The Art of Writing

The Table

This is another poem which takes us on the journey from abstract to concrete using a poem, this time one translated from the Turkish.

A man comes home and puts down his (concrete) shopping,then adds the memories of the day, (abstract in the present time frame but concrete in his memory), then adds a whole pile of abstract ideas, than marvels at the (concrete) table, so laden with stuff.

The Table

A man filled with the gladness of living
Put his keys on the table,
Put flowers in a copper bowl there.
He put his eggs and milk on the table.
He put there the light that came in through the window,
Sounds of a bicycle, sound of a spinning wheel.
The softness of bread and weather he put there.
On the table the man put
Things that happened in his mind.
What he wanted to do in life,
He put that there.
Those he loved, those he didn’t love,
The man put them on the table too.
Three times three make nine:
The man put nine on the table.
He was next to the window next to the sky;
He reached out and placed on the table endlessness.
So many days he had wanted to drink a beer!
He put on the table the pouring of that beer.
He placed there his sleep and his wakefulness;
His hunger and his fullness he placed there.
Now that’s what I call a table!
It didn’t complain at all about the load.
It wobbled once or twice, then stood firm.
The man kept piling things on.

Edip Cansever
from the Turkish by Julia Clare Tillinghurst and Richard Tillinghurst

The table is a beautiful structure to build a poem on:

  • Read the poem with the students, then ask them to write their own.
  • Start with someone coming home – a man, a woman, a boy.
    It can be someone you know, or just an idea, or yourself, older or younger or now. Even if it is you, though, use the third person (he or she) because that that will give you a bit more distance and ease in the poem
  • Who is coming home? How are they feeling?
    A man full of…
    A child full of…
    Comes home
  • Now you need a place to put things down – a sofa, a bed, a floor, a peg…
    And puts his bag on the …..
    He puts stuff down. Concrete things, first:
    keys.. a phone…
    puts them down on the floor/bed/sofa…
  • Then he puts down some memories: the sounds and touches and smells of the day…
    Maybe some memories from further back, too. Make sure they are all concrete and clear.
  • Now he can put down some things that ‘happened in his mind’
    A wish
    A sum
    A line of poetry or a phrase from a song
    Someone’s name
    A worry
    A person – someone he loves or hates, what they said.
  • Now put down some really big abstraction (endlessness)
    And balance it with something small and concrete (the longing for a beer)
    One more big thing … maybe just one more …
    But this pile is getting big.
  • Go back to the concrete: the table/peg/sofa
    What is doing under all this weight?
    Talk to it. Congratulate it. Thank it. Show it to the reader.

A couple of encouraging examples. Michael wrote this poem for his mother.

The Never-Ending Pile

An old lady filled with the satisfaction of living
Put her walking stick on the table,
and stood up young and strong.
She put her jacket covered with snow on the table
She put her shopping trolley on there too.
On there she put the voice of her dead husband.
On there she put the mole she had cut off.
On that table, her first kiss and her last,
The one bitchy friend,
And the one she had tea with, an hour ago.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, the sound of the clock –
She put that on the table.
Reaching up through the sky
She grabbed the moon
And smiled at Armstrong
And put that on the table.
And her wish for wealth and freedom
And for grace and for quickening the pace of world peace,
And her future, a tombstone,
All on the table.

A crackle here, a crackle there
But the table stood like her, young and strong.
Her never-ending pile grew.

Michael Egbe (16)

Mohamed was a young refugee from Syria, just beginning to learn English.
He is a twitter star – put in his name and the word poem into Twitter to share with your students.


When I go back home
I throw all my stuff on the floor:
my bag, my jumper, my trousers, my shoes,
my tie and my tee-shirt; my feelings,
my memories, the smells of life
all on the floor.
I put 2×2 and my 4 ideas
on the table;
the stupid words I learned from my friends,
in the bin.
I think about playing football,
and when I will play more,
and I put this thought
under my pillow,
because I need to keep it with me.

Hey bin, you’ve got
all those stupid English words in you.

Mohamed Assaf (12)