Poetry puts pictures of the world in our heads. One of the things poetry excels at is giving us fresh visions and views of the world by describing it through the technique of metaphor.
Anyone who has spent time with young children will know that they are natural users of metaphor, perhaps because their vocabulary is still limited and therefore need to find ways of expressing themselves inventively. Poets seek actively to replicate this experimental use of language, finding, in Robert Frost's phrase 'a fresh look and a fresh listen'.
To explore how poems put pictures in our heads as we read or listen to it.
To discuss the way the poem uses simple metaphors to describe the character and personality of 'Granny'
To explore how we can all make poem by using metaphorical descriptions of how we see a family member
Listen to the recording of the poem all the way through. Write down or discuss responses to the poem. What pictures did you see in your mind? Did the poem remind you of anything in your own life? Play the poem a second time. This time focus on what Granny is doing in the poem. What does the speaker of the poem feel about her? How can you tell? What kind of visual image of Granny do we have from the poem? What does she look like?
Explore the way each stanza paints a different picture of what Granny is doing. Draw attention to the use of metaphor, and talk about the ways in which Granny not only DOES these actions but IS them. Notice how the poem pulls the reader in by using sensory detail and concrete language such as loadin' and scrubbin'. What does this tell us about Granny and the life she leads?
Choose a family member and write down the exact name that you call them by. It could be Mum, Dad, Auntie, Gran or a nickname, something more personal. Then write down all the things you know and like about them - such as what they like to eat; something they buy from the shops; something they do (perhaps they go to work, or do things with their hands like knitting) and something they say or sing.
The idea is that each of the items in the list acts as a starting point for a separate stanza about your family member. Try writing a poem where each stanza starts with 'Granny/Dad/Auntie/Teddy (etc) is....'. See if your list looks like a poem? You might like it just as it is, or you might want to add more detail in between ideas to make it into a poem. You might want to extend your lines by adding two or three more examples for each idea. It is more important for the details of the poems to be honest and accurate than it is for them to rhyme.
What has each group learned about using metaphor as a way of describing people and making them come alive? How many ways did children think of to describe the same person? Children might like to share their work with the group to comment on each other's work.
discuss the way the poem uses rhyme to close each stanza and the effects of this
discuss the way the poem moves in and out of Standard English, with attention to the choices the writer has made about vocabulary and syntax
Play other poems by Valerie Bloom. For poems which deepen and extend the use of metaphor listen to 'The River' and 'Time'. These could be contrasted (are they in Standard English or Creole?) with 'Granny Is'.
If the class are familiar with the technique of Kennings they could listen to Philip Gross's poem 'Daughter of the Sea', which is a nice contrast with Valerie's own metaphorical river poem.
For more poems about family members, listen to ‘Dad’ and ‘Mum [Polly Peters]’ by Andrew Fusek Peters or ‘Dad’ by Bernie Doherty.