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Welcome to Poetry Roundabout!

Hello! I’m Liz Brownlee, National Poetry Ambassador, and I’ve set up Poetry Roundabout to be the go-to place to find anything and everything about poetry for young people. Here you will find interviews with the best children’s poets, poetry news, how to write poems, poems of course, and poetry book reviews… and more besides! For teachers, young people’s poets, and poets who are young people!

Teachers, Editors, Publishers, people who wish to employ a poet – at the top in the tabs you will find an A-Z of poets and their poems from the UK, US and round the world, and a tab for poets who do free 15 minute Skype visits.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Laura Mucha: Favourite Poetry Books

Laura Mucha worked as a face painter, studied flying trapeze, philosophy and psychology, and swam in Antarctica before becoming a lawyer. Now she spends most of her time playing with words. She is extraordinary fun to know and I can guarantee that in any room, you will always know where she is by the laughs. Laura’s poetry has been published in books, magazines and newspapers around the world, and she’s performed on BBC Radio, at festivals and in schools. In 2016, she won the Caterpillar Poetry Prize. Laura’s book about Love – Love Factually  is non-fiction, and her debut collection is due out next year. You can read and listen to some of Laura’s poetry here.

Heard It In The Playground by Allan Ahlberg.

I’ve been reading a lot of his picture books lately and wanted to check back in with his poetry so I re-read this collection. Child-centred, witty and technically brilliant. Boom.

Everything All At Once by Steven Camden.

I’ve been reflecting on what makes a good collection recently and have concluded that an original and authentic voice plays a huge role. Steve Camden has that totally nailed. This collection feels like he climbed into the minds of KS3 students and articulated their inner workings via poetry.

Plum by Tony Mitton. A classic. Read it.

Selected Poems for Children by Charles Causley.

Predictive spelling keeps changing his name to Charles Casually – and I wonder whether there’s some truth in that. His poems seem so effortless that it feels like they just popped out of him while he brushed his teeth or washed the dishes. I wonder whether he spoke at all times in perfect metre and rhyme.

A Kid in My Class by Rachel Rooney Rooney is a whizz with words and, as always, combines insight with technical rigour in her most recent collection. Combine her words with Chris Riddell’s illustrations and you have a stonkingly good book.

Where Zebras Go by Sue Hardy-Dawson I don’t understand how Hardy-Dawson’s brain works, but I love it. She creates sketches, doodles and sculpts with words and crafts poems I wish I could write.

The Same Inside: Poems about Empathy and Friendship by Roger Stevens, Liz Brownlee and Matt Goodfellow.

Brilliant poems looking at important themes written by exceptional poets. What’s not to like?

Dear Ugly Sisters by Laura Mucha I’ve read this about 1,526,927 times now and I’m sick of it. It comes out next year but I never want to read it again. Please don’t make me.

Laura Mucha

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Celia Warren: Favourite Poetry Books

Celia Warren has been writing poetry ever since she learned to read, and has been published in hundreds of children’s anthologies. Her collections are all for young children and many of her poems and stories form infant readers in mainstream school reading programmes all over the world. She has compiled two anthologies, The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poems illustrated beautifully by a range of fabulous artists, (Bloomsbury) and A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen (Schofield and Sims). Her latest book is Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles, illustrated by Sean Longcroft, A&C Black. Celia’s website is here.

First, I have to say that I am not keen on the label ‘Children’s Poets’. It seems constrictive to writers and readers alike. Life can be at its most intense when you’re a child, and even if children (or adults) don’t necessarily understand every word or nuance in a line of poetry, they are more than open to the music and emotion of the written and spoken word – be it ‘aimed at’ children or adults. All poetry lovers will return to favourite poems and find new depths or viewpoints each time and, as we grow, so we find more in each poem, young or old. I hope children will read grown-up poetry as well as ‘children’s poetry’, and that grown-ups will never grow too old to enjoy the lightest of ditties.

I have seven shelves of poetry books at home, so it was really hard to choose only a handful of favourites. I have avoided books by my many poet friends as I’d hate to exclude anyone, so my choices are collections and anthologies old and new that I find myself returning to again and again.

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare (1913)

My first choice is a classic book, penned by a poet who certainly appeals to adults and children alike. His lyrical style seems timeless, and my numerous readings of his poetry have, I’m sure, influenced my own writing. Peacock Pie includes one of my favourite poems, Nicholas Nye. (The edition pictured above originally belonged to my mother and has the added delight of emmet’s wonderful illustrations.)

