Robert Burns was born on the 25th of January 1759. Five years after his death died his friends decided to commemorate his life with a special supper where they read some of his poetry and had a meal.
This tradition has continued until the present day and is still celebrated on 25th January. People dress up in tartan, and recite Burns poetry. The main part of Burns night celebration is the meal, which is usually haggis, tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips). During the evening, the haggis is brought into the room to the sound of bagpipes, and the host of the evening reads the poem “Address to a Haggis”, which was written by Burns. The haggis is then cut and shared between the guests along with the tatties and neeps.
The rest evening is a good excuse to drink whisky and have a sing song, including traditional Scottish songs such as Auld Lang Syne (also written by Burns)!
I had a panicked phone call from my niece the other day. She’d been off school for a few days, and she’d just had a text from a friend telling her that they had to hand in a poem about sweets the next morning. It was already almost bedtime, so time was short.
Usually when teaching poetry, I’d have a selection available so that we could look at the structure of them, and choose one to use as a framework. There was no time for any of this however, so we had to bluff it. This is how she wrote a poem in 15 minutes…
- She chose the sweet she was going to write about – Turkish Delight
- She wrote down as many words to describe it as she could: lovely, jelly, pink, yellow, sugary, chocolate, flavours, strawberry, lemon, rose, cubes, sweet, tangy, nice.
- She wrote down words to describe what it felt like in her mouth (chewy, like heaven) and how she felt when she ate it (happy)
- She used a thesaurus to replace all the boring words (nice became enjoyable, lovely became delicious, happy became joyful)
- She grouped together words that started with the same sound (alliteration) so we got “joyful jelly (an example of personification) and “chewy, chocolate-covered cubes”.
- She mixed up the senses so that feelings and colours had tastes (tangy yellow)
- She was insistent that this poem had to rhyme, even though poetry doesn’t have to, so she chose some words she thought it would be easy to find rhymes for (jelly, rose, sweet, pink) and made a list of all the words she came up with that rhymed. She also looked at her initial list of words to see if there were any rhymes or near rhymes.
- She looked at the words she hadn’t used from her initial list, and picked out a couple of her favourites.
- She kept moving the groups of words around until she found an order she was happy with.
10. She wrote the final version out in her book in neat.
This is the final poem:
Strawberry-flavoured, joyful jelly
Feels delicious in my belly.
Chocolate-covered cubes of heaven
Sugar-coated, rose and lemon.
Tangy yellow, pink so sweet
Makes an enjoyable evening treat.
Ok, it’s not going to win any literary prizes but it’s not bad for a late-night, ¼ hour Skype video chat.
I’ve lost my Gran.
She’s still there,
I see her every Sunday.
She still sits in her favourite chair by the fire,
which is always on, even in summer,
because she says she’s cold.
Sometimes when she sees me, she smiles,
asks how I am and how my friends are.
We natter about the neighbours,
gossip and giggle.
We play her old wartime music,
sing along together
even though I don’t know the words.
But sometimes when she sees me she’s confused,
doesn’t recognise me,
calls me the wrong name.
That makes me sad.
Sometimes she’s scared of me, and that’s worse.
Thinks I’m a doctor come to put her in a home,
or a thief after her jewellery and nick-nacks.
Sometimes she shouts and swears,
has tantrums and throws things,
kicks and scratches, bites.
Then I don’t recognise her,
and that breaks my heart.
I’ve lost my Gran.
She’s still there, frail body in her favourite chair.
But in her mind she’s gone away.
I’m in my room doing homework.
and I hear
raised voices in the kitchen,
the radio being turned up,
footsteps on stairs,
wardrobe doors opening,
clothes hangers scraping on rails,
zipper on suitcase,
thud of case hitting wooden floor,
front door clicking shut,
wheels churning up gravel,
I can’t concentrate now.
My homework blurs, then smudges.
He didn’t even say, “Goodbye.”
My dad didn’t come home from work today.
Two men in dark suits knocked our door,
and mum cried.
The newspapers said he was a hero.
They said he was brave, saved lives.
They said he should have a medal.
My teachers said he was a great man,
and that I should be proud of him.
I am proud.
But not for the reasons you think.
I don’t know your brave-heroic-medal-earner.
I’m proud because he was my dad.
Because he read me stories when I was little.
Because he put plasters on my scratches.
Because he tickled me till I screamed for mercy.
Because he never missed my school plays.
Because he let me wear make-up.
Because he never approved of my boyfriends.
Because he helped me with my homework.
Because he believed in me.
Because I always knew he loved me.
You can keep your brave hero.
I’ll keep my memories of the real man.