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  • Writer's pictureCaleb Parkin



Having been struggling to get the pen moving this last couple of days, I just tried out a little exercise to generate this poem…


Two elderflowers flank it, waving white-flag leaves:

the Cottage for the Keeper of Lock Seventy-Eight

is drowning in brown fields, the drizzle it breathes.

For he knows, as he toasts and quarters his bread,

each ambling hulk he ushers up or down

could be his last: could cost his head.

There it is, every time the lock recedes,

growling in the shallow murk: the tiger –

its back of cutting rock; its stripes of tangled weed.

The exercise was as follows, from this article in the Guardian (which was, yes, intended for kids – but really for poets of any age…Yes…It was, OK?).

So, here goes:

• Choose a number between 1 and 20 (eg 15)

• Choose a number between 1 and 100 (eg 30)

• Choose a colour (eg purple), a mood (eg sad), a kind of weather (eg sunny), a place (eg the laundrette), an animal (eg a rat)

Now: The first number is the number of lines your poem should have. All the other choices have to be in the poem.

AND SO IT WAS that mine was a 9-line poem, including the number 78, the colour brown, a ‘frantic’ mood, drizzle, a lock-keeper’s cottage, and a tiger.

Coupled with a strong coffee (in my case), I found this most helpful – and I would imagine being able to generate the factors even more randomly (get someone else to pick numbers, animals, etc – then swap!) would help even more.

Give it a go – go on, even if you’re not, technically, a youth any more…

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