Going to the Fair by Charles Causley (Viking, Penguin, 1994)

It was in my first year at high school that I was introduced to this Cornish poet’s work, and I loved his writing straight away. His lyricism, again, attracts all age-groups. His choice of subject, often turning everyday events into magical moments, has universal appeal, too. I love the way Causley uses questions in many of his poems, leaving the reader to discern possible answers, without their being spelt out. The poet enjoyed wordplay as much as I do, and one of my favourites in this book is Good Morning, Mr Croco-doco-dile.

Serious Concerns by Wendy Cope (Faber & Faber, 1992)

Though Wendy Cope, like the poets above, writes for children, too, one of her collections is my choice for the one book of poetry for grown-ups that I’m allowed. The very title belies the poet’s sense of humour. She is a poet who won’t be labelled or limited by adult expectations and writes with a light touch and a sense of whimsy, although often her poems do have serious undertones, too.

We Animals Would Like a Word with You by John Agard (Random House, 1996)

As a lover of animals, I was bound to notice a title (and cover) as attractive as this! It’s a slim volume, but its short poems have as much to say about humans and the human condition as about animals. It also includes one of my all-time favourite poems A Conference of Cows. Such apparent simplicity, so neatly crafted, and such beautiful sentiments!

There now follow three titles that have a common theme: they encourage children – and grown-ups, too – to read at least one poem every day.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, a poem for every night of the year compiled by Ivan and Mal Jones (Scholastic, 2000)

This first title is likely to be read as much by parents to their children as by children themselves, aimed as it is at younger children. Good Night, Sleep Tight includes a few of my own poems and I particularly love the book as, first, one poem is very much about my son when he was little and, secondly, now that I have just become a granny, I’m sure my daughter will enjoy sharing its contents with her little girl. Thirdly, it includes many favourite classics.

A Poem for Every Day of the Year edited by Allie Esiri (Macmillan, 2017)

The second, Allie Esiri’s collection, is very much a family book. The choice of poems and extracts is diverse – entertaining and thought-provoking, comforting and disquieting, in equal measure. As one who has never developed ‘reading stamina’, I like the ‘short bites’ that poetry offers and the uplifting approach of (at least one) poem a day. Such anthologies also offer ‘tasters’ as they introduce the reader to new names to look out for.

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree selected by Fiona Waters (Nosy Crow, 2018)

The third offers a different twist in that the contents offer a nature poem for every day of the year. They are deliciously illustrated in full colour on every page of this mighty tome. Its size and weight might mean sitting at a table to read it, to avoid crushing young legs! It, too, contains old classics as well as poems by lots of contemporary poets.

Star-gazing by Celia Warren (Collins, 2013)

Finally, I was invited to choose a title of my own and dithered over which to pick. In the end, it was this slim school ‘reader’ that won the day. It is one tiny title in the poetry strand of a huge array of classroom readers in Collins’ Big Cat series.  It is my favourite as I was given a free hand over which poems to choose, and it is probably the nearest I have come to a ‘collected Celia Warren’. It includes many of my personal favourites and, though it may miss out on appearing on bookshop or library shelves, it possibly passes through more children’s hands, by dint of being in a school reading programme, than better known titles in the poetry world. I like to hope that my little book might whet the appetite and stir the hearts of even a handful of children, and inspire them to enjoy a lifetime of poetry reading and the delight it can bring. I wish all readers the joy of that never-ending road …

Celia Warren

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

James Carter: Favourite Children’s Poetry Books

James Carter is the 15th poet in my series of children’s poets asked to choose 5-8 favourite poetry books, one of which had to be his own, and one of which could be an adult collection. James is an award-winning children’s poet, non-fiction and educational writer and INSET provider. He travels all over the UK and abroad with his guitar (that’s Keth) and melodica (that’s Steve) to give very lively.poetry/music performances and workshops. The author of over 16 poetry titles, his poetry/non-fiction picture book, Once Upon A Star (Little Tiger Press) was BooksforKeeps’ Book of the Week March 2018. Spaced Out, an anthology of space poems, edited with Brian Moses, came out earlier this year. James’ website is here.

As 100% of my writing life is spent writing poetry – either as actual poems or non-fiction verse – as a reader I tend to head in other directions, though I often find poetry in the most unexpected places. Such as…

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Best picture book ever. No contest. The writer/illustrator Ian Beck once referred to its ‘strange poetry’ which made me return to it and re-re-re-read this deeply poetic and existential prose. I’m sure the first half of the book ‘The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief…’ has informed every single syllable I’ve written since.

Monkey Do! By Allan Ahlberg and Andre Amstutz

For me, Ahlberg is the godfather of all modern children’s poetry. He is ground zero, The Beatles of children’s verse, and this delight of a poem is soooooo slick, funky, funny, charming and has a real ahhh.. of an ending. My daughter Madeleine would point at the final spread and say ‘That’s me and Mummy.’ Happy 18th, Madeleine!

