Imaginative Writing – benefits of breaking rules

Studying the poetry of Robert Gray, students readily identify his rich images of the Australian landscape – both beautiful and hideous. He has been identified as an imagist, and his works display these characteristics:

  • the poet simply presents an image
  • the poet ‘does not comment’
  • the poet should use the words necessary to paint the image, not fit some type of rhythmic pattern

Perhaps the best way to think of Imagism is to this of a photograph. The photographer captures a single, still moment in life. Is the photo saying something? Maybe. But it says something according to how the viewer looks at it and the meaning he or she puts behind it, not because there is a secret message in there from the photographer.                                             enotes

Our double Year 12 Friday lesson is often a valuable writing session, and I drew inspiration from Gray’s poetry – particularly his use of interesting similes – and adapted some activities from one of my favourite writing resources by Andrew Cowan: The Art of Writing Fiction.

First, we began with

‘Literally’ as an Intensifier

After a brief discussion of the use of ‘literally’ which is probably meant metaphorically; in his discussion, Cowan suggests that ‘I was literally torn apart by what she said’ would in fact be quite messy if taken literally. Students then received this list of sayings:

  • it was a heart-sinking moment
  • he was high as a kite
  • she got her knickers in a twist
  • he lost his tongue
  • she gave me the finger
  • he was running on empty
  • it cracks me up every time
  • it made my heart sing
  • there was a definite spark between them
  • butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth

and chose two figurative expressions. They then wrote a few sentences to demonstrate how these could be taken absolutely literally. I became caught up in a vignette for

She got her knickers in a twist

Squirming on the bus seat, and trying not to focus on the looming deadline the traffic would cause her to miss, she became aware of an uncomfortable bunching between her legs. Re-squirming only made it more noticeable. Her nylons began rolling around her legs as if caught in washing machine agitator. A chain reaction from the wantonly active knickers. Her thighs began numbing as she felt her underwear tighten. Her hands made a grab for the moving pants, twisting anti-clockwise, and she swore as her dress ripped.

As the bus pulled into her stop, she wrenched her coat off and tied it round her waist. But it caught the movement and spun round and round, bumping her bag and spilling her coffee. She staggered to the bus seat, feet firm and hands clutching the metal, hoping people would pass by quickly.

These have to come off …

One student wrote:

It was a heart-sinking moment

Holding the heart out in front, blood wept from it and dripped into the ocean below, pulling the last bits of colour from the organ. with the slide of a finger the heart tumbled and fell into the abyss below, sinking to be never found again.

After sharing and discussing, we moved onto

Defamiliarising Similes

Students received a list of cliche similes:

  • as pretty as a picture
  • as ugly as sin
  • as hard as nails
  • as easy as pie
  • as bright as a button
  • as busy as a bee
  • as dead as a doorknob
  • as sick as a dog
  • as blind as a bat
  • as sharp as a tack
  • as cool as a cucumber
  • as straight as a die
  • as thick as a brick
  • as light as a feather
  • as mad as a hatter
  • as slow as a snail
  • as fresh as a daisy
  • as cheap as chips

First, they chose six similes and crossed out the endings. Each was asked to think of someone they intensely disliked, and create new similes. Next, thinking of this person and using all six similes, write a character sketch to express your loathing. Consider linking each to a physical attribute or personality trait.  Begin with ‘You are …’

One student wrote

You are as light as a truck. When you speak you are as slow as a long shift at work. you think you’re as cool as a crocodile, but in reality your as mad as a serial killer. Your as pretty as a sewerage pipe and wish you were as dead as a dinosaur.

and another decided that

You are as cool as a jar of refrigerated chicken fat. Some might say you-re as pretty as a pimple on the verge of eruption. I commend you, for never have I seen someone as busy as a loaf of bread. Your mind is as easy as a math lecture, your voice as sharp as a needle piercing into my brain.

During our sharing and discussion, we realised that creating an original simile was easier if we had a specific focus. Students then chose another six similes – no repeats – and were instructed to focus on someone they intensely desired or admired. Here are some responses:

Loving you is as easy as breathing on a sunny spring day, and you are as fresh as a flower just blooming beautifully. Your mind is sharp like the edge of your memorial stone and you age slowly like the creation of a river. Your hair is as straight as cooked pasta. You are as blind as mortals when it comes to your worth.

You are sensational, as slow as a waltz under a starlit sky. You smile is as bright as a firework in my heart. I’m so in love with you, I’m as a woman in love. I could gaze at you for hours. You’re as hard as a jigsaw puzzle and I’m dying to figure you out.

You are as bright as the sun on a warm summer’s day. You are constantly as busy as a big city centre, but you make it feel as easy as a relaxing afternoon. You are as thick as a bowl of sweet honey porridge and as fresh as a spray of Glen 20 up your nostrils.

This was another enjoyable lesson where students continue to grow in confidence in their writing ability. As preparation for the HSC Trial and final exams, I suggested everyone read back though their writing journals and begin compiling a ‘writer’s backpack’ of clever phrases, interesting words, descriptions and characters. This will remind them, too, of how far they have come since the beginning of Year 11.

We didn’t have time for these activities:

  1. Take the last and second last lines of a poem, and write a poem that could fit between them. Do you need to keep the two lines as part of your poem?

from Poems to Share sadly, no longer available.

2. Write a poem of six lines that uses a simile in its final line to describe your special object from a distance

3. Write a poem that includes at least two similes. Try to capture the spirit of the poem’s subject

4. Write a metaphor inspired by your chosen object and build upon this metaphor by exploring other ways the object appears in your life

from Poems to Share II 

Students could choose any Robert Gray poem for the first activity, and either their own object or an image from the poems being studied to complete the remaining activities.

Featured image from Oxford Dictionaries

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