Tag Archives: poetry

Happy half term!

Jack and the BeanstalkWhen I travel about the place I tend to forget stuff (I recently left a bag on a train back from Manchester).  Here’s a short poem about the effect of leaving things at home.

When I spend a night away

I pack a bag for where I’ll stay

I’ll put in socks and pants and stuff

(pyjamas and a shirt’s enough).

As I’m leaving, in my rush

I always forget my toothbrush.

This regular lapse of memory

means that in my bathroom, I have three!

The toothbrush collection causes a stink

they take up room around the sink.

The soap is squeezed to find a space

there’s just enough for my toothpaste.

Three is company and very nice

but I don’t brush my teeth three times!

This trio make the bathroom hectic

and there’s a fourth (it’s electric!)

Next time that I’m on a trip

I really need to plan for it.

Somehow or other I have to stop

buying toothbrushes from the corner shop.

But if I’m away and I’ve forgotten

another one would not be rotten.

Owning five might seem obscene

but at least I’m committed to oral hygiene!

1000 up for Time the Ostler (and counting)!

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

A year ago I made a video inspired by “The Highwayman” in which Tim the Ostler confesses what he did to betray Bess and The Highwayman.  Twelve months on its just had its thousandth viewing.  Yah!

I’m thrilled that so many people have watched it (admittedly it’s not millions of bods but I’m not a pop star or a puppy/baby doing anything cute).  As with most things though the devil is in the detail – How many people watched the video because they were looking for it?  How is this short clip being used?  Do people like it?  I wish I could tell you but the truth is I have no idea.  For all the views, my video has received very little feedback.

It’d be lovely to know that this little film is being used as a study tool rather than just accidentally clicked on.  So do me a favour, if you’ve watch and enjoy any of my Youtube videos don’t forget to leave a comment or click “like”.

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Everyday should be National Poetry Day!

Last week the UK celebrated National Poetry Day.  Always one to join the band waggon late I thought I would have a lazy blogging week and share some of my older poems.

When I think about it poetry is a big part of my work.  From reciting poems in my storytelling to using epic poetry in drama and storytelling workshops.  For me the charm of verse is it’s form and immediacy.  I can write a 30 minute story or a four stanza poem.  The results can be very satisfying.  When I worked with Guilden Morden Primary School to tell the story of The Great Fire of Guilden Morden the sophistication of the children’s poetry blew me away.

Anyway here is the selection of poems I have chosen – other video can be viewed on my Youtube Channel.

My most popular (I recently passed 500 views) – this poem is a rethinking on Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” from the viewpoint of one of the other characters.  I wrote it for a workshop exploring the poem.


My most furry – again here I am rethinking Julia Donaldson’s “The Gruffalo”.  In my version the Gruffalo makes the argument that he is the victim of the mouse’s lies!


My most anarchic – This is one of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem recited by the Mad Hatter.



My most classical – very few people who watch my version of Homer’s Odyssey would realise that I have remained true to the form of the original epic poem.  Whilst I have tinkered with a lot of the text to make its shorter (necessary when the original is 24 books long!) I have retained most of the introduction.


and just for fun… I have a background in parody and pastiche.  Here is my version of “Frankenstein” set to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”!!  I have also reworked Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde to the tunes of pop songs and some of the Canterbury Tales (I hope to record a few over the coming weeks).


The Great Fire of Guilden Morden (Part Two)

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Time to bring you up to speed on The Great Fire of Guilden Morden project.

As you’ll recall from my previous blog on this three month project  last year I was contacted by Guilden Morden Primary School who were looking for a creative partner for a Heritage Lottery funded project.  Working over 12 weeks between May 2014 and July 2014 the school would devise and develop a creative response to The Guilden Morden Fire (22/5/1881).  This creative response would be documented using web based, digital technology.

The project has now finished so it seems appropriate to reflect on what we got up to in my final weeks in Cambridgeshire…

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Week Six

Polishing our story – I worked with the groups to consider the structure and language we might use in our poetry and scenes.  We explored atmosphere and how it might effect the urgency of our words (particularly as our story is about a fire).  We began rehearsing our scenes and thinking about how we could use transitive verbs to help a performer better understand character and events.  Elsewhere we explored the local legend of Jack o’Legs and the area’s connections to agriculture.

Week Seven

Staging a Chorus – The group continued to think about how vocal expression could bring the story to life.  Conscious of the looming deadline to create a piece of community theatre this week I also introduced some basic ideas about Greek Chorus Work.  With the youngest classes we set up a water relay race as we explored the difficulties the Fire Brigade might have faced in 1881.