 

Don’t Put Mustard In The Custard by Michael Rosen & Quentin Blake

My eldest daughter Lauren demanded this book be read to her over and over and over and over and over again. It’s easy to see why: no poet writes about childhood with as much charm and insight as Rosen. Nuff said. Fabulously daft too. Blake too brings so much extra mischief and mayhem!

 

Plum by Tony Mitton

Best children’s poetry collection of the last 30 years, this book made me rethink my writing. Exquisitely nostalgia-glazed, this gem never hits a wrong note. This gorgeously crafted lyrical verse is a masterclass in verse for children. Perfectly harmonised by the mighty Peter Bailey’s illustrations. Teachers – get your class performing I Wanna Be A Star and discussing Child Of The Future. Unmissable.

 Orange Silver Sausage by Graham Denton and err me..

Narcissism or too many copies left in the warehouse? I absolutely loved putting this book together with my dear, dear poetry chum, and good egg, Graham Denton. It was my initial idea as I prefer reading free verse to anything else, but Graham brought easily more than 60% of the poems to the table. More than anything, a poem for me has to be a) uber-tight and b) actually say something new,  and every poem in here really delivers. Am I allowed to say it’s my favourite anthology ever as it has such glorious free verse poems from the likes of Carol Ann Duffy, Mary Oliver, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard – but nothing sadly by the bespectacled bard of Luton…?

Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley and Neal Layton

As a reader, comic verse is not my thing at all. BUT John Hegley is the one exception. He has to be the finest comic poet this country has ever produced. A true original. Genuinely LOL. Been to probably 15 of his gigs from 1985 onwards, and this picture book – an ode to the playful creativity of childhood – is perfectly brought to life by the wonder that is Neal Layton. Every EY/KS1 class should have one.

 3 Doz Poems, read/edited by Garrison Keillor

No, it’s not a book. It’s a CD. Everyone should have this in their car / on their iPod / phone / whatever as arguably no-one reads poetry with as much grace and majesty as GK. It’s a brilliant selection of verse too, from Lewis Carroll to Mary Oliver to the greatest living poet, Billy Collins.

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes by Billy Collins

PLEASE don’t be put off by the title. It’s not whatever it may sound like. It’s the finest ‘best of’ by arguably the planet’s finest living poet – wise, erudite, clever and deliciously witty. Trust me – you will buy multiple copies for friends when you read it…

James Carter

Posted in Poem

Moira Andrew’s Poem, Poppies for Remembrance

Poppies for Remembrance

 

Scarlet poppies can flutter

like fragile butterflies

in the dry yellow corn

of summer.

 

And they can dance

like graceful ballerinas

among the feathery stalks

of barley.

 

Red poppies can glow

like bright little lamps

on our warm winter coats

in November.

 

And they can whisper,

like long-lost voices

from the forgotten fields

of Flanders.

 

© Moira Andrew

 

Moira Andrew was born and educated in Scotland. She became a primary teacher, and later, after becoming a lecturer in Craigie College of Education in Ayr, began writing poetry. In her next job as head of a primary school near Bristol she started to write for children. Moira’s website is here.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Tony Mitton: Favourite Children’s Poetry Books

Tony Mitton is without doubt one of the best poets writing today for children – his Plum, one of my favourite children’s poetry books, has featured on many of the favourite poetry lists here! Tony was born in Tripoli, South Africa, and lived in North Africa, Germany and Hong Kong as a child as his father was in the British Army. He went to Cambridge, became a primary school teacher and then a Special Needs Support Teacher for primary children in Cambridge. Apart from Plum, his children’s poetry books include my favourite Come into This Poem (atmospheric, full of word play and fun). One of his latest books is a rhyming picture book called Snow Penguin – perfect for Christmas! Tony’s website is here.

Some of my favourite children’s poetry books

Hello there. I’ve taken ‘favourite’ to mean most influential and formative. In my opinion, these are some of the books that most formed my sense of what poetry for children might be. Really, they’re all ‘classics’ now. And to some people they may read as a bit ‘old fashioned’, traditional, if you like. But I believe all the writers and the writing in them achieve excellence. The work is finely crafted and the inner ears of the poets are really well tuned to the sounds of the words, of the language. Some of the editions as pictured may no longer be in print. But most of these books will be available either in newer editions or on 2nd hand websites like Abe Books. Here they are in roughly chronological order, though there’s quite a lot of overlapping in terms of time.

