Sarah James

the possibilities of poetry…

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Last month I blogged about what a wonderful time I’d had at Chawson First School in Droitwich, sharing some of my poems in the school assembly. The children were amazingly receptive and enthusiastic, so much so that some of them went away and wrote their own poems after the visit.

One of the things that I particularly enjoy as a writer when I go into a school is the freedom to explore imagination and creativity outside of the usual curriculum demands and to simply have fun with words, sounds and ideas.

I’m absolutely delighted to have permission to share one of the resulting poems on my blog. This imaginative and humorous poem from Emily-Grace in Year 4 really demonstrates what I love about this kind of work.

Waiter, there’s a slug in my soup, it’s slithering.

Waiter, there’s a snail in my soup, surly you don’t think I’m French?

Waiter, there’s a dog in my soup, now I’ve got fleas!

Waiter, there’s nothing in my soup, it’s perfect!

Emily-Grace, Year 4, Chawson First School

A video version of one of the poems that I shared at Chawson can be found below and here is a link to the link to a pdf of my poem Animal Soup.

Drink lots…of water. Beware Romans bearing gifts. Don’t go out in the noon to 4pm day sun. These are just a few random tips picked up from an amazing eights days in Rome and the Italian coast at Sperlonga.

I’ll start this anecdotal travel blog with the capital city, where we ended up staying in what felt like an Italian version of the Grand Budapest hotel – ornate ceilings, thick marbled enamel style doors, oil paintings above the bed in big gold frames. It was lovely but a slight touch of its condition being not what it once was. Also, some intriguing, chatty and quite unique staff on reception.

The Traiano was superbly placed too though for the sights. Having placed Rome at the start of the holiday, so the boys had the allure of the beach before them, we managed to persuade them to walk round from St Peter’s Square to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, as well as the Colosseum. (Having booked both online in advance, we also managed to avoid the long queues in the sun.)

The size of the Colosseum and the fact that so much still remains was something that only really hit me as I looked down on it from above. The remaining whitish stone like the fossil or bone remnants of some mighty creature. And the tourists as multi-coloured mites thronging over and around it.

Or a different analogy might be the remains of a seashell washed ashore after battle against many tides. The people not even hermit crabs, more grains of sand in comparison; the colour of their clothes, sand’s sometimes rainbow luminescence in the sun.

The wall of the Vatican seemed somehow reminiscent both of The Wall in Game of Thrones and the Berlin Wall, minus the cultural graffiti. I’m sure these analogies should say something, about the them and us of religion maybe.

It was a long trek around the Vatican Museums to get to the Sistine Chapel, but one that was very much worth it. I’ve always wanted to see Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’. But even I was surprised to find tears in my eyes as I looked up at the real thing. Maybe, it’s partly my religious upbringing (C of E not Catholic). Although, I no longer believe in the Christian faith as such, it’s hard to completely shed that from my cultural background. Also, I think it’s just that there’s something so human, so universal, and so poignant about the outstretching of two hands that don’t quite touch.

In complete contrast to this moment was the mass commercialisation, not just of Rome but the Vatican. Tour guides and street hawkers thronged us everywhere we went. White skin does stand out against olive/tanned, even in the capital, though very much more so in Sperlonga.

The Centurion in costume striking poses with us for photos was an not-unwelcome hawker.

Less pleasant was the bead and jewellery seller who persistently walked along the street with us when we were trying to move on. Although we ignored him initially, he kept walking along with us asking questions, telling us about his wife just having had a baby and wanting to give us gifts to celebrate this. Of course, we knew these gifts would have a catch to them and tried to refuse them, without success. We said bye, wished him luck and then he circled back to ask us for money. We gave him some, of course. It wasn’t a busy time at night and, if someone is that desperate to con you with words, then who knows if they’d draw the line at just words. It left a sad taste though, which wasn’t just the look in the man’s eyes, when my husband gave him some cash, saying I hope your wife really has just had a baby…. It was also the fact that this con was deliberately directed at us as a family – pick a man at his most vulnerable i.e. when with a wife and children to protect, and using a deliberately emotional ploy – the wife with new baby. Also, the fact that this makes one wary of even making eye contact with any other strangers, even (or especially) the most welcoming.

