Poetry and Plays

Most groups concentrate on prose – novels, memoirs, biographies, historical accounts or topical debates. But reading plays and poems can add variety and challenge.


There are lots of poetry anthologies around, organised by period or theme – love, war, comic verse, the nation’s favourites etc.

The idea of poetry can be a bit intimidating, for group members and facilitators. But it needn’t be. Get some suggestions from the group to start with or browse through the anthologies and choose a few poems that seem easy on the eye and ear. Photocopy them and get the group to choose one for the last few minutes of the session, either reading it round or getting a volunteer to read the whole thing. Invite comments but emphasise that it’s fine just to listen and enjoy the sounds and images. Then if there’s time, perhaps read it again just before you finish For some groups, the poem at the end has become the highlight of the meeting.

A few individual poems that have gone down well:

  • Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’
  • Walter de la Mare, ‘The Listeners’
  • Roger McGough, ‘Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death’
  • Hugh McMillan, ‘Letter’
  • Matthew Sweeney, ‘The Return’
  • Robert Hayden, ‘Those Winter Sundays’
  • Larry Levis, ‘The Oldest Living Thing in LA’
  • Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Education for Leisure’
  • Carl Sandburg, ‘Choose’
  • Tahar Djaout, ‘Silence is Death’
  • Sean O’Brien, ‘The Politics Of’
  • Alan Gillis, ‘Bulletin from the Daily Mail’

The Eagle
Alfred Lord Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Carl Sandburg

The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.


Plays may feel like unfamiliar territory but they can be stimulating and good fun to read and explore with a group. A few tips:

  • Encourage everyone to take part in the reading, sharing out the characters and taking turns
  • Make sure someone reads out any stage directions, information about setting, character descriptions etc – these are often very important but are sometimes overlooked
  • Read the first scene or two and then perhaps stop to discuss first impressions
    • characters: how do people visualise them – age, clothes, posture, how would they move?  what actor might play each one?
    • setting: where is the action taking place? What props should the characters have?
    • how might the initial situation develop?

There are lots of websites with short one-act plays to download free. And you can browse some of them by theme, playwright, cast size etc. See for example: One Act Plays

For modern plays Methuen has a good contemporary dramatists series that’s well worth a look.

Road by Jim Cartwright

A road, a wild night; a drunken guide, Scullery, conducts a tour of the derelict Lancashire road on which he lives. In this seminal play that gives expression to the road’s poverty-stricken inhabitants, we are taken on a journey from the gutter to the stars and back.

The Firm by Roy Williams

In a pub in South London ‘The Firm’ reunite for the first time in twelve years. Back in their misspent youth they were a notorious criminal gang; these days they’re older, wiser, and their lives have changed beyond recognition.

Mumburger by Sarah Kosar

Tiffany’s mum got hit by a Birdseye truck on the M25. There’s family to call and a coffin to order, but first she has to talk to her dad – and for some reason that’s the toughest thing on her to-do list. In her visceral play about family, grief and red meat, Sarah Kosar asks how far we’d go to reconnect with the ones we love most.

For groups that want to give Shakespeare a go, the No Fear Shakespeare series is a good parallel text edition, with the original and a modern version on facing pages.