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson:

This is one of the first ‘great’ collections of poems for children published in English. It was first published in 1896. Considering that, the writing is amazingly modern in tone. This is the same Stevenson who wrote ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. The poems in ‘A Child’s Garden’ show how exactly Stevenson remembers his own ‘child’s mind’. In the poem ‘The Land of Counterpane’ he takes me back to my own childhood where I played exactly the same kind of game on my bed, using it to arrange my toy soldiers and farm animals. His lyricism in these poems is deftly tuned. ‘Windy Nights’ appears in many anthologies.

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare:

This book of poems for children was first published in 1913, but the versions I’ve read have been mostly the 1946 onwards editions with illustrations by one of my favourite illustrators, Edward Ardizzone (the man who later wrote and illustrated the Little Tim books). De La Mare is probably best remembered for his exquisite poem ‘The Listeners’ which many people of my generation recall learning by heart at school in the 1950s and 1960s. Peacock Pie, like Stevenson’s poems (see above) tunes into the mind of a young child, or addresses that mind directly in playful, entertaining ways. Both de la Mare and Stevenson, in my view, strongly influenced the later writers in my list here.

Blackbird Has Spoken by Eleanor Farjeon:

Yes, she wrote the words to that primary school hymn that so many of us sung in assemblies from the 60s onwards. One of my favourite looser-rhythmed children’s poems is her ‘It Was Long Ago’ in which an old woman recalls a very early childhood memory, such as many of us must have. It’s such a poignant poem, strangely full of the mystery of our consciousness, experience and memory, and yet it’s so simply and beautifully put, so gently rendered. Like the two collections above, it’s a little old-fashioned now to many younger readers. And yet it has such strength, such lyrical power. You’ll find some lovely poems if you go hunting in this book. And yes, she wrote ‘Do You Know The Muffin Man?’

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne: I can’t find my copy of ‘When We Were Very Young’, also by Milne. For me the two books are like two volumes of one book and I muddle up which poems come from which book. Milne is most famous as the author and creator of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ that well-known bear. This book is also a piece of the past, where middle class children have nannies and cooks in their homes. But the poems themselves are all gems. Milne, like my other ‘classic’ children’s poets is so expressive when he adopts the voice of his inner child. He’s so convincing. He’s a brilliant lyricist and wields rhythms and rhymes with artistry. And if you want to see illustration at its finest look at the pictures (‘decorations’!) by Ernest H. Shepard, who also defined the looks of Winnie the Pooh and friends for us. Get both of these books and read them if you haven’t already. ‘When We Were Very Young’ is full of golden oldies. ‘Now We Are Six’ is packed with great lyrical writing and very witty too.

Complete Poems for Children by James Reeves:

Not quite as famous as the 3 poets above, James Reeves is just as good and it’s sometimes easy to mistake some of his poems for poems by de la Mare (above) or Charles Causley (below). I’m sure Causley must have read James Reeves to his primary classes in Launceston, Cornwall, at the primary school there. There is a very possible influence on Causley from Reeves, I think, though I’ve no proof. To get a sense of what a master of figurative writing he is, what a magician with rhythm, rhyme, sonorous texture and metaphor, read ‘The Sea’, which starts, ‘The sea is a hungry dog, / Giant and grey.’ My edition of 1994 is a reprint of the 1973 with lovely illustrations by (yes!) Edward Ardizzone (how apt) who also illustrated de la Mare (above). Ardizzone’s work has a rougher texture and line to Shepard’s (of the Milne books). But he’s just as expressive in his own way and responds wonderfully to the heart of the poems. As to Reeves himself, try ‘Stocking and Shirt’ on page 51, for an example of how witty and exact his writing is. It’s like watching Fred Astaire dance. Reeves seems forgotten now, but he’s one of our very best.

A Puffin Quartet of Poets chosen by Eleanor Graham: Here, for Puffin, in 1958, Eleanor Graham created one of the best books of poetry for children ever printed, in my view. I can’t quite call it an anthology, as there are only 4 poets represented. So it’s a kind of sampler for these 4 poets : Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves (both represented above), E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. The latter two poets show themselves to be as strong in their verse writing for children as the former two, now better remembered. Try ‘Sir Smasham Uppe’ by Rieu, and Serraillier’s ‘The Tickle Rhyme’, both often featured in anthologies. This book was on my classroom shelf when I was a class teacher in primary in the 1970s and 1980s.

