Posted in Poet's Piece

US Poet Performer, Eric Ode, and ¿Que Es La Palabra?

I first met Eric Ode (pronounced ‘Odee’) in poetic circles on Facebook, and very soon fell for his warm, droll and upbeat personality. Eric is not only an educator and well-published poet performer, he writes his own songs and performs with his guitar. I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Eric this May, where I had a chance to get to know him and his lovely wife Kim when we got together with a group of children’s poets and did a performance. It was hilarious and at some point I will post one of Eric’s songs from that recording. Here is a link to one of Eric’s lovely books, Sea Star Wishes, and his website. Below, Eric expounds on ¿Que Es La Palabra? 

¿Que Es La Palabra? (Or “Why Writing Poetry is Like Spending Three Weeks Learning Spanish in Guatemala)

Okay, that was hard. I’ve just wrapped up my first full week of Spanish classes at a cooperative school here in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. My first visit to this wonderful country. Five days a week of one-on-one instruction, five hours each day. I’m still too overwhelmed to create poetry here. Frustrating. I’m surrounded by amazing sights and sounds and people that should inspire BRILLIANT poetry! But maybe I can concentrate enough to create a short list – some commonalities between learning a new language and writing poetry. So here we go!

FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS CAN BE… DIFFICULT? CHALLENGING? ARDUOUS?

Of course with a new language, we can fumble around with vocabulary we do know, and, with the help of our pocket dictionary and some frantic hand motions, we’ll get by. But with poetry, there’s no alternative to knowing precisely the right words. It is poetry, after all!

BELIEVE THERE’S A DESTINATION

People ask me why I’m studying Spanish. Truthfully I don’t know. I have no end goal. But I do believe that when we open ourselves to opportunities, opportunities reveal themselves – opportunities we could not have foreseen. So in the end, these studies will lead to something wonderful. I’m sure of it! Likewise with poetry, we might approach the blank page with little idea of what will come of our efforts. But, poco a poco, the poem will reveal itself, again often arriving as nothing we could have imagined.

TAKE TWO STEPS FORWARD…

It’s never just forward momentum. Language learning? We can expect that, by the next morning, we’ll have forgotten much of what we were so certain we’d learned. And with poetry? We’re frequently tearing apart what we had already so carefully built. Of course the beautiful thing with poetry is that we’ll be rebuilding into something even better – something closer to the ideal poems we have in our dreams. Which leads us to…

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

It’s Guatemalan Independence Day today. I was trying to tell my host mother how much I enjoyed “la parada” this morning. Wait. Parada is “stop,” NOT “parade.” Sigh. But I digress! The parade? I had no idea. I was enjoying a coffee in a small café when the school marching bands began their enthusiastic procession down the narrow cobblestone street. I stood in the doorway with the café’s waitress, and we watched and listened and talked about the schools and the children. Absolutely a treat! Writing poetry is often like that. We’re scribbling away, when suddenly wonderful, unexpected metaphors and images parade right in front of us.

Paz,

Eric

 

 

Posted in Poet's Piece

How to Engage KS1 and 2 – and, Are you a Poet or a Guitarist or a Comedian? By James Carter

As a child, James Carter had a very bad stutter, and flatly refused to take part in any school play because of it. He spoke very rarely in class. Nowadays he says he is a right chatterbox as he’s most passionate about what he does. He is a very experienced poet and excellent performer in schools (I know, I’ve seen him!) and uses his musical friends, Keith, his old acoustic guitar, and Steve, his melodica, to help engage the children. Here he explains the differences in his performances for Key Stage 1 and 2, and whether he is in fact a poet, musician, or comedian…

Are you a Poet or a Guitarist or a Comedian?

I get asked this question a lot. By children. At the end of my assemblies. This is the answer I’d give if there was time…

I’ve now been writing for over twenty years now. Writing books that is. I’ve written quite a few poetry books,  a handful of teachers’ creative writing manuals and now a series of verse non-fiction books with the brilliant Little Tiger Press. To be honest, I see myself as a non-fiction writer that happens to write in verse rather than prose. But actually, I’ve been writing things on and off since childhood.

I’ve been a roving poet in Primary and Prep schools all over the UK and abroad for the last 16 years. I must have visited over 1100 schools by now. I absolutely love my job. I love working with innovative, dynamic and responsive teachers and of course children – I so enjoy their vitality, their fresh, wide-eyed sense of wonder and lack of inhibition when it comes to creativity.