While Rome was the highlight for me, the beach at Sperlonga was for the boys. It is an Italian destination, with some Germans but very few English tourists. This was exactly what we’d hoped for, if the heat a little harder to deal with than we’d anticipated. We eventually ended up not going down to the beach until 4pm, then staying there till 7pm before heading back to change for dinner about 8pm. It was a completely different timetable to normal life but very relaxing.

Of course, holidaying without thought is impossible for me, no matter how relaxing the destination. Rome has been on my list of places I’d love to visit for years. Finally achieving this at 39, made me think about how different my experience must be to my boys’. At 11 and 9, and uninterested in history and culture, I suspect most of it will have passed over their heads.

In a way the boys have been spoiled on the travel front. I was 13 before I first holidayed abroad, and then it was to Majorca. I was lucky for the rest of my teens to have a French penfriend to visit near Lille, get a bursary to visit Vienna to practise my German and visit Russia on a school trip. Before that, most of our holidays were camping in England or staying with one set of grandparents in London (I’d been round all the major tourists spots by the time I was about 11) or my other grandparents on a farm.

On the foreign travel front, the boys, by contrast have been spoiled. With my sister living in the U.S., they got to visit Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe aged 6 and 8. Then Portugal aged 7 and 10. Now Italy too.

But, what they have gained on the foreign front, they have maybe lost on the English front. Although they get a lot of nature and smallholding life with grandparents, most of our family trips here have been to Haven, Butlins and Center Parcs – all very relaxing but highly artificial. My family no longer having a base in London, the boys have visited the National History and Science Museums and that is it.

Of course, partly this is temperament. While culture and history always interested me, the boys are more in tune with science and active exploration. But it also made me think that the world wide web effect of making the global world smaller/more reachable, does perhaps have a downside of distancing us from the local community and world more immediately around us, if we’re not careful.

And on that note, I’ll finish, except to add about one of the joys of being back home: waking to bird song. The absence of which where we were staying in Italy was loudly silent!

A Mind of Autumn

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Sometimes there’s no leaving that big kid inside oneself behind! I was reminded of this fact twice over this weekend thanks to both this photo and a poetry masterclass with Philip Gross this weekend.

The fantastic Making Poetry workshop, organised by Jacqui Rowe, was about writing poetry for all ages and brought back very interesting childhood memories, including some things I still like to do, Yes, that’s right, eating Kit-Kats by nibbling all the chocolate off first, picking up pebbles on the beach, kicking autumn leaves around…

There’s not much autumn – or leaves- left around here now, more winter frost. But I was chuffed to find out this week that the picture above, which I took last month, had been used in the local daily newspaper.

Of course, Christmas is a time of year that is laden with childhood memories: snow, log fires, carols, presents…So while I gear up for the fast-approaching excitement of this year’s celebrations, I’ve been distracting myself with Wallace Stevens’s seasonal (but not at all festive!) poem Snow Man.

With just two days now to UK National Poetry Day (NPD) 2010, I thought I’d share my fun children’s poem video made especially to mark the day.

This poem video, along with lots of resources and other information about NPD events can also be found at the NPD website.

And if you’re not going out to an event on the day, I will also be blog posting on Thursday to help make sure you can feel at home with some poetry. Enjoy!

Although these ideas are intended as poetry writing exercises for primary age children on the National Poetry Day theme of ‘home’, they could also be used by all age writers as fun prompts, particularly for writing children’s poetry.

1) Group Poem:

Use some cardboard to create some cardboard bricks with one ‘home’ themed word written on each, along with some general words (see the lists below for examples). Also leave some blank so that children can add their own words if necessary. Then build the word bricks into a ‘house’ poem. Using the template, it will have 5 lines with 5 words in each line.

2) Create your own:

Now use the same ‘house’ template to create your own individual poem, with one word in each brick. Younger children may just use the house shape as a brainstorming exercise, filling each brick with one word they associate with home – these words may then be used as part of the third exercise below.

