Taking the odious out of odes

6th July 2007 at 01:00
Clare Pollard discovers how writing verse about Orlando Bloom can help pupils fall in love with poetry

Verse about traditional subjects such as larks and lambing leaves many key stage 5 pupils cold. But great poetry captures the essence of what it is to be alive now and that means our world of Big Brother, text messages and adverts. Using contemporary culture as a springboard is a great way to make poetry seem relevant.

One exercise which usually produces laughter and great poetry is looking at pin-ups. Poems have often been addressed to distant beloveds and celebrities are our equivalent.

Warm pupils up by putting them in pairs to try out similes, composing one for their partner's eyes ("his eyes are brown like chocolate fudge cake") and one for their hair. Ask them to write odes to their pin-ups Pirates of the Caribbean star Orlando Bloom is a favourite with girls.

Rap music can trigger a discussion about rhythm. Showing that the lyrics pupils love are a form of poetry can give them confidence. In one sixth form, the teachers were astounded when a troublemaker began to write beautiful, rhythmically-complex verse.

Look at brand names that use alliteration, rhyme and metaphor (Clinton Cards, Utterly Butterly and Diesel) and then using Frank O'Hara's poem The Day Lady Died as a model pupils can write poems about shopping.

"Using dynamic examples of popular culture, including MySpace and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy ignited an interest in poetry for pupils who thought it had little or no relevance for them," says Scott Brandreth, English teacher at Westbourne School, Sheffield.

"Many came to realise that poetry is not only read, but sung, danced, written and is, in all its forms, an integral part of their lives."

Clare Pollard is a poet, who wrote her first collection, The Heavy Petting Zoo, when she was in the sixth form. She delivers workshops to schools across the UK

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