I write instrumental music pieces for guitar or piano – and I play these in assemblies or on the CDs I have recorded in the studio. Music I find is a great stimulant for creative writing. Children in the main respond to it very well. It takes the mind out of the here and now, gives you rich  mental imagery, and allows you to really take risks with your writing.

And humour? Though I don’t want to stand at the front of the hall just delivering ‘funny’ poems, I try and use a lot of humour. Anarchic, zany humour. Pythonesque as one Headteacher said. It’s essential the children warm to me quickly as I want them to respond to me in the workshop when we get writing. Plus, I relish the creative challenge of finding something amusing to say in any given moment during the day.

With KS1 I only ever do light-hearted material, and all interactive. I will start with a guitar piece and do all kinds of poems about bugs, aliens, funny faces, pirates, travelling the world. All the poems have actions which I teach the children through call and response. Then I do a bunch of animal riddle poems. To finish, I’ll do two more action rhymes, and then I play the melodica – maybe some jazzy stuff or Lady Gaga – and the children might have a boogie for a minute or so.

Schools often ask me to do whole school assemblies. I ALWAYS refuse. How on earth can you deliver age-appropriate material to rising 5s up to rising 11s? If time, I will do three assemblies – one for KS2 in the hall, one for KS1 in the hall, and another shorter one for Reception (sometimes Nursery come along too) in their classroom as they respond much better on the carpet, in an environment they are fully familiar with.

My delivery with KS2 is that of a zany, eccentric professor. With Early Years and KS1 I become a chirpy, avuncular figure. With Infants, I do call and response with every single poem as it keeps them with me. I have a very short attention span myself so I know that I need to keep them on track. I also do actions throughout most of my poems. This again keeps them engaged. One of many reasons I keep Infants and Juniors apart is that if you do anything slightly quirky with Infants, they get excited and giggly very quickly and it’s hard to bring them down again – and this can be annoying for the older children.

I write because I love words, love the whole process of writing individual poems as well as putting a poetry or non-fiction book together. I want children to love writing too – and to really enjoy and explore their creativities, and to want to pick up a pen/pencil and see where it will take them. I can’t go in cold into a workshop in a classroom and start writing on the board, as the children need firing up.

At KS2 in particular – especially Yrs 4 5 6 I want the children to write something incredible, something that will delight and surprise the children themselves as well as the teachers. This means they have to like and trust me. This is where the assembly comes in. After half an hour or so of poems and music (and hopefully having been inspired by that!) in the hall – they will then want to go on and do their writing. Poetry is all about finding new ways to explore and express the world around us, and that’s hard work and takes time.

Children always rise to the occasion. I love it when a child comes up to me and says either ‘Wow! I wrote this!’ or ‘Great, we haven’t done anyway work today’ – as it hasn’t felt like work, even though creative writing is very demanding. One of my favourite ever Finales in a school was in a Boy’s Prep school (though my favourite schools tend to be inner city, multicultural state school, obvs) – in which every member of staff – teachers/Totally Awesomes – were in tears as the boys wrote the most wonderful poems.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Posted in Poet's Piece

Caterpillar Prize-Winning Author Coral Rumble; The Challenge of Writing Poems for Children

Coral specialises in writing and performing for children, and as well as being in many anthologies, she has three collections; Creatures, Teachers and Family FeaturesBreaking the Rulesillustrated by Nigel Bainesand My Teacher’s as Wild as a Bisonalso illustrated by Nigel Baines. You can read more about Coral in her A-Z entry. Here Coral tells us something about writing poems for children, and also specifically about writing her prize-winning poem for Caterpillar Magazine

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THE CHALLENGE OF WRITING POEMS FOR CHILDREN.

(Written by a poet who still has much to learn.)

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I think that many poets would agree with N R Hart, who has said,

“As a writer you try to listen to what others aren’t saying…and write about the silence”. Adults often experience that wonderful moment, when the words in a poem resonate, and make clearer, or change, an area of their understanding. Of course, sometimes a poem simply reflects our experience, which is also valuable; confirmation is a wonderful thing! Humorous poems do this well. They often expose an embarrassing situation, then encourage the reader to relax as they personally identify with it.