Collected Poems for Children: Charles Causley (illustrated by John Lawrence)

Well, I shook his hand once and had a brief chat. Later we swapped a couple of letters and cards. I sent him my ‘Big Bad Raps’ (my first verse book for children) about which he was very courteous and complimentary. Causley was the poet who most ‘got me writing’ for children. After half a lifetime of writing as an unpublished ‘adult’ poet, while teaching in primary schools and reading lots of children’s fiction and poetry to my pupils, reading Causley made me realise what and who-for I should be writing. It’s like his writing style gave me permission to write like that when I’d always assumed it was an outmoded voice. The book of my own here (below), Plum, was, in my view, very much inspired by all of the books above, but somehow released by reading Causley’s ‘Figgie Hobbin’ and the other books that followed (most or all of which are contained in this Causley Collected). A lot of Causley’s work is a blend of traditional lyricism and ballad. He manages metre and rhyme adroitly, allowing a slightly conversational ease into those essentially tight forms. His writing for children has a strong adult appeal, also, particularly where he deals with poignancy and the past. ‘My Mother Saw a Dancing Bear’ is an achingly sad poem, about suffering and cruelty to animals, not intended yet inflicted on them. Yet, more playfully, see ‘Colonel Fazackerley’. Could he perhaps be a near relative to E.V.Rieu’s ‘Sir Smasham Uppe’? (above). I wonder if Mr Causley had Eleanor Graham’s book on HIS classroom shelf?

By the way, John Lawrence, Causley’s illustrator here, is the John Lawrence who also later illustrated my verse retelling of Wayland, which won the Clippa Award some few years ago.

Plum by Tony Mitton: I was asked to include one of my own poetry collections in this list, so I choose this one, as it was my first collection of poems for children, published in 1998, just over 20 years ago. In this book, with my editor David Fickling, I tried to compile a choice of my then ‘best’ work across a wide range. Poems long, short, traditional, contemporary, serious, funny, silly and sad. Some lyric, some narrative. Showcasing, at the time, the kinds of writing I was mostly doing for children. It’s still in print today, kept alive by Frances Lincoln, which is nice. I’ve done many other things since. But it’s still the one I’d save if I had to choose just one… I think.

Well, there’s my list. If you read all that you’ll have a very strong sense of where for me English language poetry for children comes from. And what my strongest early influences were. All the poets there are now dead, except me….. so far. 😉 It’s a very English, UK based list, I know. From the 1980s I began to know the Caribbean poets, of whom John Agard, Grace Nichols and Valerie Bloom were particularly enticing voices. And from America there was the irresistible Shel Silverstein (‘Where The Sidewalk Ends’ et al). But those, and others, came later for me. These above were my early and first loves, and strongest, I think, influences on my own writing from the world of poetry for children.

Tony Mitton

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Colin West: Favourite Children’s Poetry

When my children were small they loved the absurdity of Colin West’s poems, and the words in his picture books, and the illustrations for both. In fact, we still have them, we kept all our favourites. Colin studied Graphic Design and Illustration at various art colleges. His first book, a slim volume of nonsense verse, Out of the Blue from Nowhere, was published by Dennis Dobson in 1976 – I am the proud owner of one of these! He went on to write and illustrate some sixty children’s books, and now lives in Sussex and writes and draws for his own amusement, mainly. However, he has published two rather wonderful recent collections The Funniest Stuff and Bonkers Ballads, both of which are stuffed with Colin’s delightful, witty poems and charming colour illustrations.

Thanks Liz, for inviting me to write a little about some of my favourite poetry books for children. I had to leave out so many! But here goes with some real faves …

Custard and Co (Kestrel, 1979)

Hooray for the editor who brought together Ogden Nash and Quentin Blake for this joyful book in 1979. Rarely has such a witty poet been served by such a witty illustrator (or vice versa).

Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls (William Collins, 1964)

This anthology (along with its three companion volumes) was a great inspiration to me back in the 1970s. Tomi Ungerer’s lively illustrations bring to vivid life many old and at-the-time-new poems. Cole was a great champion of Shel Silverstein and did much to popularise comic and also “serious” verse.

Stuff and Nonsense (Faber, 1927)

First published in 1927, then reissued with new illustrations by Margaret Wolpe, this book represents Walter de la Mare at his most playful. Words tumble, ever poetic, from his fertile imagination. Not one for avoiding “difficult” words, or even creating his own if they sound right — a stone is described as corusking in a ring — anyone heard of that word?!

Silly Verse for Kids (Dennis Dobson, 1959)

Being born in 1951, I was the perfect age for this book, which was quite unlike else published at the time. Unfortunately, no one bought it for me! Of course, I caught up with it later. The illustrations are far from slick, but no Royal Academician could better them. I  could use all the usual words to describe Spike — madcap, zany, anarchic etc., but in the end, Milligan is Milligan is Milligan, and we are all thankful for that.

