho hee hee.
Ho ho ho ho ho hee hee ha ha.
Hee hee hee hee hee ha ha ho ho.

CAROL ANN DUFFY

Families

PESTLE AND MORTAR

Let’s go to sea,
little daughter,
in a pestle and mortar.

I’ll sit in the bowl
and you can row
over the water.

Then I’ll take a turn
and watch you sleep
for three hours and a quarter.

Over the waves!
Aren’t we brave!
Mother and daughter...

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Oldest Girl in the World; Faber, 2000)

YOUR GRANDMOTHER

Remember. remember, there’s many a thing
your grandmother doesn’t dig
if it ain’t got that swing;
many a piece of swag
she won’t pick up and put in her bag
if it seems like a drag.
She painted it red- the town-
she lassooed the moon.
Remember. remember, your grandmother
boogied on down.

Remember, remember, although your grandmother’s old,
she shook, she rattled, she rolled.
She was so cool she was cold,
she was solid gold.
Your grandmother played it neat,
wore two little blue suede shoes
on her dancing feet-
oo, reet-a-teet-teet-
Remember, remember, your grandmother
got with the beat.

Remember, remember, it ain’t what you do
it’s the way that you do it.
Your grandmother knew it-
she had a balloon and she blew it,
she had a ball
and was belle of it
just for the hell of it.
She was Queen of the night.
Remember, remember, your grandmother’s
aaaaaaaaaaaalllllllll riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Good Child’s Guide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber, 2003)

A CHILD’S SLEEP

I stood at the edge of my child’s sleep
hearing her breathe;
although I could not enter there,
I could not leave.

Her sleep was a small wood,
perfumed with flowers;
dark, peaceful, sacred,
acred in hours.

And she was the spirit that lives
in the heart of such woods;
without time, without history,
wordlessly good.

I spoke her name, a pebble dropped
in the still night,
and saw her stir, both open palms
cupping their soft light;

then went to the window. The greater dark
outside the room
gazed back, maternal wise,
with its face of moon.

CAROL ANN DUFFY (from Meeting Midnight; Faber, 1999).

Animals

TOY DOG

When I come home from school, he doesn’t bark.
He doesn’t fetch the stick I throw for him in Clissold Park,
or bite a burglar’s ankle in the dark.
Toy dog.

When I wake up he doesn’t lick my face.
He never beats me by a mile the times we have a race,
or digs a bone up from his secret place.
Toy dog.

When I say Heel! or Sit! he can’t obey.
I buy a red dog-collar for him, though he will not stray,
or trip me up at soccer when I play.
Toy dog.

One day his brown glass eye will soften, see.
One night, his nylon tail will wag when I come in for tea;
his cloth leg cock against a lamp-post for a pee.
Good dog.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from Meeting Midnight; Faber 1999)

It was once a common belief that rats in pasturages could be destroyed by anathematizing them in rhyming verse or by metrical charms...

IRISH RATS RHYMED TO DEATH

Do you want to get rid of an Irish rat?
I can advise how to go about that.
Take a deep breath
and rhyme it to death:
Look, rat!
There goes a cat in a new hat!
Get lost, rat!
There isn’t a WELCOME for you on this mat.
Rot to a skeleton, ratty old rat.
You’re fat.

Do you want to get rid of a Scottish mouse?
I can advise how to de-mouse your house.
Take a deep breath
and rhyme it to death:
See, mouse!
A louse is itching away in a grouse.
Go away, mouse!
We don’t want you a-nibbling our house.
Watch out for the cheese in the trap, mousy mouse.
Use your nous.

Do you want to be shot of an English fish?
I can advise how to fulfil your wish.
Take a deep breath
and rhyme it do death:
Oy, fish!
There’s a pool of pish in this dish.
Scram, fish!
You’re wet. Your mouth is an O,
your tail is a swish.
We’ve got a good idea, fishy fish,
we’ll eat you with chips.

Do you want to be free of a Welsh cow?
I can advise exactly how.
Take a deep breath
and rhyme it to death:
How now, cow!
A dancing sow is taking a bow.
Disappear, cow!
Your udders are bagpipes making a row.
Put a plug in that Moo, cowy cow.
Do it now.

Let’s all have one last rhyme for the cow:
Pow-wow!

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Oldest Girl In The World; Faber, 2000)

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BAA

Johann Sebastian Baa
was a very talented sheep.
He could write the most sublime music
in his sleep.

All the other animals
would crowd around
to listen to the divine mathematics
of his sheepish sound.

Then Johann Sebastian Baa
played his latest piece,
a genius from the tip of his hoof
to the end of his fleece.

Johann Sebastian Baa
knew the score.
The pigs and cows and donkeys
shouted More! More! More!

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Good Child’s Guide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber, 2003)

THE WASP

Help me to love the wasp,
help me to do that thing-
to admire the raspy buxx
of its wings, to grow fond
of its droning whinge.

Help me to clasp the wasp
to my breast, or at least
to train it to jump from my finger
to thumb, a stripy pet,
to get it to fetch, to stand up

and beg, waving two of its six
little legs, to play dead. Help me
to like the passionate kiss
of its sting, to do that thing.
Help me to love the wasp.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Good Child’s Guide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber, 2003)

THE MOTH

A moth is a butterfly’s dark twin
dressed in drab wings.
She isn’t scary.
Think of her as a different thing-
a plain-clothes fairy.