Children experience their own areas of silence, and also deserve to hear a breakthrough of sound, as a poem encourages them to look at something from a different angle. ‘Mustafa’s Jumper’, the poem I entered for The Caterpillar Poetry Prize, is about a child losing his belonging in a community, and another child feeling the emptiness. I wanted the image of the empty jumper to become a symbol of the losses children have to deal with, without exploration or explanation. We often feel sorry for children who suffer in some way, we might even post on social media, heart-wrenching photos, but we don’t necessarily listen to their voices. Poets must listen and sometimes write in a way that makes their voices louder.

When we write poems for children, we mustn’t be dishonest. We must write for a child, not for ourselves, or to gain the admiration of other writers. Somehow, we have to marry personally satisfying poetic technique with a sensitivity to the experience of a child, living in a child’s world. When writing for adults it can be exhilarating to express yourself to your wordsmith limit, to push concepts a little further, to develop sophisticated images that make others say, ‘Ah, I can see it now.’ A child needs to, ‘see it now’, too, but we must always show respect to where they are in their understanding, and not usher them into the room of our imagination and experience, insisting that they see what their eyes can’t yet focus on. That doesn’t mean we should avoid writing anything that will challenge and stretch a child, there are many great poets writing poems that do so. However, if we say we are writing for a child, the child must come first, and our responsibility is to meet them where they are, before we take them on a new journey.

I’d add, as a note of balance, never underestimate what a child can understand and respond to, and remember that children vary greatly in all respects. Don’t expect ALL children to enjoy ALL of your poems. That’s okay, you know! It’s also good to remember that a poem written for children, is usually enjoyed by an adult. Again, not ALL adults will enjoy your children’s poems, but if some do, it probably means they’re well written. C S Lewis said of story: –

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I think the same is true of poems.

The way I see it (and the way I see things is often flawed and in need of revision), if a poet only ever writes poems about bodily functions, in the belief that children are only interested in base matters, it’s insulting. At the same time, if a poet only ever writes in a way that insists children ‘grow up’ in understanding, because they think it will ‘do them good’, it’s arrogant. Balance is beautiful. All human beings, whatever their size, need to laugh as well as meditate on serious matters. At the end of the day, whether we’re rising to the challenge of writing for children or for adults, there’s a lot of paper out there; let’s mark it with something meaningful.

If you’d like to read ‘Mustafa’s Jumper’, you’ll find it at the bottom of the article here.

Posted in Poet's Piece

Why I Like Poetry, by Zaro Weil

Zaro Weil lives in an old farm on a little hill in southern France with her husband and two sheepdogs, Spot and Clementine, alongside a host of birds, insects, badgers, wild boars, crickets, donkeys, goats, hares and loads more. She has been a lot of things; dancer, theatre director, actress, poet, playwright, educator, quilt collector and historian, author, publisher and a few others. All of which I would say fit into being a poet like a hand fills a glove.

She has written several books including a book of children’s poetry, ‘Mud, Moon and Me’ published by Orchard Books, UK and Houghton Mifflin, USA. Her poetry for children has appeared in many anthologies. Zaro’s new book, illustrated by Jo Riddell, with poetry, little plays, tall tales, raps, fairy tales, and haiku is here.

Here she kindly shares her article, Why I like Poetry:

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THE WAY I LOOK AT IT (POETRY I MEAN)

 

THE WAY I LOOK AT IT…

I like to write poetry.

One reason is because I think in pictures. A lot of people think in pictures. It’s MAGIC. It’s like dreaming when you’re awake.

And when you write poetry, you can figure out how all these unrelated pictures can come together and become an exciting brand new picture. A poem. A poem which you express with words; words which don’t necessarily follow a normal logical order.

It’s something totally surprising and totally YOURS.

Not to mention electrifying. It’s like pulling a white rabbit out of  a hat. Only the hat is your head and the white rabbit is this poem that’s been waiting inside you anxious to jump out.

Another reason I like to write poetry is because sometimes when I see something, it makes such an impression on me – a WOW moment – that I want to remember it forever.

Example.  One day I look out of our kitchen window and see the neighbour’s cats playing in the snowy garden. That night I can’t help it. I think about those two cats over and over. It makes me smile. Suddenly the first few lines of the poem jump into my head:

Two pussycats

Playing

Pawed in my

Snowgarden

People have many ways of creating poetry.

Here’s how I do it.

MY MAGICAL POETRY MIX

First I take all kinds of pictures from my mind that don’t seem to go together. Sometimes I don’t even think very hard because the pictures just pop, spin, fly, slide, bounce, and roll into my brain for some reason.