Rhymes Without Reason (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1944)

Throughout his life Mervyn Peake wrote nonsense verse (he once said Nonsense is not the opposite of Sense, Nonsense is not the opposite of anything) and in this book he used his considerable painterly skills to illustrate these poems.  Wistful, sad, funny, nonsensical, lyrical — all the things one would expect of Peake.

Alphabicycle Order (Ondt & Gracehopper, 2001)

Christopher Reid’s little gem was published in a limited edition in 2001. Delightful wordplay reaches new heights here and it is accompanied by Sara Fanelli’s charmingly surreal illustrations. So refreshing to see something like this published in this century. (They also collaborated earlier in 1999, in  All Sorts, which is more easily available.)

Ann of Highwood Hall (Cassell, 1964)

Anyone who knows me knows I love the work of Edward Ardizzone, who in his time illustrated much poetry, and here he graces a collection by Robert Graves, whose verses have a timeless quality. The title poem concerns a young girl who escapes domestic violence and lives semi-ghostlike in a grand house. It’s eerie and sad, and perfectly pictured by Ardizzone.

Never Nudge a Budgie (Walker Books, 2015)

I assembled a book of my own poems in 2001, The Big Book of Nonsense, (Random House) and always hoped for a paperback edition. I produced a cut-down version of it with new illustrations, added some new rhymes and Walkers published it in paperback. Some of the poems still make me laugh!

Colin West

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Shauna Darling Robertson: Favourite Children’s Poetry

Shauna Darling Robertson is 12th in my series of children’s poets asked to give a selection of their favourite children’s poetry books. Every poet is allowed 5-8 choices, one of which can be a book of poetry for adults, and one of which has to be their own. Shauna lives in Somerset. Her poems for adults and children have been set to music, performed by actors, displayed on buses, turned into short films, made into comic art, hung on a pub wall and published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Shauna also makes artwork and loves working with other writers, artists, musicians and film-makers to explore and play with poetry in different ways. Her website is here.

I usually try to side-step favourites questions because I find it really hard to narrow things down. So let’s just say that these books are a few, but by no means all, of my favourites. (I’ve deliberately left out books by my poet friends, otherwise things could get a tad awkward – like, Hey, how come you put their book on your list and not mine?).

The Book of Clouds by Juris Kronbergs, illustrator Anete Melece, translators Mara Rozīte and Richard O’Brien (The Emma Press)

This is a gorgeously quirky book with wonderful artwork. Translated from the original Latvian, it’s philosophical, playful and refreshingly original. These poems suggest that clouds have quite a lot in common with us humans and our thoughts and feelings. Then again, sometimes clouds are “summoned to discuss / things that have nothing to do with us.” Quite right too.

A Book of Nonsense by Mervyn Peake (Peter Owen)

Mervyn Peake had an extraordinary imagination, which he expressed in poems, stories, novels and illustrations. I love this collection because it’s both hilarious and deeply thought provoking. It’s also packed with absurd characters and bizarre scenarios, from aunts who live on moss to toast that’s far too full of bread.

New & Collected Poems for Children by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber)

I’ve always loved Carol Ann Duffy’s poems for adults but it was a while before I discovered her children’s poems. When I did, it was a revelation. These poems are complex and varied and intelligent and spirited and musical and touching and technically excellent and they gave me permission to try to write the kinds of poems for children I really wanted to write, the kind that don’t talk down to anyone and instead consider children as the sharp thinkers and deep feelers they are.

A Children’s Treasury of Milligan: Classic Stories and Poems by Spike Milligan (Virgin Books)

Spike’s a master at writing poems which, on the surface, seem light and funny, but dig deeper and there are some complex observations and ideas there. He’s also rebel and questions things that need to be questioned – but in a gentle way, not aggressively. And, while he’s famous for his zany humour, some of his writing is incredibly sad and tender too.

Everything On It: Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein (Particular Books)

I would love to have met Shel, but sadly he’s no longer with us. He strikes me as an adult who could think like a child. Not childish, but child-like. He really knew how to inhabit a child’s perspective.  His poems are boundlessly playful and I love the way he combines them with his own artwork so that they dance a dance together in tandem, rather than starting with a poem and then illustrating it.

Just one favourite poetry book for adults to choose? Oh boy, now that’s tough. There are so many, but I’m going to go with…

Velocities by Stephen Dobyns (Penguin)

I love, love, love the American poet Stephen Dobyns but not many people in the UK know him so I’m on a one-woman mission to change that! When I do poetry performances I often read out one of his poems. This book includes one of my all-time favourites, called How To Like It. It’s about getting older and dealing with life’s changes and longings, and it had such a big impact on me that I copied the whole thing out (it’s quite long) in marker pen across my kitchen wall where it stayed for several years (it was a permanent marker). I loved having it up there because it became a real talking point every time friends came over (or the plumber).

