Ferry Tales Workshops

You are welcome to try any of our workshop exercises yourself and to send us your poems via the website or Facebook page. You are also welcome to adapt ideas used in Ferry Tales workshops to run free workshops of your own, but please credit the Ferry Tales Project, workshop leaders and any authors mentioned (who retain copyright for their writings) if you do this.

You may also use a selection of our Ferry Tales images for free workshops. Please credit photographer Mark Lanigan (who retains copyright) if you do so. Click individual images to see larger versions and please feel free to save them to use in your workshop or event .

Summaries of Ferry Tales Workshops are below. Poems created in them can be found in the New Work section of the website.


Lymington, Hampshire,   October and November 2016

Workshop 1

In the warm and cheerful Coates Centre at Oakhaven Hospice, the large activity area overlooks gardens and a Tree of Life. Here, singer-songwriter, Dom Prag and poet, Robyn Bolam, introduced the Ferry Tales Project to a group whose members’ lives had been impacted in different ways by illness or bereavement. Some had travelled from Dorset, others from the other side of the New Forest, and some came from Lymington.

Our first workshop introduced everyone to the similarities and differences of poetry and songs, set everyone writing, and showed how words can inspire instrumental pieces of music or be set to music as lyrics.

Warm ups:

Everyone was asked to say their name and indicate how they would describe their mind if:

  • it was a sea-state (e.g. calm, turbulent)
  • it was a tide (e.g. high tide (energetic and deep), low tide (little water but enough to keep a boat afloat) or ‘on-the-turn’, etc.

Now we all knew what to expect!

Characteristics of poems and songs

Some poems can be set to music, but not all. Some songs read well on the page, but not all… Advice was offered, such as: When you begin, you may want to write one or the other, but try to be flexible.  What started as a song may turn into a poem because of the amount of detail you include, or because the words you’ve chosen are evocative but are difficult to sing. A poem may become a song lyric if the words and story are instantly clear and words and rhythms fit musically. It helps if you can focus on one idea and one main emotion for a song.

Then Dom played two new songs, written especially for Ferry Tales –  one, inspired by a trip on a Red Funnel ferry from Southampton to Cowes, Isle of Wight, in July and the in-progress, ‘Chain Ferry Blues’ (inspired by both the Cowes chain ferry and another at Gosport).               .

We noticed Dom’s use of a refrain and a dominant emotion as well as his rhymes and metaphors. In ‘Chain Ferry’, he brought the sounds of the chain ferry into his song.

Some of Mark Lanigan’s photographs were shared. Everyone was then asked to:

Jot down words and phrases about: your first memory of crossing water/ being on a ferry.

Try to relive those moments in your memory. How old are you (child/adult)? Where are you? Who is with you? Where are you going? What time of day is it? What time of year? What can you see – before you board the boat/ while you are on it/ when you leave it? Do you remember colours, smells, noises, emotions? What do you remember most? What story does this tell?

Jot down words and phrases about: the last time you remember travelling by water/ being on a ferry. Ask yourself the same questions as before, but also: what or who were you leaving behind and what or who were you going towards?

Drawing on either or both memories, pick out phrases you can make into sound patterns. Choose your strongest images and feelings to put at the heart of your poem or song.

If you have never travelled by water or prefer to do this instead, choose a photograph and travel in it in your imagination. You can use the same questions.

Look over what you’ve written to find a repeatable phrase or phrases that could be a chorus.

Each person put their strongest impressions etc. on post-its – one for each memory. These were given to Dom who used them to write corresponding tunes. In the meantime, Robyn read Hugh Greasley’s poem ‘Chain Ferry’, from The Tide Clock and other poems (Landlocked Press, 2015), which begins, ‘Old ladies dance on a deck/ of a chain ferry…’ She then asked everyone to:

Think of a name for a dance on a ferry (e.g.The Solent Saunter).

Who will you take as your partner? It could be someone famous (film star, singer, writer), someone in your family, someone else you know, or someone imaginary. You might even dance with the sea, a landmark (that seems to move as the boat does) or the boat itself. You may be dancing inside your head or in a specific place onboard.

When are you dancing? It might be when you were a child, a teenager, a young adult, or now.

