The Art of Writing

Magic Box Poems

This exercise moves on from the Surrealist Game using two similar poems. One is Kit Wright’s The Magic Box, which is used in many British schools, and the other is Tamim al-Barghouti’ s The Gift. Both poems imagine all the abstract things in life – or desires, losses, loves, political experiences – as concrete objects, which are packed in a concrete box.

The first thing to do is to let the students read and enjoy the poems. Then you encourage them to make their own version of either of the poems. That on its own can be enough instruction – just ask them to borrow the first line and go! – but it can also work well to pack a ‘magic box’ for one particular person.

After reading the poems, ask the students to think of someone they do not see enough of, for whatever reason.
They can pack them a magic box of memories.
Put in a photo, a food, a drink, an item of clothing, a flower, a bit of weather, a tune
Wrap it up carefully – say how
Tie it up – say in what
And how is it sent?

The Magic Box

I will put in the box
the swish of a silk sari on a summer night,
fire from the nostrils of a Chinese dragon,
the tip of a tongue touching a tooth.

I will put in the box
a snowman with a rumbling belly
a sip of the bluest water from Lake Lucerne,
a leaping spark from an electric fish.

I will put into the box
three violet wishes spoken in Gujarati,
the last joke of an ancient uncle,
and the first smile of a baby.

I will put into the box
a fifth season and a black sun,
a cowboy on a broomstick
and a witch on a white horse.

My box is fashioned from ice and gold and steel,
with stars on the lid and secrets in the corners.
Its hinges are the toe joints of dinosaurs.

I shall surf in my box
on the great high-rolling breakers of the wild Atlantic
then wash ashore on a yellow beach
the colour of the sun.

Kit Wright


My life is a gift
Given to me
On my zero birthday.
Today I pulled out the ribbon,
Unwrapped the Box
And found lots of things,
But also wonder-full:
A watch of gold,
And of gold
Is every hour in one’s life;
A jack-in-the box
Which makes you laugh
Or scares you to death, it depends;
Two beautiful baby-dolls,
The first a toy,
The second is not;
A prisoner’s crown and the shackles of a king;
I also found a Jack of Spades
You turn him upside down
He stays the same;
I found books;
I found a long video tape labelled
‘Fifty years of conflict between the Zionists and the Arabs’;
I found hell in an inkpot,
And heaven in an inkpot too;
I found an Arab horse on a race track
Covered with glue;
I found a stove with no flames;
At the bottom of the box,
I found a white card with my name on it,
The rest has not yet been written.

I did not know what to do with all these things!
Oh, God, thank you,
But why the trouble?

I put them all back in the box,
I closed it,
Wrapped it,
Tied the ribbon,
I threw it skywards and up it went,
The gift turned into a host of flying doves
That I will follow forever.
Why did I do that?
I really do not know!]

Tamim al-Barghouti Translation: Radwa Ashour

Memory Box
(for my Auntie)

I shall put in my box
the necklace you gave me,
the dress you let me borrow,
the cake recipe you taught me.

I shall put in my box
the last strand of hair that I found
the cake you gave me during the wedding
and a pinch of sugar from your sweetness.

I shall put in my box
the toy you let me keep as a baby
the pen you taught me how to use
and the drinks you made to please us.

My box is fashioned with love and content
and grief in the corners.
Its hinges are made from the bark
of the biggest tree in your garden.

I shall jump in my box
and float to heaven
and slide down from my parachute
and roll into your safe loving arms.

Aqsa (12)