And one of my own – well that’s easy since right now I only have one book of children’s poems (though I’m working on the second).

Saturdays at the Imaginarium by Shauna Darling Robertson (Troika)

My first book of poems for children will be published in spring/summer 2020. The writer Mark Twain said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” That’s kind of the focus of the book. It’s about championing the imagination, celebrating creative thinking, saying yes to curiosity (which I don’t believe kills cats) and revelling in the pleasure of looking at things ever so slightly slant. It’s also about daring to think for yourself – even if that means standing out from the crowd and feeling a bit different.

Shauna Darling Robertson

Posted in School Libraries

I Support School Libraries!

Regular readers may have noticed an addition to the side bar of Poetry Roundabout – wonderful Philip Ardagh has been appointed Ambassador of the School Libraries Group. School libraries are ESSENTIAL, so I am thrilled to be able to display this image to say so.

Three in ten children in the UK do not own a book. Being able to read is the foundation of all eduction – every subject relies on this ability.

But it’s not just about being the basis for basic or academic learning – neuroscientists have found that reading fiction (and poetry!) lights up the same areas in the brain that real life does. Wait, what? Yes! Reading can give your child the benefit of experience they might never get in any other way. Not only are they receiving information about other places to live and ways of living, other ways of looking at life, facts about a myriad of subjects which may spark an interest in areas you could not have predicted, it places them literally into another person’s shoes, and thus fosters empathy.

Being able to understand how another person is feeling and react appropriately gives you the ability to lead a happy and successful life at work and home. Access to a library is the very best thing we can do for our children and their futures. And it’s achievable.

So let’s make sure it happens.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Philip Gross: Favourite Poetry Books

Number 11 in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is award winning poet, Philip Gross. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. The first book I read of Philip’s was Manifold Manor and I became an instant fan. Until recently he was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. He is a Quaker, and that special relationship between words and silence informs much of what he writes; poetry for adults and for children. Off Road To Everywhere, illustrated by Jonathan Gross, was the winner of the CLiPPA (CLPE) poetry award 2011. His new book, Dark Sky Park, Poems from the Edge of Nature illustrated by Jesse Hodgson (Otter-Barry) is available here, and was also shortlisted for a CLiPPA  2019. His website is here.

This selection comes from the particular angle that is me. I guess everything here is a crossing point on the (supposed) border between children’s and adult poetry.

Charles Causley, Figgie Hobbin (1970)

This was the book that made it possible for me to write poetry for young people. Causley was a poet who wrote adult poems that could be intriguing to young people in the way that folk tales are… and, in this book, children’s poems that make adults stop and think –  deceptively easy to read, with a strangeness that lasts. 

T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)

I’m not worried that much of the world these poems have such fun with is far away back in another century. Even writing from ten years ago is ancient history when you’re nine years old. What matters is the irresistible larkiness of the language, that makes yoy feel part of its world by sheer rhythms and richness of words. 

Helen Dunmore, Secrets (1994)

Such is the sadly late Helen Dunmore’s reputation as a novelist for adults and children, and as an adult poet, that it’s easy to overlook this slim, superb and subtle contribution to children’s poetry. It seems even more valuable now in this extraverted age as a reminder that young people have a right to rich interior lives.

Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, The Rattle Bag (1982)

The radical thing about this anthology, compiled by two great poets, was that it has no apparent order, no mission to instruct us or promote a particular style. They simply chose their favourite poems, mixed them up together and opened the doors to people of all ages, saying, Poetry is all of this, and more. Welcome in. 

Philip Gross, Manifold Manor (1989)

Some books come as a surprise even to their own writer, with the feeling that they’ve stumbled into an unsuspected small world and are simply discovering it. This was one of those. Incidentally it is a set of writing prompts and models, an invitation to join in, and a celebration of how our imaginations are haunted by real history. 

Charles Ghigna’s Dear Poet

Dear Poet, Notes to a Young Writer by Charles Ghigna – a Poetic Journey into the Creative Process for Readers, Writers, Artists & Dreamers popped through my letterbox just before National Poetry Day/Week.

The book takes the form of short numbered poems on all aspects of writing poetry – set out on a double page spread, the left-hand side the number title, the right-hand side, the poem. I love the feeling of light and space this gives for each poem to breathe inside your head. Here is one of my favourites:

 

1V

 

When in need

of the poem,

go write it.

 

But do not think

you are

needed.

 

There is no

need

for the poet.

 

There is only

need

for the poem.

 

© Charles Ghigna

 

I love this. The poet as an observer, recorder, describer. What you feel, see, understand, remember will be personal to you, the reader. There are many such observations throughout the book, the sum of a life well-lived in poetry. Recommended!

