Poetry, Emotions, Philosophy

This week, a stimulus that invites creative writing and thinking about emotions, which you can use as a way of generating questions for philosophical enquiry. It uses a very simple form of poem which I’m calling a “Josephine”, my mum’s Sunday best name. Share some of these examples, have the class create their own, and then find a question for an enquiry.


Anxiety is a whirlpool.
Anxiety asks, “What else can I feed on?”
Anxiety wants to get fat eating itself.
Anxiety, will you ever be full?

Anger is a hammer.
Anger says, “The world is the wrong shape.”
Anger wants to beat the world into shape.
Anger, will you beat yourself out of shape?

Love is a camera.
Love says, “Hold still, that’s perfect.”
Love wants to keep a moment forever.
Love, will the reality ever match the photo?

Joy is a bird.
Joy sings, “Everyone, come up here!”
Joy doesn’t need to own the sky.
Joy, do you have to land?

Boredom is a blob.
Boredom grunts, “Mnhhh.”
Boredom can’t find a shape.
Boredom, have you tried working out?

Confidence is an echo.
Confidence says, “I sound great!”
Confidence listens to itself.
Confidence, did you start as a whisper?

Work is a wheel.

Work says, “Forward! Forward!”

But work goes round and round.

Work, do you know how to stop?

Fear is a snake.

Fear says, “While I slough my skin, the big snakes will eat me.”

Fear stays in its small skin.

Fear, how did the others get to be big?

Writing a Josephine

The form is very straightforward.

X is
X says
X does
X, question?

The point is to commit to a metaphor and discover the rest of the poem from there. If confidence IS a wheel, what would it say? What would it do? What question would you ask it, because of what it is and how it speaks and acts? For it to be satisfying, all four lines have to be an exploration of the idea introduced in the first line: it’s not just throwing four unconnected thoughts down together. The final line, because it is a question from outside, will often criticise, tease or object to the idea, or to what it days or does, but it might also admire it or wonder about it.

You might create lots in pairs, through talk, or perhaps in fours, doing one line each. You could use this rather splendid “Ultimate List of Emotions” for inspiration – it has 400! I have enjoyed writing these, so I might make a miniature book out of 100 of them.

Wearing my ex-English teacher hat, you’ve got metaphor, personification, show don’t tell, character, apostrophe, viewpoint (in the rhetorical sense) and punctuation practice thrown in.

Philosophical Questions

The questions that emerge might themselves be suitable for enquiry, or you can use the poems as a stimulus for a discussion about this Sticky Question:

Which allows you to explore the connections and differences between reason, morality and the emotions.

Speaking of Sticky Questions, I’m extending the opportunity to buy individual class sets until the end of the weekend. We have had lots of orders! See: www.thephilosophyman.com/stickyquestions

P.S. The Soho Poetry Society from Soho Parish School created their own Josephines within a few hours of the bulletin being sent! They share some in this video…


Best wishes,


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