This is the year 

Build your poem pack
 

Writing poems can seem daunting if you're not sure where to start. 

This resource pack will guide you through making a poem worthy of coming first in the poetry competition. However, the real victory is writing the poem in the first place!

You will find new ways of putting language together and techniques to put together great poems.

How to use these resources

Choose ONE of the tasks below and follow the steps to build your poem. Each task is designed to help you explore different styles, themes and places. 

Task One: Where I'm From 

 

Task Two: Imagined Utopias

 

Task Three: Bedroom Blues

After you've written a draft, use the editing tips to finish your poem. 

Already got an idea? You can always explore the poems, prompts and resources to help you if you get stuck.

 

All you’ll need is a pen, a notepad, YouTube and your imagination to get started!

 

Happy writing!

Task One:  Where I'm From 

Our neighbourhoods are alive with places, people, stories, histories and memories. With social distancing and lockdown, coronavirus has altered the places we live in and come from maybe forever.

Your goal

To write about where you come from and how coronavirus has impacted it in detail (also known as thick description). 

Step 1 

 

Where do your favourite rappers come from and what do you know about those places from their lyrics? Note it down!

Step 2 

 

Make a list of sensory details of your own neighbourhood.

 

Write the first five things that come to your mind when considering these categories:

  • What does your neighbourhood sound like at 9pm?

  • Who is on the block on a Saturday afternoon? Do they have a nickname?

  • What does your kitchen smell like?

  • If your back was to the front door and you looked left to right out in the street what would you see?

Step 3 

Read Willie Perdomo’s poem “Where I’m From" and think about the questions below. 

  • From the word choices the author makes in this poem can you see, feel, taste, hear, and smell where he is from?

  • What are the images that you recognise from your own neighbourhood?

  • The author chose to repeat “Where I’m from” 8 times. Does this repetition get boring? If not why?

Make a note of what you liked about this poem. 

 

Step 4 

Listen to and read Mos Def’s verse from “Respiration” and pay attention to his use of imagery, compounded rhyme, assonance and alliteration.​

 

Mos Def talks about the same city that Willie Perdomo is writing about in his poem “Where I’m From”. 

 

What images are similar and what images are different?

 

Check out the rhymes in this piece.  Which ones were the most unexpected to you?

Need more inspiration before you start writing?

Listen to Digable Planet's 'Where I'm From' and Gill Scott-Heron's 'Home' to think about how they've written about where they are from.  

Writing exercise  

Write your own “Where I’m From” poem mimicking Willie’s form to think about how your neighbourhood has changed during the pandemic. 

Write for 20 minutes. Set a timer. Fill an entire page.

 

  • Don't be afraid to repeat the phrase "where i'm from" or you can change it and make it your own!

  • Use the sensory imagery and notes you've made earlier as a springboard into the description of your neighbourhood or area. 

  • The more SPECIFIC the writing the better. In Willie’s poem, we learn the name of the dog, the exact intersection of the block, etc

 

Stop writing. Then read over and look at the editing pack. ​

Task Two:  Freedom Dreams 

The world we live in has been constructed and imagined.

 

During lockdown, with distance from the outside world and the people we love, and with the Black Lives Matter protests, it’s highly likely that you might have thought about what lives and world you want to live in.

 

It is the work of a poet to imagine and rebuild a future world.

Your goal

To write a poem about the world that is to come, a world you hope to live in.

Step 1 

Create some lists:

  • What would the city/county look like in an ideal world?

  • What would everyone have?

  • How many hours a week would we work?

  • What would we do for work and fun? 

  • Where would we live? 

Step 2 

Think about various utopian ideas and projects you might have come across in books, poems, film or on TV. What kinds of hopes and dreams did they have for the future? What ideas about freedom do they have?

 

Robin Kelly’s “Freedom Dreams” is the bible.

Step 3 

Listen to and read Aesop Rock’s song '9-5ers Anthem'

Think about its abstractions and its manifesto in the chorus.

Step 4 

Read silently and aloud Martin Espada’s 'Image the Angels of Bread'

Step 5 

 

Ask yourself and answer: what do you like and remember about both pieces?

Step 6 

Note how traditional power relations are inverted in the poems to imagine a different world. 

