Start to play


Start to play (text version)

This is a little video about beginning a poem, especially if you’re new or returning to poetry, or want a new way in. 

My mum came to a poetry workshop with me recently and she wrote a beautiful poem. The next day she said: I think I might want to write more poems, but I need to learn about poetic form, because I don’t know where to begin. 

In my opinion, my mum knows quite a lot about poetry: she knows when a poem makes her laugh, or when she can’t follow it and needs to listen again or reach for another poem. She knows when poems bring her a feeling of shared sadness or recognition. 

It’s great to learn about poetic forms and the traditions they come from (we will do that in later activities), but for me there has to be something there first, something to work into a form. Making a poem isn’t like knitting a jumper, where you probably need to follow a pattern until you are very experienced. Making a poem starts with you and something you seem to want to explore or try to talk about, even if it feels too small or too big. 

  • Write or speak a list of ways you have played in your life.
  • It could be things you liked to play with as a child… shells, lego, dolls, cars, pots and pans. It could be something you like doing now, like arranging flowers or dancing. Write a list of all the things that come into your mind.
  • Now choose one thing from your list.
  • I invite you to write about this thing for three minutes. 

Set a timer if you like. You’re not writing a poem, just whatever comes into your head about lego, or pots and pans or whatever. You can describe how you used to play or maybe what it felt like. Or your mind might go in a totally different direction. 

Write without worrying about spelling, grammar or punctuation, and especially without worrying about whether you are doing it ‘right’ or if the writing is ‘good’. We call this type of writing, ‘free writing’. 

  • When you’re ready, read back over what you wrote and pick out, or underline, words or lines that stand out to you; lines you quite like.
  • What if you arrange those lines or words in an order? This could be the beginning of a poem. 

An example from me


An example from me (text version)

My list: lego, circles made of material which we used as pancakes, mud, cats. 

My freewrite (with lines I quite liked in bold):

I loved to play with pancakes. Our pancakes were cut from old t-shirts or other clothes in circles of grey, blue and brown. They fit perfectly on a pan so you could pretend to flip them and serve them up, filled with red lego pieces. You could roll your pancake up and put it on a wooden board. You could almost eat it. You could eat the idea of it, like it was pancake day. 


Our pancakes were cut
from old t-shirts,
circles of blue and grey.
You could flip them in a pan
and roll them up.
You could almost feast.

If writing about playing didn’t work for you, pick something else. All the activities I share are invitations: don’t think you have to follow all the instructions, or that there is a ‘right’ place to end up. If something takes you in a different direction, follow it.