Yesterday was busier than most days in the Poetry Library as poets Tim Clare, John Osborne and Ross Sutherland, from the Aisle 16 collective, were here running a series of Animal Magic workshops for us as part of the Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival.
They started with a performance, reading some poems about animals. One particular hit was Tim Clare’s poem about penguins and polar bears (“No!” he cried, “They don’t both live at the South Pole! They live about as far away from each other as any two animals possibly could!”). Then the workshop proper started, which involved getting suggestions from the audience for animal body parts, so that an entirely new creature (such as a yellow elephant who could breathe fire) could be constructed in poetry from the parts of others.
The spontaneous innovation that came from the audience often yielded the most delightful results. When building up a beast that came from Africa, the audience was asked whereabouts in Africa it had come from: “Preschool!” the audience replied. So, from deep in the preschools of Africa a new creature was born, with the head of a giraffe, the head of a monkey and the tail of a dolphin (see below for the finished poem).
These new animal descriptions were all turned into poems that the workshop leaders then read out, with all the children chiming in with the name of the beast at the relevant moment. Much fun was had and many liberties were taken with the animal kingdom, but then as the poets themselves said, “One of the great things about writing poems is that you get to make stuff up.”
Head of a pig!
Body of a hippo!
Tail of a snake!
From the preschools of Africa,
107 years of oinking and hissing through classes,
Teachers shielding their eyes
From its glorious technicolour body!
Stroke it if you like,
But don’t think you can keep it as a pet –
Some say it grows to fifty metres long and ten metres high,
Tall as a giraffe –
It can fill a house! You’ll have to feed it
Leaves and twigs through the chimney,
Plus stones, pencil cases and Pritt Sticks for pudding.
As heavy as 10 lions standing on each others’ backs!
As heavy as 100 horses standing on a rock!
Summon it with a bad trumpet solo
You can read the rest of the poems on the Poetry Library’s website.
The Aisle 16 collective itself was founded in 2000. As well as doing spectacular children’s workshops they’ve also taken poetry shows to Edinburgh and Glastonbury. You can find out more about Aisle 16 here.
Filed under: Poetry Library