Where are you dancing? Is it on the top deck in the open air, in the saloon, on the bridge?

How are you dancing? What are you wearing? What is the tempo? What time of day/night is it?

List your impressions of what you can see as you whirl/turn/sway/glide/hop… What are you aware of – near view and far. What are you singing inside your head? Write how you feel.

Does anything else seem to be dancing – waves, ferries, birds, the land, other passengers?

Where is the boat travelling while this is all happening? Where is the music coming from?

To help, because some participants had never taken part in a workshop before, the following guides were provided:

Rhythms are formed from patterns of sound. The individual sounds may vary in length, pitch and stress but, together, they make a sequence that can be repeated – as in a song or a dance.

Metre is a regular pattern of beats. These may be stressed (/) or unstressed (x):

e.g.     x  /       x  /      x  /      x  /      x /     iambic pentameter (close to natural speech rhythm)

or        / x x       / x x       / x x                   dactylic trimeter      (like a waltz)

or       x   x       /           x  x     /          x   x    /        anapaestic trimeter

e.g.       and the sound      of a voice     that is still


Short words and sentences with clear pauses will give you a brisk, lively style and strong beats. Longer words and sentences will let you change mood and pace. An unstressed ending to a word can create a softer sound:   x     /        x

                                                                         re  mem  ber

Following this, Dom played three short, instrumental pieces (it wasn’t possible to use everyone’s material, though one piece was inspired by two people’s memories that started in similar ways and then diverged). Writers were asked to see if they could identify which piece had been inspired by their own words; this was surprisingly successful and a good end to the session.

You can find some of the poems produced by this workshop in the New Work section of this website.

Robyn Bolam and Dom Prag,  Workshop leaders



Lymington, Hampshire,   October and November 2016

Workshop 2:  Mystery

Warm ups:

Complete the phrases: ‘When I’m on a ferry, I wonder…’; ‘One day I’ll…’; ‘Being on a boat lets me…’; ‘What fascinates me about ferries/ ships/ boats is…’

Expand any one of your responses. Include at least one vivid image and one feeling.

 Focus on both mystery and language when you read: Jane Draycott’s ‘The Hired Boat’ from: Over (Oxford Poets, 2009)

and the extract below from: Piers Plowman by William Langland (c.1370-1390)

Set a man in a boat                             on a broad water;

The wind and the water                      and boat wagging

Make him stumble if he stand                        never so stiffly;

Through steering the boat                   he bendeth and boweth,

Yet is he safe and sound                    so it is with the righteous;

Though he fall he falleth not               – he is in the boat –

And he is safe and sound…


A Renga is a poem by many hands. It can take different forms but a good one to try first is the haiku (often 3 lines in 5 – 7 – 5 syllables)  or the tanka (a haiku + 2 x 7 syllable lines).

Choose one of Mark’s photographs as a starting point for a mystery poem. Discuss what the mystery might be. Jot down ideas then circle what you want to focus on. Start with an arrival or a departure. Set up the mystery in a haiku or a tanka by counting the syllables. You might also bury rhyme in the poem or use alliteration (clusters of words beginning with the same consonant) or assonance (clusters of words that share the same vowel sounds).

Discuss possible, perhaps very different, explanations or outcomes. Write another stanza in the same form that brings these together.

Discuss how you might write a final stanza that will be the synthesis of the first two. This could become a parable, be philosophical, explain the mystery – or leave it unexplained. It might include a simile (‘as’ or ‘like’) or a metaphor (e.g. ‘He was a hurricane’).

For a mystery song, begin by reading:  Philip Larkin’s ‘The North Ship’ from: High Windows (Faber, 1974)

Notice that the stanzas rhyme alternate lines and each line often has 8 syllables. The second line of each stanza (apart from the last two) is ‘Over the sea, the….sea’. The last line of each stanza ends with a rhyme for ‘sea’ which has more than one syllable (journey, country, captivity…).

Drawing on your own experience or knowledge, create a new, more local, legend with another seafaring title (a different boat name, a specific voyage, etc.). Then, create a new alternative rhyme scheme of your own to a similar pattern. Try to focus on one main idea and one emotion.

