2 Mar 2020

Poetry confessions thrive in NZ primary schools

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:20 pm on 2 March 2020

Teachers around New Zealand are currently using William Carlos Williams’ famous poem This is just to say (below) to get children to admit their naughtiest deeds. 

Female Elementary Pupil Working At Desk

Photo: 123RF

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It works because the poem is so simple and yet so human, primary school teacher Sarah told Jesse Mulligan.

“We’ve all done something naughty at some point in our lives and probably come up with an excuse for that, even if it’s not such a great excuse.”

A company called School Kit sends boxes of educational activities to schools all around New Zealand. The poetry provocation activity has gone out to 3000 schools.

“The gist of the project is that eventually we do a swap where we’ve written a bunch of poems that get sent to a school somewhere else in the country and they send a big bag full of their poems back to us.”

Sarah says she had a discussion with her Year 7 and 8 students about the exercise telling them whatever they wrote would be fully anonymous, there would be no judgement.

“We talked about a naughty thing they had done, and we had a conversation together where they all sort of owned up to these various misdeeds of various size.”

They then talked about the William Carlos Williams poem and why he was owning up to his misdeed.

The kids didn’t have a rigid structure to follow other than starting with ‘I have’ and including the line ‘Forgive me’ because Sarah says it’s important as a turning point in the poem.

The following is a collection of student poems:

I have eaten all the icing

off your birthday cake

You were probably looking forward to eating it

Forgive me

It was your famous icing

So creamy

And melt in your mouth

I just couldn’t stop scooping it

Into my chubby little face

PS.

You would have enjoyed it

***

This is just to say

I’ve poured water on my brother

You were probably upset

Because he was soaked

Forgive me

It was to help him grow

***

This is just to say

I have thrown

The wooden model

that we made

You were probably

Wondering

What happened to it

Forgive me

I couldn’t be bothered

***

This is just to say

I have broken

through the child’s car seat lock

On the motorway

You probably thought

I couldn’t escape

And I would be safe

Forgive me

I just love travelling

And wanted to see

where we were going

Sarah says getting the kids to sit down and write these poems is a real "ice breaker".

"We take kids from several feeder schools and a lot of them haven't met each other before and having an opportunity to just sit down and laugh at all of the naughty things each other has done was a great way to start the year off."

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