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Thirty Angry Ghosts – the happy dance review

I was so excited to get this review from local poet and poetry expert Richard Whiting that I did a little dance in celebration.

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Controlled Anger (5 stars)

It is as if Mai Black has summoned each of her 30 chosen historical ghosts to give testimony about their lives and listened with impartiality to each voice.


Her excellent poetic craft gets to work upon what we know, or think we know, of each character and if ever a book stops you in your tracks, demands a re-read or an additional trip through Google, then this is it.


I particularly liked William Shakespeare’s manifestation. Mai’s wonderfully playful use of Shakespearian language shows that it is perfectly acceptable to hold an icon’s ghost up to the light and indulge in a giggle or two!


The ‘Unknown Soldier’ poem is as good an example of someone writing with a vast knowledge of the material she has to hand as you could want to find. ‘Two days later, Johno got half his face blown off/ so you could see right to the bone.’


From Cleopatra ‘I was just a woman/ just a little prettier than most/ and handier with the eyeliner pencil’ to Margaret Catchpole and many others. The poems are educational and each an excellent read. I re-read them all.


There are page biographies of all the participating ghosts at the rear of the book which gives great illumination to the preceding poems.
A great read for the poetry, or to further your historical knowledge. ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ would make a stunning classroom companion too.


Oh that history had been taught that way when I was at school!

by Richard Whiting

Thirty Angry Ghosts

Suggested activities

This poetry collection features the ghostly voices of historical figures such as Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria. It is available at Amazon, Woodbridge Emporium and Dial Lane Books in Ipswich.

If you would like to use the collection in an educational setting or a with a community group, here are thirty activity ideas which you might find useful.  These include arranging performances of the poems, using the book in drama lessons and a recipe for making the delicious semla buns!

You might also like to use my tips for editing poems. You can find them here. 

To get in touch, email me at suffolkwritersgroup@gmail.com.

Mai Black – poet and workshop leader

Please note: some poems in the book deal with serious issues and may not be suitable for children under the age of twelve.

  1. Arrange an author talk, a workshop, or a Zoom session.
  2. Have an ‘Angry Ghost’ poetry writing competition.
  3. Hold a poetry reading event using these poems.
  4. Put on a show combining the biographies and the poems.
  5. Students could make costumes and/or masks for the ghosts.
  6. Students could paint portraits of the ghosts.
  7. Students could try sketching one of the ghosts using the front cover as a guide.
  8. Ask the students to write their own angry ghost poem. (Click here for inspiration).
  9. Discuss which themes are explored in the poems. (Click here for activity.)
  10. Students can discuss which ghost is most justified in their anger.
  11. Students can write about their favourite poem, explaining why they chose it.
  12. Together, list some metaphors used in the poems. (Click here for examples)
  13. List examples of similes from the poems. (Click here for examples)
  14. Discuss the use of other examples of figurative language in one or more poems. (Click here for my analysis.)
  15. Discuss how to give an effective reading of an Angry Ghost poem.
  16. Students can write about the ghost they most empathise with.
  17. Students can discuss which ghosts make them feel angry, eg. Henry VIII or Queen Victoria.
  18. Students can write a letter to one of the ghosts.
  19. Students can think about who a poem is addressing and write a response from them.
  20. Students can look through the biographies and create a PowerPoint about one of the people. Alternatively, they can choose a different historical figure to research.
  21. Students can record themselves reading one of the poems.
  22. Students could make a bookmark by drawing an angry ghost and choosing a quote to accompany it.
  23. Students can follow the recipe and have a go at making some Semla buns. Click here for recipe.
  24. They could write their own version of the one of the poems as a diary entry, a song, a play or a story.
  25. They can act out an interview with one of the ghosts.
  26. Ask one person to ‘freeze’ in the role of one of the angry ghosts. Other people take it in turns to stand behind them and whisper their thoughts.
  27. Students can read my analysis of Mary Shelley and then ask pupils to write about their own poems in a similar way. (Click here for my analysis)
  28. They can work as a group/class to make a collage or tapestry of the angry ghosts.
  29. Students can work as a group/class to produce a poetry collection. If you wish to self-publish for free, here is a quick guide: Mai’s Guide to Self-Publishing. You might also like to refer to my editing guide. Mai’s Editing Guide for poetry.
  30. Students could write a review of the collection and compare it to ones posted to Amazon.

I’d love to hear about any activities you do based on the poems, so please email me with any photos, videos, sound recordings and/or pictures. If I have permission to share your work on social media (or on my website), please let me know in your email.

To get in touch, email me at suffolkwritersgroup@gmail.com.

Here I am performing ‘Anne Boleyn’ at Primadonna Festival.
Running a zoom workshop with some of the wonderful members of Suffolk Writers Group.
An interactive writing workshop using pebbles and playing cards.

Alphabet of Writing Practice

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Things for writers to consider:-

  1. Adverbs/adjectives
  2. Boringness
  3. Clichés
  4. Dodgy similes and metaphors
  5. Emotion
  6. Figurative language
  7. Genres
  8. Heroes
  9. Imagery
  10. Justification
  11. Knockout ending
  12. Length of words and sentences
  13. Metre
  14. Nouns
  15. Opposites
  16. Punctuation!!!??!
  17. Quests and Questions
  18. Rhyme
  19. Structure
  20. Time
  21. Understanding
  22. Viewpoint
  23. What’s the point?
  24. Xtremes
  25. Your sanity
  26. Zzzzz (the sound of a reader snoring)