Robyn Bolam, Workshop leader



Lymington, Hampshire,   October and November 2016

Workshop 3: Crossings

‘Interest in the weather is only forgivable in those who have to make a journey by sea.’

Gerald of Wales

Jot down sayings about the weather that you have heard from family or friends.

Listen to Thomas Hardy’s poem, ‘Weathers’.

Try your own version with 2 rhymes in verse one (A, A refrain, A, A, B, B, B, B, A refrain) and  3 in verse two (A, B refrain, A, B, C, C, C, C, B refrain). All lines begin with ‘And’ except 1&3.

Read: Sylvia Plath’s poem, ‘Channel Crossing’  in her Collected Poems (Faber, 1981).

Starting with the weather, time of year and time of day, begin to write your own ‘Crossing’ poem.

Choose or imagine a route and a boat. Give the boat a personality linked to an emotion. Do the same for the sea around it. Describe their relationship.

Imagine or remember fellow passengers and their inter-actions, including dialogue. Include the boat’s crew.

At the end of the voyage, what has changed?


Choose one of Mark Lanigan’s photographs which has captured an interesting cloud or clouds. Use its shape or what it tells you about the weather to trigger your poem. Try to write from an unusual point of view.

Sharing the water

Start your poem with a list of kinds of craft: ferries, yachts, oil tankers…

Add creatures you might see: gulls (be as specific as possible), dolphins, swans…

Add navigation aids: buoys, markers (give names if you can – some navigation charts were available).

Add what could be under the sea: fish (which kinds?), rocks , shingle, sand, wrecks, remains of earlier peoples’ lives…

Remember that:

  • in Roman times Diodorus Siculus said his men could wade to the Isle of Wight at low tide and that
  • at spring tides, there is an annual cricket match on Bramble Bank when the tide is the lowest of the year…
  • there are relics of Stone Age tribes on the seabed from over 20,000 years ago
  • there are tree remains from a submerged forest in the Solent and old ships’ timbers

Try a new form, e.g. a cinquain, limerick, pantoum, triolet, etc. Here’s a cinquain – it works on syllable counts:


let me help you

look below the water

onto hidden cliffs and lost ships –

down there!

Robyn Bolam, Workshop leader



Lymington, Hampshire,   October and November 2016

Workshop 4: Arrivals

In her poem, ‘Arrival at Santos’, Elizabeth Bishop wrote:

‘…Ports are necessities, like postage stamps or soap,

But they seldom seem to care what impression they make…’

Jot down what you remember of your first impressions of arriving on the Isle of Wight. When was this? Which port? How did you travel there? Can you remember an over-riding emotion? If not, can you imagine one? If you’ve never been to the Island, note what you know about it. Play with sounds to make a poem that expresses the emotion you remember – or the one that a particular port inspires when you think about it. Perhaps the emotion has changed during subsequent arrivals?

You might want to think about all the other people who have crossed the same stretch of water through time, e.g. early settlers, famous inhabitants or visitors (Queen Victoria, Tennyson, Keats, Dickens, Jimi Hendrix…)

‘Recuerdo’ is the title of a poem by Edna St Vincent Millay (from  A Few Figs From Thistles,1922). It means ‘I remember’ or ‘a memory’. Read the poem. (You can also find a recording of the poet reading her poem on-line.) Every stanza begins with the couplet,

‘We were very tired, we were very merry—

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.’

Some days, nights or moments stay with us because of the emotional state we were in when we experienced them. Keeping ‘arrivals’ as your theme, recall one such time and create a rhyming couplet refrain for it that begins each line with the same word or words. Then develop it into stanzas of any length using couplets – but each stanza will begin with the refrain. Give it a title to do with memory or remembering. Use the same rhyme scheme as that of ‘Recuerdo’:  A1 refrain, A2 refrain, C,C, D, D, etc.

 Arriving by water at night

Imagine an arrival by water, in the dark, at a place you know well. It might be a port, large or small, or a place along a river or across a lake. It may be on a ferry, a sailing boat, in a rowing boat, a canoe, a RIB – or other craft. You may be in the boat yourself or you may imagine other voyagers – those you know or strangers. Tell the story of the landing and first impressions of the travellers in a prose poem. Let one strong emotion carry it.
More personal…Which arrivals in the year, your life, nature, or your local area do you look forward to? Have any of these things ever coincided with important developments in your life?Either: work these into a list poem or pick one and focus on describing it in detail – and why it is/was so important to you. Again, try to include feeling, emotion or humour; description alone won’t make a good song.