Week Eight

Rehearsals – With two sessions scheduled this week we staged the main structural elements of our story; the scenes and poem.  It is worth mentioning that most of the ideas for the words and actions came from the children rather than from the teachers or myself.  It was very important that the children felt this was their project and that my role was to challenge and enthuse them.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Week Nine

More Rehearsals – Working with each group for short bursts to ensure they didn’t disengage from the story we continued to rehearse the groups.  As we began to bring the different elements of the story together the process became very technical and I confess to confusing myself at times!  Despite this the group took things in their stride.

Week Ten

Show Time – For the first time we brought all 73 performers together and on two sweltering afternoons the children presented their story to their families and community.

The Great Fire of Guilden Morden is documented by the school here but this is a taste of what we came up with…


“It was a charming summer’s day in the year of 1881.

In Guilden Morden, the golden hill in the marsh,

the sun’s warm rays are dancing on the faces of children playing outside.

Birds sit amongst the fresh green leaves of silver birch trees

singing their beautiful songs,

and a gentle breeze carries cares and worries away.

Peace reigns over the village, fields and lanes.

None suspect what is to pass on that terrible Sunday.”


From start to finish this was a special experience.  The staff and all the pupils were wonderful to work with and I will truly miss being a part of the school.  I take away a lot of memories and a folder of thank you messages from the children which I will treasure.  Most of all though I leave this project inspired by the potential of young people and certain that creative practitioners have a future within education so long as schools remain willing to take creative risks, commissioning projects where the outcomes are more difficult to quantify.  So long as there are teachers like those at Guilden Morden Primary School creativity has a very bright future.

Gods and Monsters: Approaching Homer’s Odyssey

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.A year ago I devised Dracula to coincide with The Summer Reading Challenge (SRC) 2013.  The piece was hugely successful and it has been my pleasure to present it across the rest of the country at schools and events since.  Time waits for no man and a year later I am about to embark upon an even bigger tour with an even bigger challenge: Homer’s Odyssey.

I had originally thought to give SRC 2014 a miss – Private Peaceful was a very demanding and very consuming project and I thought that perhaps I needed some time to reflect.  In February I was booked by Hammersmith and Fulham Libraries for four days of storytelling.  I knew that the obvious choice considering the theme this year is Mythical Mazes, would be Theseus and the Minotaur but I tell this already as part of my traditional storytelling offer to schools.  I briefly considered “The Secret Garden” as an alternative slant on the theme before settling on Homer.

There are many good reasons for children to hear The Odyssey.  It may be 3000 years old but its a really famous and influential story packed with Gods and Monsters.  Be it the Coen Brothers’ Oh Brother!  Where Art Thou? or the test of the Glass Slipper to find true love in Cinderella, shades of The Odyssey are everywhere.  The original is very skilfully written and as the plotlines merge it is clearly much more than an adventure story.  There is a strong message through the narrative about the foolishness of men and the wisdom and fortitude of women.  I have used this blog to talk about the role of strong women in fairy tales before and whilst Odysseus truly is a man of exploits and trials (many of which are brought about by ill judged decisions) loyal Penelope is admirably steadfast and dignified as she waits for his return.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In recent months I have been doing more and more work around narrative poems.  I have explored Alfred Noyes’ Highwayman, Tennyson and even used narrative poetry as a device for telling the story of The Great Fire of Guilden Morden.  I have been keen to retain the sense of a narrative poem, its language and imagery, in my reinterpretation.  I say reinterpretation because mine will be an adaptation of Homer.  There is no way I could remember twelve and a half thousand lines of poetry but I hope that I offer a flavour of the journey as we follow Odysseus home in just 40 minutes.  My story must also have a sense of progression and therefore cannot afford to linger.  My other big challenge is making the piece accessible to very young audiences.  I want the experience to be fun but its important that the tone is right and any jokes mustn’t cloud the narrative.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.The result is a series of short stories which in the future I will be able to tell independently or present as a show following Odysseus from Troy back to Penelope.  I’ll be doing my usual array of voices, physical attitudes and helping the audience to identify Gods from the Monsters with suggestions of costume and some more visual setpieces.  (I have already redecorated my Kitchen with tomato juice in a failed attempt to produce a suitably gory effect for the blinding of Polyphemus).

If the preparation is an indicator of the summer to come then it’s going to be epic!

Dates from 9th July 2014 in London Libraries.  Follow link and check local listings for details of presentations.

The Merits of a Narrative Poem

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.When I was younger I didn’t think that I liked poetry.  Outside Shakespeare I rarely read verse for pleasure.  Last year though, I was introduced to Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” and it changed my view of poetry completely.  Since then I have been reading other narrative poems including the “The Ballad of the Fleet” (Tennyson) and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Carroll) and incorporating them into my work.

A narrative poem tells us a story but it is set out in stanzas with the rhythms and rhyming patterns familiar in other types of poem.  It will contain a skilfully woven story packed with wonderful imagery and metaphors which compels its audience.

