I missed Amanda Maney’s session on Clean Poetry at this year’s Clean Conference – and everyone who attended spoke really highly of it, so when I discovered she was running it again at the Northern Taste of Clean, I was first in the queue for a place on her workshop.
Amanda is Assistant Headteacher in a primary school in The Wirral, who first came across Clean Language just over a year ago. During the workshop, she told us that one of the first things she tried, even before she’d had any formal training, was “Clean Poetry.” She was working with a class of about 20 Year 5 children (age 9-10), most of whom hated poetry.
Our ‘Northern Taste’ workshop consisted of us doing the same activities she’d used with the children, and it went like this…
First, she gave out copies of the poem: The Maldive Shark, by Herman Melville – a somewhat gory poem about a shark being guided to its prey by pilot fish – and she told us to focus on the rhythm of the poem as we read it out loud together. We then had to write any words that came to mind that might describe the rhythm. This was a challenging task and Amanda told us that this was deliberate; she had wanted to see whether Clean Language could help with things that children are likely to find difficult.
I was in a group with a music teacher and a singer, who both had clever things to say about the rhythm, but I am no more educated on the subject than the average 10-year-old, so I had just written:
Up and down
Boom, boom, boom
Long and short
However, when I was asked Clean Language questions about this, I discovered that the ‘boom, boom, boom’ was more like:
ba boom, ba boom, ba boom
And I also noticed that I was using my hand to make a beating movement, to figure out the different rhythms in different lines.
What had the children discovered?
“I think the poem is a slow-paced deadly one because it is all about the shark creeping up on his prey and finding it, also the way it describes all of the menacing features of the shark makes it more deadly.”
“The rhythm of the poem is a strong beat which comes from the heart and your feeling. The beat of the poem can be slow or fast and has a timing. Also the beat lets the reader have a feeling about the poem. The beat has to be steady and peaceful, it’s got power and empathy.”
The children had discovered that they knew things about rhythm that they didn’t know they knew. One of them reported, “There is a lot more to asking questions than just simple ones because it makes our mind dig deeper for an answer.”
Having experienced our own ability to ‘dig deep’ to relate to the rhythm of a poem, our next task was to write a poem. This time we were given a single word, “light” and we worked in pairs, asking one another Clean Questions to develop our perceptions of the word. Again, this was an exercise the children had done. Amanda’s experience in the classroom was that the children became engrossed in their poems and that her role moved from that of teacher giving information and guidance to that of facilitator with very little to do as the children questioned their own and one another’s poems to explore the words in their own poems and to refine them as they went along. Amanda’s feeling was that this engagement with their own creativity would provide a foundation for more technical aspects of poetry writing yet to come. One child discovered she had an ‘inner poet’ and so wrote about that instead of the light, which Amanda encouraged.
So how did we do as adults? Well amazingly, within a very short time, every single one of us had written some lines of poetry that we were willing to read aloud in the workshop, and, ultimately to write up and put on the wall. We had discovered our ‘inner poets’. And I think we felt just as proud of ourselves as Amanda’s Year 5 class.
Here is my poem:
The lighthouse is concrete grey,
Forlorn upon the rock.
It’s broad daylight
And the light is broad.
It’s wide and bright,
Diffusing as it widens.
Why the light is on
In the day time – that’s
The mystery no one knows.
Time moves on.
It gets dark.
The light stays,
Shining through the darkness,
Fulfilling its mission.
But its burning bright at day
Is a completely unsolved mystery.