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…