3) A ‘House’ Shape Poem:

Write your own ‘house’ shape poem. The words used in the first exercise and/or the second exercise may help with this. Some children may prefer to create a different home shape eg a tent, castle, flat…

My house has a roof

made from tile, two window

eyes and a big red open-door smile.

T                                                       w

h                                                       a

i                                                         l

c                                                        l

k                                                        s

– and a floor built for bouncing balls!

4) Give your home a garden!

Illustrate your poems by adding a garden, windows, doors etc but making sure you don’t draw over the words.

Example given word lists:   dome, foam, home

door, floor                   tiles, smiles                 hill, mill

hall, small/falls, walls             bone, cone, groan, moan, phone, stone, throne

good, wood, stood                   bricks, licks, sticks, thicks

bed, fed, head, read, red, said, ted               bat, cat, flat, hat, mat, rat, sat

I, he, she, you, am, is, are, made, built, from, in, on, a, the, my, your, our, their

(NB These words have been placed alphabetically with in rhyme groupings to help children identify this aspect of word sound. They could be arranged differently into groups to create games/help identify alliteration or alphabetical order. They cover a wide vocabulary choice and the choice of words can be restricted to help younger children.)

Less than a week now until UK National Poetry Day (NPD) on Thursday, October 7 and I’ve been busy preparing to go into a local first school to talk about the day, share a few of my children’s poems and run a poetry writing workshop.

This year’s theme for NPD is ‘home’ and below are three of the poems I’ve written especially for the day – I’m calling them ‘limericks with a tail’ (but please feel free to ignore the tail, if you want) – plus some of my notes about them.

I am also posting my ‘home’ theme primary age workshop/lesson ideas sheet on my fansite blog today, if anyone wishes to use it. Other resources are also available from the NPD website at and I will be blogging a series of posts here and on the fansite part of the website in the run up to the day . These will include more poems and poem videos, including a poem and poem video in support of the work of the Helen Bamber Foundation.

‘Home’ Limericks

For National Poetry Day 2010 on Thursday, October 7, 2010


There was a young boy called Matt,

who lived in a high-rise flat.

In a power cut one night,

they lost all their light

and he sat on his Dad’s best hat –


Sarah James


There was a young German called Klaus,

who lived in a funny old house.

with walls made from bread,

cracker chairs, a cheese bed…

no surprise his best friend was a mouse!


Sarah James


There was a young boy called Dave,

who lived in a dark smelly cave.

With no windows for light,

there wasn’t much sight

and it smelled like he’d nowhere to bathe –


Sarah James

These three ‘limericks with a tail’ (for sound effect) are designed to explore the topic of ‘home’ from all angles, including covering different types of home (house, flat), why we have windows, other facilities required in a home (power, light, bathing facilities), building materials (not cheese or bread!), the history of dwellings (caves) and issues of different cultures/countries (Klaus). They also provide the opportunity to discuss ‘friendship’ and the social aspects of what makes a home ‘home’.

Please feel free to use these poems (accredited), if you wish, but please let me know that you are doing so either by leaving a comment here or by emailing me at .

Striking out!

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There’s nothing like a change of scenery for blowing the cobwebs away – or helping one to appreciate the beauty in those very cobwebs.

Five days at Center Parcs in Nottinghamshire has been a great chance to relax with my family, search out leaves and shadows to photograph, get closer to nature and enjoy some great cycle rides through the beautiful forest.

Like most holidays, it’s also been a chance to put everyday life into perspective and if not strike out a new path, to strike out a new sense of perspective.

This sense of re-energisation was further boosted by another lovely review of Into the Yell, by writer Sophie Shanahan on her blog at: and the news that one of my poems has come joint first in the Exmoor Society Poetry Competition.

Once the inevitable unpacking and washing are sorted, I shall be putting this energy to good use to enjoy the last few days of the holidays with my boys and prepare to run another collaborative poetry/art display/drop-in workshop at Droitwich’s annual Salt Day festival on Saturday, September 11.

Hope everyone else is enjoying the bank holiday!

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