Suddenly this strange group of images are somersaulting around in my head. And nothing makes any logical sense. SO, I make comparisons – I find ways to link the images. I compare a blue blue sky to a field of summer bluebells or to my friends’ sparkly blue eyes.  In my mind they are all alike in some way because they are all too blue to be true. Or I compare the sunrise to a big orange beach ball bouncing in slow motion over the horizon or to a galloping unicorn anxious to start the day. I used this idea of a unicorn in one of my favourite poems that’s in FIRECRACKERS. This unicorn was drawn by the wonderful artist who created all the pictures for the book, Jo Riddell.

 

And then PRESTO it becomes totally another way of seeing things – my own private way. There are a million and one images to compare and another million and one images to compare them to. And more. Much, much more. But the truth is creating poems is a puzzle; an imaginative word and idea puzzle, one which is totally fun and intriguing to work out.

NEXT

I keep saying the image words and phrases in my head over and over and re-arranging them on paper or on screen, like furniture in the living room, until I like how they all work together. And as I repeat these words over and over (and often out loud) to myself, eventually I discover the poem’s true secret beat; it’s special rhythm which makes the poem sound just like it should.

Here it’s super-important to learn to trust what you like. After all, you write to make someone happy first of all and that someone is YOU!

NOW THE WORDS BEGIN TO FEEL…

MORE LIKE A POEM


(This is a page from my beautifully bruised and battered old poetry notebook. These crazy scribbles eventually turned into Comet, which appears in my new book, FIRECRACKERS. Funny, isn’t it?)

SOMETIMES the words can rhyme and that is fun. Sometimes they don’t. It depends on what I feel like doing with the words and ideas that day. Or rather what the words and ideas feel like doing with me that day.

Poetry is funny like that.  You have to be open to it. In other words, you (the you you know very well) can’t always control what goes in or out of your brain. A poet has to trust that there are things they don’t know and wait for the ideas or words from their secret selves to pop out. (This is the tantalising and mysterious part of the whole thing.)

THEN after combining the pictures, the words, and the sounds in an order that I choose, the poems turn out to have a particular meaning.  This meaning reflects how I am feeling at any one time. So my poems can be funny, or sad, or unsettling, or lovey, or worried, or silly, or frightened, or bittersweet, or happy.  Or a host of other things as well.  And sometimes really not even that obvious to me at first.

FINALLY here is the key thing in my magical poetry world. When I am writing, I know deep down I have something I really want to say.  But believe it or not, I don’t always know what it is.  So, I keep on writing and finally, if I am lucky and the stars are with me, I arrive at exactly what I mean to say. And there is kind of epiphany!  An AHA moment. The moment when the poem flies across the plate like a home run and makes sense.And that is the most exciting thing.

To have figured out a little bit of what is going on inside me.

To have created something exciting and new.

And to have found a personal link between me and the whole world out there.

That’s why I like poetry so much – it is a wonderful puzzle to work out and the results are totally unexpected and totally strange and always and forever MAGICAL.

Posted in Poet's Piece

Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer, by Charles Ghigna

 

I first came across Charles Ghigna’s poems in anthologies. Later I found books written by him for younger children in second hand shops here in the UK, which I bought because they were charming and had nature and animal themes, for which he is best known; but he is also known for poems celebrating childhood, the power of a positive attitude, and writes on many other subjects besides!

A much-loved American author, known sometimes by the nickname Father Goose®,  he lives in a treehouse in the middle of Alabama!

He’s the author of more than 100 books from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Time Inc., Disney, Hyperion, Scholastic, Abrams, Boyds Mills Press, Charlesbridge, Capstone, Orca and other publishers, and has written more than 5000 poems for children and adults in newspapers and magazines ranging from The New Yorker and Harper’s to Highlights and Cricket magazines.

Serving as poet-in-residence and chair of creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, instructor of creative writing at Samford University, poetry editor of English Journal for the National Council of Teachers of English, and as a nationally syndicated poetry feature writer for Tribune Media Service, he speaks at schools, conferences, libraries, and literary events throughout the U.S. and overseas. He has read his poems at The Library of Congress, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the American Library in Paris, the American School in Paris, and the International Schools of South America. 

