Collapsed Poem: Mother, any distance


Recently I taught this lovely Armitage poem to my year 11s. For the starter I drew an anchor and a kite on the board and asked students to think of the connotations of these items. Once we discussed these I then asked them to imagine that if this was a visual representation of a relationship what this relationship might be like. The feedback was interesting – whilst some were seeing a negative relationship in which the anchor was holding back the kite; others saw the anchor as something that kept the kite safe etc. This fed nicely into the discussion of the poem later.

I then gave students a collapsed version of the poem. This just means that all the words are re-organised alphabetically in rows. (See below for instructions on how to collapse any poem) When they were given their collapsed poem they were asked to consider what the poem might be about and look for patterns in the following:

  • repeated words
  • kinds of words (semantic groups/fields)
  • what kinds of nouns used (concrete/abstract)
  • monosyllabic or polysyllabic words
  • formality or informality
  • tense

Following this, students wrote their own poem using only the words available. I was impressed not only with their creativity but the way in which their work mirrored some of the themes/ideas present in the original poem.

Students then broke off into expert groups. I might group students in different lessons for interpretation, language and structure or give them a stanza each depending on which seems appropriate. After focusing on their section students were re-grouped and taught each other about their expert field. The plenary then involved students linking this poem to others about mother and child relationships.

Here’s how to collapse any poem:

  1. Make sure the original text is saved
  2. Highlight the text and keep it highlighted throughout
  3. Go to the Edit menu
  4. Choose ‘Replace’
  5. Type a space in the top box
  6. Type a ^p in the lower box
  7. Choose ‘Replace all’
  8. Choose ‘No’
  9. Choose ‘Close’
  10. Choose ‘Table’
  11. Choose ‘Sort AZ’
  12. Choose ‘OK’

The poem will look like one long list of words and may go over onto many pages. I insert new columns so that as much of the poem as possible can squeeze onto one page. Here is an example of a collapsed poem; Love After Love:


I have found that collapsing a poem encourages students to  look closely at the words that make up the poem – that can’t be a bad thing, surely?


2 Responses

  1. Brilliant, thanks.

  2. aww thanks this could really help me now

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