She loves the electric light
that shines through the window,
just like guess-who
when she’s flying in from the garden.
Yes, you!

The moth doesn’t bite
or scratch or sting.
She can only hurt herself-
flying too close to the light,
burning her wings.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Good Child’s Guide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber, 2003)

Feelings

A WORRY

It’s come to live in my room- a worry.
I asked when was it planning to leave?
It said it was in no particular hurry.
It’s not slimy and it’s not furry.
It’s not clammy and it’s not hairy.
I can’t describe it.
When I whip round to stare it straight
in the eye, it’s not there.
But believe me,
if there’s one thing I now for certain, for sure.
I know that the worry’s there.

It hunkers down. It squats.
Its breathing swaps the colour of my room
from cheerful to gloom. The curtains look drawn.
The bed is a wreck.
My face in the mirror looks like a vampire’s had a takeaway from the neck.
It’s there at dawn- the worry.
I’ve told it I’m too young to marry!
I want to be free!
No no no no no, it said,
I belong to it forever and it belongs to me.

Help! Au secours! Mayday!
What can I do?
Will anyone credit the size the worry has grown to?
A rat. A mongrel. A puma. An ape. A creature from Mars.
Can anyone hear the sound of the worry’s voice?
A wasp. Slow handclaps. A dentist’s drill. The squealing brakes of skidding cars.
And what about other girls?
What about boys?
Do they have worry growing like fungi
over their books and toys?
Now life is hell.
Life is a horrid trick.
I’m worried sick.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from Meeting Midnight; Faber, 1999).

THE INVENTION OF RAIN

Rain first came
when the woman whose lovely face
was the sky
cried.

She thought of rain
for her sadness,
her sorrowful clouds.
The woman whose lonely voice
was the wind
howled.

Then garden flowers
bowed their heads
under the soft-salt grief of the rain.

And an only child
stared down at them
through the thousand tears
of a window-pane.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from Meeting Midnight; Faber, 1999)

DON’T BE SCARED

The dark is only a blanket
for the moon to put on her bed.

The dark is a private cinema
for the movie dreams in your head.

The dark is a little black dress
to show off the sequin stars.

The dark is a wooden hole
behind the strings of happy guitars.

The dark is a jeweller’s velvet cloth
where children sleep like pearls.

The dark is a spool of film
to photograph boys and girls,

so smile in your sleep in the dark.
Don’t be scared.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Oldest Girl In The World; Faber, 2000)

DIMPLES

When I’m scared the Monsters are thrilling me.
When I’m cold the North Wind is chilling me.
When I’m pretty some ribbons are frilling me.
When I’m fibbing my teacher is grilling me.
When I’m sad my salt tears are spilling free.
When I’m brave my courage is willing me.
When I fidget my Grandma is stilling me.
When I’m hungry my Mother is filling me.
When I’m spending the toy shop is billing me.
When I score the referee’s nilling me.
When I’m ill the doctor is pilling me.
When it’s dawn the sparrows are trilling me.
But when I laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh
and laugh MY DIMPLES ARE KILLING ME.

CAROL ANN DUFFY (from The Oldest Girl In The World; Faber, 2000)

Friends

BRAVE ENOUGH

I wonder would you be my cloest friend
if I was brave enough
to tie the ribbons of your dress to mine
and run like girl and shadow, shade and girl,
across the grass.

I wonder
would you climb into this tree
if I was brave enough to toss an apple down
from where I watch you on your way to school
and sit beside me on the branch

swinging your legs
as, brave enough, I’d say Let’s stay
forever in this tree, girl and shadow, shade and girl,
you and me, and not grow older, richer, wiser, sadder
by one day. I wonder what you’d say.

CAROL ANN DUFFY (from The Good Child’s Guuide To Rock’n’Roll; Faber, 2003)

A CIGARETTE

A friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

I put it unlit in a saucer and went to my bed.
When I got up it had grown to the size of a wand.
A magic wand to turn folk into smoke.
A friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

I popped it into a jamjar and sloped to the swings.
When I came back it had grown to the size of a stick.
A white stick to use when you cannot see.
A friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

I stuck it into the ground and went to my room.
When I looked out it had grown to the size of a tree.
A tree weeping its leaves over a grave.
A friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

I climbed to the top for most of the following day.
When I looked down it had grown to the size of a beanstalk.
A beanstalk finding a coughing giant in the clouds.
A friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

I tried to jump off but by now the thing was on fire.
When I looked round it had grown to the size of a death.
A death that definitely wasn’t going to be mine. You bet...
No friend of mine gave me a cigarette.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from The Oldest Girl In The World; Faber, 2000)

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE

Prior Knowledge was a strange boy.
He had sad green eyes.
He always seemed to know when I was telling lies.

We were friends for a summer.
Prior got out his knife
and mixed our bloods so we’d be brothers for life.

You’ll be rich, he said, and famous;
but I must die.
Then brave, clever Prior began to cry.

He knew so much.
he knew the day before
I’d drop a jamjar full of frogspawn on the kitchen floor.

He knew there were wasps
in the gardening gloves.
He knew the name of the girl I’d grow up to love.

The day he died
he knew there would be
a wind shaking conkers from the horse-chestnut tree;

and an aimless child
singing down Prior’s street,
with bright red sandals on her skipping feet.

CAROL ANN DUFFY
(from Meeting Midnight; Faber, 1999)