Here is one of his wonderful poems:

Be Still in the World
 
Be still in the world wherever you are,
listen to life’s lullaby;
the heartbeat, the breathing, 
the giving, receiving,
the sun and the moon and the star.
 
They all shine true through the essence of you,
a beacon of boundless light;
the father, the mother, 
the sister, the brother,
all are within you tonight.
 
Let the flow of the seas, the lilt of the breeze,
the rush and the calm of all time
carry your dreams 
along rivers and streams
and let you be still where you are.
 
© Charles Ghigna
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To find out more about Charles Ghigna, here is a link to his website: FatherGoose.com
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Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer, by Charles Ghigna

A poetic journey through the creative process for readers, writers, artists & dreamers.

As I enter my seventh decade on this planet, I wonder what words of wisdom I might have written to the younger me. What treasured tidbits have I learned along the way? What could I leave in a letter to young wide-eyed artists and poets searching the world for advice, guidance, and inspiration.

I began as I always do, by closing my eyes and listening to that soft voice that has spoken without fail for more than a half century. The voice spoke. I took notes. Here they are. Little poetic pieces I trust will speak to future generations of poets and artists, young and old. May they continue to listen. May they continue to speak.

I.

Do not tell

the world

your pain.

Show it

the joy

of your tears.

II.

Hang a picture

of truth

in your heart.

Let the mirror

of your eyes

fill the page.

III.

A simple

truth

is light.

A complex

lie

is fire.

IV.

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.

V.

Do not write

another word–

unless you have to.

VI.

No matter

how many poems

you write

to keep

yourself alive,

you cannot.

VII.

Run.

Yell.

Spit at the dark.

Curse the moon.

Throw rocks

at the stars.

Get it all out.

Get it all out.

Get it all out on paper.

VIII.

Style is not

how you

write.

It is how

you do not

write

like

anyone

else.

IX.

Trust

your instincts

to write.

Question

your reasons

not to.

X.

Inspiration,

like lightning,

comes

from the

darkest

clouds.

XI.

Look in the mirror.

If you see a stranger,

write a poem.

If you see

your father,

write a poem.

If you see

yourself,

put down the pen.

XII.

A silent rhyme

upon the page

is what the poet gives,

gentle words

whispered in trust

to see if memory lives.

XIII.

The path

to inspiration starts

upon a trail unknown.

Each writer’s block

is not a rock.

It is a stepping stone.

XIV.

Poems are not penned

to the page

waiting for us to admire.

They are only

lonely thoughts

caught by tears on fire.

XV.

Don’t plant

your poem

on the page

as thought

you’re hanging

drapes.

Its shape

and flow

should come

and grow

like wild

summer grapes.

XVI.

A poet’s life

is paradox,

it’s more than what it seems.

We write

of our reality,

the one inside our dreams.

XVII.

A poem

is the echo of a promise,

the thunder of a sigh,

the music

of a memory,

a child asking why.

XVIII.

A poem

is a rising moon

shining on the sea,

an afterglow

of all you know,

of all your dreams set free.

XIX.

A poem

is a spider web

spun with words of wonder,

woven lace

held in place

by whispers made of thunder.

XX.

A poem

is a firefly

upon the summer wind.

Instead of shining

where she goes,

she lights up where she’s been.

XXI.

It’s not the poem

on the page

that makes them laugh or cry,

it’s how your soul

touched a heart

and opened up an eye.

XXII.

A poem

is a play

meant to delight you.

A poem

is a party

meant to excite you.

A poem

is a song

full of desire.

A poem

is a sunset

meant to inspire.

A poem

is a secret

shared among friends.

A poem

is a promise

that never ends.

XXIII.

A poem

is a whisper, a shout,

thoughts turned inside out.

A poem

is a laugh, a sigh,

an echo passing by.

A poem

is a rhythm, a rhyme,

a moment caught in time.

A poem

is a moon, a star,

a glimpse of who you are.

XXIV.

The answer

to the poet

comes quicker than a blink,

though the spark

of inspiration

is not what you might think.

The muse

is full of magic,

though her vision may be dim,

the poet

does not choose his muse,

it is the muse that chooses him.

.

© Charles Ghigna

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First published on Cricket, Jan.2017

Posted in Poet's Piece

Kick Start by Jan Dean

Jan Dean is the author of Wallpapering the Cat, Macmillan, A Penguin in Lost Property, Macmillan, (with Roger Stevens) and Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls Macmillan, (with me and Michaela Morgan).