More information can be read in the spotlight on Charles Ghigna, here. His website is here.

Posted in Favourite Children's Poetry

Matt Goodfellow: My Favourite Poetry Books

Tenth in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is Matt Goodfellow. One of my favourite writing companions, Matt and I have written two books together, with Roger Stevens. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. Matt is a poet and National Poetry Day Ambassador. His most recent collections are The Same Inside (Macmillan 2018), and Be the Change, Poems to Help You Save the World, written with me and Roger Stevens. His solo collection is Chicken on the Roof  illustrated by Hanna Asen (Otter Barry 2018). He visits schools, libraries and festivals to deliver high-energy, fun-filled poetry performances and workshops. Matt’s website is here.

Some of Matt’s Favourite Children’s Poetry Books:

Wallpapering the Cat by Jan Dean (Macmillan). Jan is a stupendously brilliant writer, up there with the very, very best. Funny, clever, thoughtful, playful, weird and honest, this is a collection that showcases her poetic talents. Seek it out – and anything else she has ever written.

Evidence of Elephants by Gerard Benson (Viking). This book contains one of my all-time favourite poems, ‘River Song’ – you can find footage of Gerard reading it aloud in his fabulous voice here. By all accounts a brilliant story-teller, actor and all-round good egg, as well as poet, it is a big sadness of mine that I’ll never get to meet the great man.

Snollygoster and other poems by Helen Dunmore (Scholastic). Helen Dunmore’s death was a huge loss for poetry. I first started reading her poems when I was just starting to dabble with writing my own – and this book was one I read over and over again. She was a beautifully gifted writer.

I Had a Little Cat by Charles Causley (Macmillan). Causley wrote so many brilliant poems over the course of his career and this book has got them all! Not really much more to say other than if you are interested in poetry for children, this is one of the important foundation stones you must have in your collection.

If You Could See Laughter (Salt). I love this book. Mandy has such an interestingly elegant way with words and a unique viewpoint on the world. It was immediately clear to me when I first read this book that here was somebody with a special talent. Having met her quite a few times, I can also confirm she is as splendid a person as she is a writer!

Plum by Tony Mitton (Barn Owl Books). To put it simply, I think Tony Mitton is a genius. I recommend you read anything that has his name on it!

Black Country by Liz Berry (Chatto & Windus). This book, written for adults, was recommended to me by my good friend, poet Dom Conlon. Dom has excellent taste and the second I dipped my toe into this rich collection I knew I was going to love it.

Chicken on the Roof by Matt Goodfellow (Otter Barry). I s’pose I better also recommend one by me! This is my most recent solo collection. I hope on reading it you’d find simplicity, depth, sadness, silliness, laughter, warmth and love. Lofty ambitions, eh?

Posted in National Poetry Day 2019

National Poetry Week Truth Poem by Zaro Weil

Zaro Weil lives in an old farm on a little hill in southern France, and her poetry for children has appeared in many anthologies. She has written several books including a book of children’s poetry. Her book Firecrackers, Troika, illustrated by Jo Riddellcan be bought here, and her book, Cherry Moon is available here! Zaro’s website is here.

 

Unicorn

 

Unicorn

don’t go

let me ask you

how long you’ve been here

 

please

no lies

 

© Zaro Weil

Thank you, Zaro, for this lovely poem!

Posted in National Poetry Day 2019

National Poetry Week, Climate Truth Poem from Andrea Shavick

Andrea Shavick is an experienced UK writer with 27 books published including best-selling children’s picture books, funny children’s poetry and a biography of Roald Dahl that’s still in print around the world after 20 years! Her poetry book, Grandma was Eaten by a Shark can be bought here. For freelance writing/commissions please get in touch via Andrea’s website here.

Environmentally Friendly Haiku

To save energy

Not to mention trees and ink

I’ll stop writing now

 

© Andrea Shavick

 

Thank you for this fun climate truth haiku, Andrea!

Posted in National Poetry Day 2019

National Poetry Week – Truth Poem from Julie Anna Douglas

Julie started writing poetry four years ago and she just can’t stop! Her poems have appeared in magazines like SpiderEmber Journal and The Caterpillar and Watcher of the Skies, an anthology of space poetry by The Emma Press.

.

What is Truth?

Truth is the mountains, the sea and the sky.

Truth is the answer when children ask ‘Why?’

Truth is the moment remembered for years.

Truth is the word which can stop or start tears.

Truth is the friendship where time always flies.

Truth is the photograph which never lies.

Truth is the thought that can cut through our fear.

Truth is not always what we want to hear.

.

© Julie Anna Douglas