Robyn Bolam, Workshop leader



Lymington, Hampshire,   October and November 2016

Workshop 5:    Departures


If you were to leave the place where you live now to travel away by sea and not return, what would you miss – and is there anything that you might be glad to leave behind?

What does crossing the Solent, Poole harbour, Christchurch bay, etc.  by boat, mean to you? Bring all your feelings about the area together and release them in a song about the crossing.


One of the most famous villanelles is Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight’ which is about his father’s departing. In her latest collection, Maggie Butt responds to this poem with a powerful villanelle about her mother: ‘Go Gentle’.

Choose any significant departure in your life, not necessarily as intense as either of these. Think of a rhyming couplet that relates to it, preferably one that is striking in some way – e.g. through the language, emotion or mood expressed. It can be a departure from something or someone that does not involve travel but, if so, include a water crossing as a metaphor or simile.

Try to use some rhymes that are not monosyllabic. Consider rhyming one word with two words, or using half-rhymes, e.g.

morning    storm  warm  born  torn   warn(ing) forlorn

before us    for us     forest

try   good-bye  time  rhyme  untie  chime

crowd   loud   cloud  sound

river    forever    ever    with her   never

gone    go on    song    long

shelter   whisper   left her

a coat   afloat    boat

Fill in the lines of the couplet on the villanelle template, leaving gaps for the second-rhyme lines.

Now choose a second rhyme to complete the narrative. Try creating clusters of rhyming words that contain verbs and adjectives as well as nouns, then pick a combination that will let you run on some lines, both before and after the couplet lines.

Have a dialogue with a ferryman

Read Christina Rossetti’s ‘Ferry me across the water’ and David Malouf’s ‘At the Ferry’ (2006) for inspiration and different perspectives.

Robyn Bolam, Workshop leader



September 2016 | The Kings Theatre, Southsea

Workshop Leader: Maggie Sawkins

Our workshops took place in the newly renovated Irving Room of the Kings Theatre in Southsea. This Edwardian theatre is just a 10-minute walk from the spectacular Southsea seafront with its views of ferries passing to and from France and the Isle of Wight. The view is always interesting due to the various ships and other vessels passing so close to the shore. The aim of our workshop was to encourage residents of Portsmouth to contribute poems for the Ferry Tales project.

The groups consisted of local writers as well as people of all ages with little experience of creative writing.  Participants of the workshops were invited to take part in a special Ferry Tales event to take place next May at Portsmouth’s historic Square Tower.

A selection of Mark Lanigan’s ferry photographs were spread on the table to provide additional stimuli for poems.

Theme: Arrivals and Departures

Warm Ups

  • Say your name and one thing that you have left behind today (abstract or concrete).
  • Group exercise: think of words to describe the sea, e.g. turbulent, shallow, unfathomable, choppy, deep, squally …
  • Moving into metaphor: if your mind was the sea which of these words would you use to describe it?

1          Flow Writing Exercise

Using random words from John Masefield’s poem ‘Sea Fever’ to create a short piece of prose, e.g.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking…


 You are going to write whatever comes into your head. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or making sense. The trick is not to lift the pen from the page. If you get stuck just repeat the last phrase you’ve written. In a moment I’m going to throw out a word. When you hear it incorporate this word into your writing. Then I’ll throw out another word, incorporate this into your writing too, and so on until I tell you to stop.’

 Ask group if they recognise the poem where the words come from. Then read or ask one of the group to read ‘Sea Fever’. Follow this with a short discussion and a read round of the writing from the exercise.

2          Individual Writing – Departures

Imagine you are leaving Portsmouth. You will be travelling across water. You will be gone for a long time. You may never return.

You can take five things with you. Name them (they can be abstract things such as hope or concrete things such as a photograph or a letter). Write a postcard to one of these things – inviting them to join you on the journey and explaining why you’d like them to come with you.

There will be things you will want to leave behind. Name them (again they can be abstract things such as depression or concrete things such as your dog). Write a postcard to one of these things explaining why you won’t be taking them with you.