In my opinion the narrative poem offers so much that I have even used them in pieces for Birthday Parties!  Here are what I see as the merits of working with narrative poetry.

The narrative poem is perhaps one of the most ancient form of storytelling (The Iliad and Beowulf are both story poems).  As a Drama Facilitator I believe they are a fantastic way of introducing complex text to young audiences which demonstrates the breadth and depth of our literary heritage beyond Shakespeare.

It offers a whole story.  A chapter of a book or a scene from a play wouldn’t offer the beginning middle and end in this way.  If I want to guarantee that a group have heard the material a narrative poem is a concise way of quickly offering an entire story.

The narrative poem will capture the imaginations of boys and girls as it often recalls and romanticises some kind of adventure.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Investigating narrative poetry through drama is a lot of fun and once a group has a story they are better positioned to explore the author’s imagery and language choices.  The poems I am talking about were mostly written in the 19th and 20th Century and whilst the language is certainly complex it is not impenetrable.  Accessing it allows young  participants to make their own judgements about themes, events and characters (perhaps physically characterising or hot seating characters about their decisions in the story or making up scenes based upon their deductions).

I have also found that exploring a narrative poem can become a catalyst for exploring rhythm, rhyme and meter and getting groups to write in poetry.

_ _ _ _

“The wind was a rushing train, dodging every tree

The moon was a shiny banana ripe and ready for me.

The road was a lonely wanderer, under an ongoing spell

and Mr Highwayman came riding, riding, riding

Josh Highwayman came riding, up to the Grand Hotel.”

_ _ _ _

“The snow was a breeze of coldness coating the leafy bush,

The sun was a ball of fire, gleaming upon rushing waves

The field was a soft green carpet, over the earthy road

And the Highwayman came skating, skating, skating

The Highwayman came skating up to the big mansion’s door.”

_ _ _ _

As well as getting excited about narrative poetry I have discovered narrative songs.  My taste in story song is eclectic ranging from Benny Hill (The Fastest Milkman in the West) to Charles Daniels (The Devil Went Down to Georgia) and Chris Wood (Hollow Point).  You could easily laugh some narrative songs off as being novelties but constructing an effective narrative within a poem or a song is a great skill.  Tennyson and Noyes might not be matched for their poetry’s beautiful imagery  but Hollow Point particularly is (in my view) a powerful piece of modern verse based storytelling.

Up to now narrative poems have formed the basis of workshops or featured within other work that I have presented but this summer to coincide with The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 I am taking my new found love of the narrative poem to a whole new level as I reinterpret Homer’s “Odyssey” for a young audience.

My final reinterpretation is unlikely to be a narrative poem but one thing is certain – it’s going to be epic!

Special thanks to the children of South Malling Primary School for sharing their “modern” takes on “The Highwayman”.

“The Highwayman” from an Ostler’s Point of View

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Highwaymen are often referred to as “Gentlemen of the Road” but they were in fact nothing more than common thieves.  “Stand and Deliver!” (the command rather than the song), was last uttered by a Highwayman in Britain in 1831 but their exploits were (and are) popularly romanticised.  Alfred Noyes’ epic poem chronicles the night time adventures of one such rogue and the Landlord’s daughter, who tragically meet their ends in the cobbled inn yard.  Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” is a brilliant story of love that has been reinterpreted by artists, film makers and musicians around the world.

As part of a workshop exploring Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”, I was challenged to reinterpret the poem for a group of Primary School children.  This video is a part of the result and this blog came about as more and more people watched it online.


Rather than tell the Highwayman’s story I wanted to explore the world of the other characters mentioned in the poem.  I wanted the tone to be quite serious so taking Bess’ perspective was out.  The Landlord and the King’s Guards presented possibilities but the most interesting character seemed to be Tim the Ostler.  In the original poem Tim is mentioned by name but appears in just one stanza:

“And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
    His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
    But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—”

Who was this man?  Why was he there?  What was his role in events and what was his story beyond the inn yard?

What follows is the transcript of the above video.  My version is actually longer than this as I introduce the Captain of the Guard and explain what happens to Tim (I reserve those verses for live presentations).

What was most striking for me in Noyes’ poem was his rhythm and rhyming structure.  When I listen to the poem I always think about a horses hooves and I wanted my poem also to respect a regular meter (which it loosely does).  I also love his imagery and try to include some bold similes and metaphors.  Like Noyes I was drawn to his original themes of love, jealousy and violence but I have chosen for Tim the Ostler to recount his bitter betrayal rather than a third party.


Tim the Ostler

Now the landlord he has a daughter, whose lips are as red as a fire

Her hair is a perfumed cascade you couldn’t fail to admire

Oh how I longed for this young girl, who goes by the name of Bess

My master’s black eyed daughter

She smiled at me, his daughter

I dreamt that this sweetest lady would someday be my Princess….

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!