Step 7

Note the repetition of the phrase “this is the year” in both pieces. What effect does it have?

 

Writing exercise   

Imagine the world that will be, the world that you would like to live in that is just and equitable. Imagine and re-imagine traditional relationships in the future.

Write an anthem about this world: you may use the phrase “this is the year.”

Write for 20 minutes: encourage yourself to fill a whole page (you can do it!).

 

Stop writing. Read around. Edit it using our top tips. 

Task Three:  Bedroom Blues 

 

In lockdown many of us probably spent a lot of our free time in our rooms - shared or otherwise.

 

Our bedrooms are special places because they see us in ways most people don’t. Their walls have seen us in all emotional states - laughter, tears, losing our temper, picking our noses and many other actions we would prefer to keep on the down low.

Your goal 

To write a persona poem about your bedroom about life during lockdown.

Step 1 

 

Read and listen to 'Quilts' by Nikki Giovanni and 'Mirror' by Sylvia Plath.

 

Read 'Photograph of My Room' by Caroline Forche and 'Jemima's Do-rag' by Cornelius Eady

 

Step 2

Think about the following questions to better understand the poems and jot down your answers:

  • What kind of personality do the objects in the poems have?

  • What do they desire and want?

  • How do they feel?

Step 3 
 

In a persona poem, the poet writes from someone else's voice (another person, an object, an animal, even a plant!) All the poems in Step 2 are written from the perspective of an object as if it is a character. 

Watch the following video to find out more about why persona poems are fun and powerful technique to experiment with!

Writing exercise   

Write a persona poem about an aspect of your room - in the voice of a person, place or thing:

 

  • For example, what would your clock or wardrobe say?

  • What have your walls seen when you are in or out of the room?

  • What would they ask you or tell you?

  • What would they reveal about you?

  • How do they feel?

  • Have you ever paid attention to the crack on your ceiling? How did it get there?

 

Spend some time paying attention to the place where you might have spent the most time during lockdown but may pay the least attention to.

 

Write for 20 minutes and challenge yourself yourself to fill a whole page (you can do it!).

 

Stop writing. Read around. Edit it using our top tips. 

 

Top tips:  the editing 

1. Read it at least twice. ​

Read your poem a few times before trying to change it for deeper meanings. Give yourself a chance to thoroughly and fully experience the poem. Does your poem’s title suggest a clue about the rest of the poem? Sometimes readers will assume that the speaker is the poet. Ask yourself if this is your intention.

2. Do not be afraid. 

How much can you say in as few words as possible? Don’t let the fear of writing “too much” hold you back during your first draft. Your revisions should consist of language cuts and additions. It is important to pay attention to word choice. For example, maybe the phrase “egg yolk yellow” offers a closer image to your meaning than just “yellow.”

3. Use a thesaurus

Search for synonyms online. Developing your vocabulary is one of the perks of editing. Force yourself to experiment with word choice. Using the right word will improve your reader’s experience. Identify the direction your poem is taking, and what your intention is.

4. Pay attention to punctuation. 

Most poems use punctuation to help guide the voice of its reader. The end of a line is sometimes not the end of a sentence.

5. Look for patterns and images. 

The patterns and images of a poem help direct interpretation. Choosing an image that continues through the poem will help identify the meaning. For instance, are your stanzas about the same number of lines? What do the line breaks look like now that the poem is typed? Do your images collide--e.g. using the image of “rings of a tree” next to the “color of your pen”--without a purpose?

6. Try something new. 

Read your poem out loud! Listen for the rhythm of your poem. Do you have a natural flow that is interrupted by hard sound where you need a soft one, or a word with too many syllables (or not enough)? Do you have natural alliteration, assonance, or consonance (look up these words if you don’t know them) that you want to develop?

And hey, if all the words start to sound like gibberish -- take a break! Put your poem down for an hour or a day, and come back to it with fresh eyes and ears.

 

Contact 

Email: utopia-now@kcl.ac.uk 

Phone: 07587527416 

Address: School of Population Health & Environmental Sciences

King’s College London  

5th Floor, Addison House,  
Guy’s Campus, London, SE1 1UL 

We are funded by:

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