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