alien clay

Years 5 + 6 at Newtown School in Carlisle and Old Hutton Primary School in Kendal joined me on a zig-zagging route through language to dig strange new poems out of stone.

Year 6 students at Old Hutton Primary School in Kendal

First, we used magnifying glasses and water to examine each rock, trying to get closer to a detail of its smell, texture or colour by taking our similes further away. The rocks became ‘bright as a bulldozer’ or ‘soft as burger bun’ or ‘grey as a knife’.

Next we gathered together this array of things we had seen in the rock – the clay, the bumpy mountain, the silky dress, the smooth glass – and drew them together into a narrative. We wrote the stories at high speed, timed to just three minutes.

In the case of the list above, the rock disappears under the landscape of a story in which an army of well-dressed aliens in a glass ship crashes into the earth, getting covered in smelly clay. Other students made other combinations:

bright as a bulldozer + hard as a diamond + green as moss
a crystal cavern underneath a building site


pink as a crab’s shell + cold as ice + shaped like a space ship
a space crab sailing across the universe on a lump of interstellar ice

The high-speed scribbled stories were then exchanged with another student who circled the words they enjoyed the most. These circled words were then written out in sequence, rearranging the students’ language into something unlike anything they would ordinarily write. For the student with the aliens in the glass ship, the circled words were ‘alien’, ‘clay’ and ‘was made in may’ which made a strange little rhyme.

For me, these tiny aleatory arrivals at ‘alien clay’ and ‘black grey straight single movement’ or ‘orange life’ often returned the student’s writing back to original subject, setting up miniature portraits or sideways glances at the rock. These fragments, while often dense and tricky and looking a lot like nonsense, approach something of the rock’s unimaginable longevity, heat, taste and possible consciousness which seemed to fascinate the group.

I congratulated the students on their poems. The students weren’t so sure – the poems didn’t make sense and they didn’t rhyme – but I hope the students might continue to take sideways glances at both rocks and language, zigzagging their own way to poetry.

black grey straight / single movement

shining mist diamond fresh as a mint / as cold as moonlight / as clean as car wash

black life battered / white life dead / green life good / orange life

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