Do you like poetry but have trouble coming up with things to write about? Perhaps you want to try something new in your writing? How about using a mentor text?
A what? I hear you ask. Let me explain.
A mentor text is, quite simply, a piece of good writing (in this case, a poem) which you study and use to inform your own writing. AT its simplest level, you may actually try to replicate the style and form of the poem, though you can of course use a mentor text as a starting point to inspire you to write something quite different.
Here is an example. This week I read a poem by Richard Edwards, which I found in the Puffin Book of Twentieth Century Verse. This poem, which I can’t reproduce entirely, appealed to me both because it had a slightly humorous, but uplifting message about age, but also because it had a really unusual rhyme and rhythm pattern. Here’s the opening stanza:
‘What did you do when you were young?’
I asked of the elderly man.
‘I travelled the lanes with a tortoiseshell cat
And a stick and a rickety van,
I travelled the paths with a sun on a thread,
I travelled the roads with a bucket of bread,
I travelled the world with a hen on my head
And my tea in a watering can,’
Said the elderly, elderly man. (Extract from Me & Him, copyright Richard Edwards)
I was so taken by this rhyme scheme, that I decided to try my hand at replicating it. It’s harder than it looks. Here’s a very early effort:
Grandmother Jo is a funny old thing
She lives in a van near the sea
With her cat, and her dog, and her mouse and her bird
But she always makes room for me.
When the holidays come I jump on a train
So eager to get to see Granny again
And vacation with her in her special domain.
We’ll have crumpets for breakfast and jelly for tea
And talk through the night, as happy can be. ( Copyright Sally Murphy 2017)
You might note that although I’ve used the same rhyme scheme, I didn’t find it easy to replicate the rhythm. In a future draft I might try to do that. However, the point of a mentor text is to make something new, so I’m happy to experiment and change the pattern.
You can find mentor texts easily. Do you have a school English text? See if you can use one of the poems in that as a starting point. Or pick up any book of poetry (if you don’t own one, try your school or local library). Or, feel free to use one of the poems I’ve posted here on my blog. Once you’ve found a poem you like, read it closely. Ask yourself: is there a pattern of rhyme? of syllables and rhythm? What other techniques does the poet use – repetition, simile, metaphor? What other topic might suit this form (you’ll note in my example, I also wrote about an elderly person, and the word ‘van’ unconsciously made its way into my poem). Then, when you feel ready, have a go at writing a poem of your own. Maybe even just a line or two.
If this seems overwhelming, start with a short poem, or work with a friend to write a joint poem. Remember, after you’ve written something, you can always rewrite it or, if you don’t like it, try again with a different mentor poem.
Let me know if you do write a poem. I love to hear from readers and writers.