A Return to Narrative Poetry with the Young Writers
by Casey Bottono

A king stands on his balcony green,

observing his kingdom, near wild and free,

and all of it he observes with great glee.

­Ilya, Young Writers, March 2023


One of our most popular online workshops yet saw a return to the theme of narrative poetry. Although we have explored this in a previous workshop, we were keen to find a fresh approach to it.

This came through sharing a couple of songs with the writers, beginning with Johnny Cash’s rendition of ‘A Boy Named Sue’ – which was originally written by Shel Silverstein.

Having played the song, we invited the writers to compose a short piece of poetry or prose inspired by the idea of a gift that became a burden.

The second song we introduced was ‘Soldier, Poet, King’ by The Oh Hellos. The writers were invited to choose a line from the song and use it as inspiration for a poem written in three stanzas.

During this workshop, each of the writing exercises was followed by a brief period of time in which participants had the opportunity to look back over their work and make any changes they felt would be beneficial, before having the option to share with the group.

It seemed this was a popular decision, as many writers readily took the opportunity to improve upon their first drafts. This also had the benefit of limiting the number of times we heard somebody say ‘This isn’t very good, but…’

If creativity is a form of play, then there must be room to experiment. We are keen to make sure that all participants in Writers’ Block activities grow to appreciate their skill, not to dismiss their own talent so easily.

Following this, we introduced the writers to a poem called ‘The Battle of Maldon’. This is an Anglo-Saxon text, of which just a fragment survives. That remaining fragment reads ‘It is broken.’

Participants were invited to incorporate that line into the opening verse of a new poem.

We then turned to Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote about daring greatly for inspiration in writing a piece about a moment of failure that turned to a success.

To bring everything together, we invited the writers to compose a narrative poem that included:

  • A character who is either a soldier, a poet, or a monarch
  • A gift that feels like a burden
  • The line “it is broken”
  • A moment or turning success into failure or the attempt to.

As ever, the quality of the work that emerged left us stunned.

It is a privilege to witness and support these young people to nurture their creativity.

In our next workshop, we will turn our attention to the fantasy genre.

Our next workshop will take place on Zoom on Saturday 8th April between 10:00am and 12:00pm