Concrete Poetry by Significant Poets
Key Stage 2
by Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Taylor and Gillian Clarke
PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION
It is important for the children to SEE as well as HEAR the three poems selected to illustrate concrete poetry:
- ‘Easter-Wings’ by George Herbert, (1593-1633),
- ‘The Song of the Pandy’ by Gillian Clarke,
- ‘The Loch Ness Monster’s Song’ by Edwin Morgan.
The first was written in the 17th century, the others in the late 20th century.
The first two are based on shape made on the page by the way the lines are printed.
The third is based on the effect of sound.
Concrete Poetry is not made of concrete! It is poetry where the concrete arrangement of words on the page is as important as the words themselves. The term now also includes poems made of sounds.
The very earliest poems we call ‘concrete’ were written by George Herbert nearly 400 years ago. ‘Easter-Wings’ is the most famous. The spelling and the language here are just as they were written in the 17th Century. Herbert was a religious poet. The story says that God created man and woman and gave them a Garden of Eden to live in, but they disobeyed God and had to leave Eden. George Herbert hopes that he’ll rise all the higher on the wings of his religion because of mankind’s first fall and his own sins.
Lord, who created man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did beginne:
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine
And feel this day thy victorie:
For if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Turn the printed poem on its side, and see two pairs of angel wings. In the 17th century, most people believed in God, and most people in Britain were Christian. Lent, (the time leading up to Easter), and Easter itself, was the most important festival in the Christian calendar. George Herbert was, no doubt, thinking about his way of life, determined to do better and to be more religious in the future. The poet uses long lines, then increasingly shorter lines, to get the shape, and keeps to his rhyme pattern at the same time. The rhyme is interesting. Let the class look at how the rhyme works. It is also a chance to talk about the history of religion in Britain.
The next poem is ‘Song of the Pandy’ by Gillian Clarke. The Pandy was a mill in south Wales, and the town of Tonypandy was named after it. ‘Ton’ means tune, or song, ‘y’ means ‘the’.
In the 1980’s, almost all the coal mines in south Wales, which employed thousands of men and gave further work to entire communities, were closed down. There was a long strike, and all the people and the towns suffered badly. It was a sad time for families in Tonypandy. Later, it was decided that the town needed to be improved, cleared of old mine workings, and given beautiful streets with parks, pools, sculpture. This is a chance to discuss work, and the big changes people’s working lives. The sculptor Howard Bowcott asked the poet to write a special poem. The poem had to be shaped in a circle, like the mouth of the tunnel into the mountain. It was carved, one line at a time, into 16 layers of slate, set one on top of another, like the strata in mountains.
Look at the ends of the lines, and notice how the rhyme works. The poem is about mining, and stone, and how mountains are made over millions of years.
Song of the Pandy
of the Pandy,
of the pit wheels turning,
wind in the wires, a blast of steam.
Song of the collier at the end of the shift.
of the earth with her apron full of stones.
Song of limestone, slate, of coal’s black veins,
of carboniferous forests’ gradual growth and decay,
of the slow death of trees, leaf-fall, day laid on day,
of the million-year-old seas that left their chains
of seashells, fossils of sea-creatures’ bones
in the lap of the cwm. Song of the sift
of sandstone mountains, the dream
of something green still burning
in the Pandy’s
Show the class that in ‘Song of the Pandy’ the shortest lines have just one word of just one syllable, and the longest, in the middle, have between 12 and 15 syllables.
The class will need help with the meaning of the more difficult words, and some background research on religious belief in the 17th century would help with ‘Easter Wings’.
‘The Song of the Pandy’ is a chance to talk about mining, and about geology.
- Words like ‘strata’ could be illustrated. The children could write poems using shape, and poems using the idea of rock strata piled up as lines on a page.
- Let them discover how the rhyme pattern works in the two poems.
- Discuss how the two poems are alike, and how they are different.
- Let them find the parts of speech, the verbs, and so on.
- (See special lessons based on an A-Z of poetry terms in the Year 6 section for simile, metaphor etc)
In the first two poems the shape shapes the meaning.
In the third, the sound speaks the meaning – as you’ll discover when you try to read it out loud. You won’t find these words in the dictionary, but they are very expressive.
The Loch Ness Monster’s Song
Hnwhyffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflublhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.
Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokof - doplodokosh?
Splgraw fok fok splgrafhatchgabrlgabrl fok splfok!
Zgra kra gka fok!
Grof grawff gahf?
Gombl mbl bl –
Tell the class about the Loch Ness monster. Many people have seen something strange in the Loch. Many have photographed mysterious objects that seem to rise from the water. Yet divers have searched for decades and found no evidence for the existence of a monster in the loch.
Edwin Morgan is the National Poet of Scotland. He has often written experimental poems. He is published by Carcanet Press.
- Get the class to write shape poems. Circle, square, triangle, wings, like George Herbert’s poem above.
- Make sure the children can explain their reason for choosing a particular shape. It should enhance the poem’s meaning in some way.
- How should such work be written, typed and displayed?
- They could choose an animal, and try to write a sound poem in the ‘language’ of that creature. It would be tremendous fun, and guessing the creature would add to the fun.
- The children could write about a chosen subject, combining English with phrases or lines of an invented language.
- It’s an opportunity for group work and dramatic presentation. Divide the class into groups and give each group one of the poems.
- They can plan how best to perform it.
Think about verbs! Inventing verbs is a particularly creative thing to do. Someone wrote a postcard from the south of France: ‘Have been lizarding all week. Tomorrow will be glooming home to Cheshire.’
- Discuss the meaning and effect of those verbs in the quoted postcard.
- How could she have said the same thing in a boring way?
- Poetry is the perfect chance to invent. Verbs give energy to creative writing. How about the Loch Ness Monster writing a postcard home?
The class should get used to choosing from the vast store of English verbs, not writing the first dull verb that comes to mind but being inventive. If the right verb is chosen, no one needs an adverb. Better to say ‘dawdled’ than ‘went slowly’, or ‘galloped’ than ‘went quickly’.
Think of a fresh way to use a verb, or invent one, to say what snow does, or rain, or wind, or fog, or creatures, or people, lazy people, quick people, cross people, kind people, hard-working people.
Think about the two sorts of noun! The concrete noun (sorry! This time concrete means you can see, smell, touch, hear or taste it!) and the abstract noun – the ones you can’t see, smell touch, hear or taste.
Look for the two sorts of noun in the two shape poems.
- Example of concrete noun from Easter Wings: Larks. (you can hear them and see them. They are real.)
- Example of concrete noun from Song of the Pandy: Wind. (you can feel it and hear it. Wind is real)
- Example of abstract noun in Easter Wings: Victories. (try the five senses again – Victory is an idea, not a touchable thing)
- Example of abstract noun in Song of the Pandy: Death. (you know what death is, but you can’t touch it. You can touch a dead bird, but not its death.)
Bird: concrete noun. Death: abstract noun.
- Look for more examples in the two poems.
- Use the five senses to test the nouns. The class will soon get the idea.