The Art of Writing

Moving on from the Surrealist Game

There are lots of creative ways to move on from the Surrealist’s Game.

  • One is to simply ask the students to write their own poem suggested on any of the ideas from the game. Being allowed to copy one or two ideas directly can build confidence.
  • Or you could ask the group to chose one feeling or abstract idea which matters to them – War, Love, Loss, Jealousy – and define it using only concrete images and words.
    A bit of directed writing can help them get started.
  • Give the students lots of prompts and encourage them to take their time.
    What does this feeling smell of? Taste of? Feel like? Sound like? Look like?
    If it were a bird, what sort of bird would it be? What animal? What insect?
    What landscape? What body of water? What weather?
    What drink? What food? What colour?
    What boat? What car? What house? What music?
  • Poems can develop from just one image – a place or a person, for instance – or from a list. But be strict about not using any abstract words. It’s a good idea to tell them NOT to rhyme at this point, or use acrostics – you want to keep them focused on images.
  • With younger children, try the same exercise with a day of the week, or a month of the year. What colour is Monday? What does it smell of?

Here are some short poems to share that work on the principle of taking an abstract idea and giving it a concrete reality:

Rukiya was 16 when she wrote this poem. She came from Bangladesh to England when she was 6.


It smells of sweat, a little musky,
and tastes like a penny,
salty, like a bloody gum.
It sounds like a lion, roaring,
groaning, in the distance,
anticipating, moving, watching,
It feels like a cactus,
prickling, hurting, manifesting
It is a mountain
on the clouds,
Misty, fog filled.
It is your safari vehicle
mud soaked and drenched
It is not a person.
Not Bear Grylls, Indiana Jones
Crocodile Dundee-

It is courage.

Rukiya Khatun

This example shows how well it can work to just pick one sort of image – in this case, a person. Rachel grew up in England and is Afro-Carribean.


Want is quiet but it sticks around.
It takes a seat before it makes itself known.
Want’s eyes glint, and its tongue flickers.
Want will listen, and wait, and study,
it learns everything. It learns you.

Want smiles and soon after it laughs –
not with you.
Want mocks in whispers and sometimes
(if you are unlucky)
want will shout.

Rachel Gittens (16)

You might want to use this poem with caution with Palestinian students as it is by Yehuda Amichai, Israel’s most famous poet. On the other hand, it is very much pro-compromise and peace! It was originally written in Hebrew and does very interesting things with Googletranslate.

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plough
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Yehuda Amichai

Langston Hughes, one the founding figures of Black American literature, also shows how a single analogy – in this case ripening fruit – can be political and powerful. He’s writing about Harlem in the 1930s, when the hope of Black Americans in the first decades of the 20th Century were being destroyed. It’s all about the senses: textures, smells, tastes.Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes