It is grounded in wide reading from widely respected sources e.g. from Vygotsky about ‘inner speech’, and from Robert Pinsky in how poets ‘answer’ the social world to which they belong (1988 – Poetry and the World). Myra Barrs (2016) is cited on how, powered by poetry, words, these ‘concentrated clots of sense’, enter the inner speech of others and unfold in the mind of the reader. And there is endorsement of the DES in 1987 (over 40 years ago!) that poetry is critical for learners ‘arriving at the personal frontiers of language where thought becomes word.’
How much is lost when the teaching of writing merely ‘emulates’ the social world – as if writers were devoid of agency, as if language learning would not involve as much bespoke conversation as whole-sale acquisition. Cf (also cited) Ivanic 1998 in ‘Writing and Identity’: ‘Power relationships both enable and constrain writers’ possibilities of self-hood.’
Why the current fad for decontextualised vocabulary acquisition is so misguided can be clearly seen from considering Schultz and Fecho’s survey of writing development (2000):
‘Writing development is
- Reflective of social historical contexts
- Variable across local contexts
- Reflective of classroom curriculum and pedagogy
- Shaped by social interaction
- Tied to social identities
- Conceptualised as a non-linear process’
A few days later (27.6.2018), teachers from Stamford (Lincs) and Sawtry (Cambs) gathered to launch a new NWP writing group. After reflecting on their own writing histories, they recalled early writing experiences - both leaping and bounding with ideas while being bowed down with the anguish of not knowing. There were portraits of liberation - the young child writing as Esmeralda in her very best hand-writing – as well as tales of incarceration – witnessing parents’ disorienting loss of language through dementia.
- make two lists of nouns, any nouns.
- now consider a) how a ‘house’ is like a ‘cat’,
- and maybe clarify by adding adjectives e.g. ‘a refurbished house is a pampered cat’
(pronounced metaphoriki ennia)
= transport, transfer, transportation, carriage, traffic, metaphor
- List ‘big’ words (abstract nouns, bodies steeped in symbol e.g. death, sky, drought, love, the future, sea, wind, hope…)
- Take an unfamiliar text and search quickly for connections and combinations. Jot down possibilities.
- Share – either singly, or in combination and see how the register and vocabulary from one context has illuminated another.
- If a line of thought suggests itself, take 10 minutes to follow it in free writing or explore it in composition.
‘The moon is ……. its own unshielded inadequacy.’
‘The moon is …… celebrated by Picasso’s circle.’
‘The moon ……… looked in at a third floor window.’
Here are some:
A. Take 5 minutes to write your autobiography. Now try again without repetition. Now try one last time, no repetition: try and achieve completion. This crucible-like exercise exposes how the mind works to frame and reframe – and the different challenge in compressing rather than expanding ideas.
B. Swimming: think of times, people and places – associations, actions, feelings … choose and write about one – or more. Fascinating to hear how others approach this.
C. Postcards 1: choose one and respond to these prompts before writing: the first thing you noticed; a colour; a time of day; a sound; a detail that you’ve only just noticed; what’s just outside this frame – above, below, left or right? What’s just happened/ about to happen?
D. Postcards 2 (of people): choose one and respond to these prompts: who is this person – name, address, hair and eye colour? What is her expression – what feeling does it reveal, what is she thinking? What is she looking at? What sounds are there? What is she doing? Identify a less-noticed detail.
E. Choose an old person you know. Write the same story twice – first what she is doing now, second what she is thinking about 'then' in her youth. Cut 2 or 3 times between these two perspectives so that you write repeatedly in bursts of 2–3 minutes, first in 3rd then in 1st person ....
.... and experiment with effects of tense:
a) both perspectives in the past tense, or ...
b) both perspectives in the present tense, or ...
c) now in the present, then in the past, or...
d) now in the past, then in the present.
Enjoy your holiday!
NWP outreach director