Imagine you are on the ferry. Write a letter poem to one of the things you have left behind. Include vivid details of your surroundings and write in the present tense.

3          Last Day on Planet Portsmouth

 Using Simon Armitage’s poem ‘Last Day on Planet Earth’ ( from: Seeing Stars, Faber and Faber, 2010) as a model for the writing of a group poem.

After reading the poem out loud, discuss the power of words – how nouns and verbs (takes …photograph…eye… paints… crust…salt… finger … spit…) especially can be used to lift the writing off the page.  Give out strips of paper. Using Portsmouth as the setting, ask everyone to write their surname followed by one thing they would do if it was their last day in the city. Share responses and use as the basis for a group poem entitled ‘Last Day on Planet Portsmouth’.

4          Arrivals

Read Moniza Alvi’s poem ‘Arrival 1946’ (from: Carrying My Wife, Bloodaxe 2000). Imagine that you have just arrived by sea from another country into Portsmouth Harbour. Write a poem describing your first impressions of the city.

5          Message in a Bottle

Give out strips of paper. Ask everyone to write a message in a bottle welcoming a new arrival to Portsmouth and telling them one thing they should know.

Use responses as a group or collage/concrete poem.

Maggie Sawkins, October 2016.



Our first ‘Writing for Well Being’ workshop got underway at the Jubilee Store in Newport, on the banks of the tidal River Medina which inspires sea-going thoughts.  Our focus was the idea of leaving behind places we especially love.  W.H. Auden’s Look Stranger on this Island Now, suggested how we might remember a place through our senses, and with this in mind we wrote individually, then made a collaborative poem about a particular place which each one of us might find hard to leave behind.

In the second part of the workshop, we explored the idea of boats – real, as in those moored close by outside the building – and boats of the mind, or ‘Curious Craft’ as created by poet Philip Gross… a boat made of poems…  a boat made of second thoughts…  An example of one of these poems written by one of the group will follow. [You can find many examples of workshop poems in the New Work section, ed.]

In our next workshop, we started with Emily Dickinson’s exciting poem Exultation is the going of an inland soul to sea. This sparked discussion and thoughts about our own feelings on the different occasions when we leave the island.  Completing the sentence ‘Leaving Port is…’ led us into individual flow writing, then a collaborative poem.

We also took a light-hearted alliterative look at what we might do on board, or take with us on the voyage and some of these ideas became part of the poem Forgotten. 

Lydia Fulleylove (Workshop leader)

26 June 2016


In this workshop our ferry sailed onwards across the Solent.  We looked at Mark’s photographs and talked about the details which catch our attention when travelling by ferry and the feelings we have on being mid channel.  The collaborative poem, That bit in the middle emerged from this and we enjoyed reading it aloud in stanzas with everyone joining in the chorus.

We also thought about ferry rhythms and whittled down our ideas to a second collaborative poem:

 A ferry rhythm is……

After the workshop, David wrote Final Ferry, which takes us through a voyage from departure to arrival. Then we found ourselves looking backwards and forwards to our hopes for future voyages:

Every time I travel I hope…


As we drew closer to port, we looked back and talked about our memories and associations with ferry crossings, flow-writing from the line:

Ferries remind us of…

Having created some ships of the imagination, (‘Curious Craft’) in our first session, we began to think of writing about real ships, taking Helen Dunmore’s poem, The Bones of the Vasa, and one of Mark’s photos of a ferry as starting points.  

Using William Allingham’s poem Four Ducks on a Pond as a model, we each chose a photograph and tried taking ourselves on an eye journey from near to mid distance to far…

We also made an ‘eye journey’ in response to Mark’s wonderful photograph, which includes reflections of clouds – The Cloud Fish – though he may not recognize it as such!

Homepage image-15

In the last part of the workshop our ferry sailed into port.  We thought about the moment of arrival and then about significant times of arrivals in our lives.  Perhaps Tennyson’s poem Crossing the Bar, about the beautiful Yarmouth to Lymington crossing, influenced our sense of beginnings and endings and led to our collaborative poem: ‘Times in our Lives’.

Lydia Fulleylove (Workshop leader)