Poetic composition with Ernest Hemingway

By Lucy McIlwraith, Teacher of English

Block 3 have been studying Ernest Hemingway’s novella The Old Man and The Sea in their English composition lessons this term, which has led to all sorts of fishy descriptions and discoveries. Last week they tried a form of poetic composition which involves taking lines from the text and rearranging them to create a poem.

Everyone had called him The Champion
He always thought of the sea as la mar
The strange light the sun made on the water
He loved green turtles and hawksbill with their elegance and speed
He was happy feeling the gentle pulling and then he felt something hard and unbelievably heavy
He held the line against his back and watched its slant in the water
I love and respect you very much.
He is a great fish and i must convince him
They are our brothers and are like flying fish
I hate cramp. It is a treachery of one’s own body.​
‘I’ll kill him though, ‘Now is when I must prove it.’

– Nicky, Block 3

The Human Fish

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
You let the female fish always feed first.
You are good, play jokes and love one another
Take some rest fish
Chew it well and get all the juices

Fish, I love you and respect you very much
But through my treachery,
My big fish,
I will kill you dead before the day is over

It was the saddest thing I ever saw
The female made a wild and panic stricken fight.
Still, through my treachery,
I love you and respect you very much

– Jake, Block 3

La Mar

In the dark the old man could feel the morning coming,
The boat moved slowly through the dark water,
 He was sorry for the birds,
The small delicate dark terns,
Always flying and looking and never finding,
The birds have a harder life than we do – he thought,
Why did they make birds so delicate and fine,
When the ocean can be so cruel?
She is kind and very beautiful,
Yet,
She can be so cruel,
It comes so suddenly and such birds that fly,
Dipping and hunting,
Their small sad voices are made to delicately for la mar,
But – he thought,
She gives or withholds favours,
 And if she did wicked things,
It was because she could not help them,

– Shoshana, Block 3

This poetic composition exercise is something that you can do with any text and which produces a very wide variety of outcomes. I thought you might like to have a go yourself, maybe with your family, so here are some instructions:

  1. Choose a novel or short story that you love or know well to work with.
  2. Choose 10-15 phrases or short sentences and write them down. The tricky bit is to not think too much but to trust your instincts and choose lines that ‘speak’ to you. You could also experiment with choosing lines at random.
  3. The quotations you’ve chosen may well have some sort of shared theme. You could use the theme as the title of the poem or you might choose one of the lines to be the title.
  4. Re-arrange the quotes into some sort of order that makes most sense. Try not to think too hard but go with what feels right.
  5. You might need to leave out one or two of your original choices but try to include them all if you can.
  6. You might need to alter the grammar of some of your quotations slightly to help it make sense.
  7. Read it through again and again and make any alterations it needs each time.

I’ve also recorded creative writing sessions which anyone can use which can be found here: Description, Home, Poetry and Speech.