Adult Learners

In the East of England we discovered what happened when a poet - Rosemary Harris - was combined repeatedly with Adult Learner groups. Rosemary kept a blog during this time, which you can read here.

About Rosemary Harris

"An important new talentÂ…Powerful, powerful poems." Ian McMillan, The Verb, Radio 3

A dynamic new voice in poetry, Rosemary Harris is an Australian writer/performer who has been based in the UK since 1997.

Rosemary has been commissioned by Apples & Snakes to create new work for "Verbaleyes" at the Pumphouse Gallery, and for the 2005 national tour of "Broken Words". Rosemary has performed at Glastonbury Festival, BAC, Soho Writers' Festival and on Radio 3. She has been published in Poetry London and Orbis, and won 1st prize in 2004's Middlesex University International Poetry Competition, judged by Neil Astley.

Trained at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), ex-Sydney Theatre Company member Rosemary has appeared on stages from the Sydney Opera House to New York and Edinburgh. She has performed as a musician, poet and commentator on local and national radio in Australia and the UK.

She has extensive experience conducting workshops for primary and secondary schools and adult learners, including mental health service users, and learning disability groups. Her most recent workshop projects include the 2012 Friendship Festival for Creative Partnerships London North, working with Year 8 students to create poetry, music and visual installations for Greenwich Maritime Museum.

Rosemary Harris
Shotgun Eulogy


The woman in the box is a dead president.

Her grey lips are sewn shut to dam the ink,

moist lines of print like liquid illness,

she can't stop leaking.


The pearls around her neck match

others around her wrists; chains of charms,

tiny skulls, placed there by popes,

by Pol Pot, by people who eat small bodies.


Her name is Presidentia. She was born for greatness,

her birth recorded in the Yellow Pages.

In neighbouring countries, overcrowded ferries

carried her nameplate and sounded horns

up and down river.


When she cried, she cried organs,

but not often. She was early adult.

She wiped her arse on newsprint.


In life she carried her shotgun into the library.

Every category was in the firing line.

Anything surviving received a fine.


On hearing of her own death, Presidentia

lumbered, elephantine, to one knee.

Though the impact was terrible on her kneecap,

her stockings remained intact. She was ecstatic.


Now her corpse gives interviews via the family medium.

Thousands of newborns are named in her honour,

but birth certificates are left blank

to avoid suggestions of sacrilege.

No one will say her name,

but they have been leavened

by an elemental, almost mineral, intervention.

They know it is so. She tells them so.


Lesson Plan: "What is poetry? What is poetic imagery?"

Here is Rosemary's lesson plan.


  • To introduce participants to basics of writing poetry 
  • To explore rhythm, rhyme, and metaphor 
  • To build vocal confidence 
  • To increase skills in timing, rhythm, and description. 

(90 minutes)

Rhythm Name Game (10 minutes)

In a seated circle, the group establishes a pattern of claps and finger clicks including a place in the rhythm for individuals' names to be called out, passing around the circle. Once rhythm and names are established, group members call out someone else's name in the circle, instead of their own.


  • Concentration and listening skills developed 
  • Group-building Introduction of group/tutor - learning names 
  • Vocal confidence Timing/rhythm skills

Keep The Hand Moving (15 minutes)

Participants are given ten minutes in which to write freeform onto the page, without pausing or re-reading. The object of the exercise is to literally "Keep the hand moving" in order to write without self-censoring or shaping what emerges. Finish with a five minute discussion of the value of the experience, not the value of the writing.


  • To generate and experience uncensored writing 
  • To experience unplanned writing 
  • To overcome issues of writer's block or uncertainty of subject matter

Group discussion- what is poetry? (10 minutes)

Begin with a reading from the previous exercise. Discuss whether what has emerged is poetry. If not, why not? Full group to discuss what makes poetry, what people understand poetry to be. Discussion to include rhyme, rhythm, simile and metaphor. Include reference to other issues as raised within group. Workshop leader to offer examples, e.g. rhyming versus non-rhyming poetry, rap, lyrics, etc.


  • Draw on existing knowledge of poetry among group 
  • Introduce group to range of poetic concepts 
  • Group building 
  • Opportunity for Q&A

Introduction to metaphor (20 minutes)

"My night sweats grease his breakfast plate." ("The Jailor", Ariel and other Poems, Sylvia Plath)

Discuss the quote above. Is the line literally possible? What does the poet mean? What associations does the imagery have for the reader? What kind of world does it create? Discuss the group's responses.


  • Introduction to idea and power of metaphor 
  • Extend vocabulary and creative association

Group or individual poems (20 minutes)

Take the quote from previous exercise as the first line of a new poem. Either the group collectively, or as individuals, attempt to construct own version, being faithful to the world created as discussed above. The focus of the exercise is not to explain the imagery, but to continue it to show the relationship in question. (Introduce the "Show, don't tell" rule.)


  • Group to experience construction of own poem 
  • Introductory understanding of metaphor 
  • Exploration of other poetic concepts 
  • Opportunity for individuals to read for group

Closure - feedback (10 minutes)

Recap of main themes covered and round-circle opportunity for feedback from participants.