She has also written two fiction books for children, but describes herself as “a poet who sometimes writes fiction, not a fictioneer who knocks of the occasional poem.”

Jan is great fun and a brilliant poet who works in schools – her projects have also included working with groups from Covent Garden’s innovative music theatre education programme in the Purcell School for gifted young musicians and writing in the environment with Northumberland schools. She has led workshops for both adults and children in Manchester, Liverpool and Chester Cathedrals, and has also run workshops at major festivals. 

Jan’s blog is here and her Twitter account is @glitterpoems

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Kick Start

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I hate grey weather. It makes me miserable. Sometimes I wonder if the weather has seeped inside my head and filled me up with fog… and when I feel like this I find it hard to write. So I have to kick-start the process. These are some of the things I do:

• Look out of a window and write down the first three/four things you notice, then go to another window and do the same. (You can do this for every window in the house if you like.)

• Say the words out loud to hear if there are any interesting sound patterns going on in the lists

• Visualise the things in the list to see if there are any striking colours/pictures.

• Write six or seven opening lines based on the list. (You don’t have to use everything and you can mix the lists up. Or you can write one verse about your room and one about a better/worse room.)

• Work up the best four into draft poems – be sure to weave your mood and any changes of feeling into the drafts. Remember that once you start writing you don’t have to stick to the ‘truth’ of what you saw. Making the words work is what counts.

I did this one from the list of stuff from my window. It might be finished. I won’t know for sure until I’ve put it away for a few weeks and then come back and re- read it.

Outside
Wren in the hedge. Hopping
like a brown ball. Stopping
for a second on the red brick wall.
I wish I had just an ounce
of your bounce…

Slug on the step. Sliding
smooth as oil. Gliding
by milk bottles then back to black soil.
Writing your route in slime
while I write mine in rhyme.

I did see a bird in the hedge – but it wasn’t a wren. And I did see a slug – but it wasn’t on the step. I changed what I saw to improve the sounds and rhythms in the poem. (My actual list was: Blue tit in hedge bouncing on branch. Bright blue car in road. Slug on ivy root. Recycling bag on gate.)

I’ve got a couple of other drafts to work on too – one about how sinister ivy is – the way it creeps and clings and takes over; and one about matching your day to the first thing you see when you open the curtains that might begin like this:

‘Today is a tin can day
a clattering day
a rolling away day

Today I am going to bang about
slam doors
howl under beds
and throw stuff….’

Or it might not. I’ll have to see how it goes.

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Jan Dean

Posted in Poet's Piece

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? By Brian Moses

Brian Moses is, as Poetry Archive says, “One of the nation’s favourite children’s poets.” He taught in schools for 13 years and has been a professional writer in schools, libraries, theatres and festivals for 30 years. In that time 3,000 schools across the country have been the thrilled recipients of his poetry and percussion shows (‘The Alternative 3Rs – Rap, Rhythm & Rhyme’) and his expertise as an inspired poetry teacher in workshops, where he uses a variety of percussion instruments to both underpin the rhythm of his words and to add atmosphere. 

He has also published over 200 books from publishers such as Macmillan, Hachette, Puffin, OUP, Collins, Longman,  Heinemann and  Frances Lincoln, and over a million of his poetry books have been sold by Macmillan Children’s books alone.

Brian is a generous and unfailing supporter of new poets, and he published my very first poem back in 2000, in A Sea Creature Ate My Teacher (Macmillan).

His first children’s fiction book Python has just been published by Candy Jar Books. His latest poetry books are The Waggiest Tails (Otter-Barry Books), written with Roger Stevens, and Lost Magic, The Very Best of Brian Moses (Macmillan), where you can read all his favourite own poems!

You can visit Brian’s website here, and his blog, where he writes about reading, writing and performing poetry here. You can follow him on Twitter @moses_brian.

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

“Where do you get your ideas from,” is the question I’m most asked when I visit schools. Occasionally a curve ball comes in like – “Have you ever been arrested’ from a 6 year old in Southend, or ‘Have you ever used a ouija board?’ – but more often than not it’s the way ideas are born that fascinates children. They look at me as if I have a secret to impart, and that if they could share it they’d never struggle to find ideas for their own writing again. I toy with the notion of telling them that I purchase my ideas from an ideas super- market or discover them in some online catalogue, but mostly I try to satisfy their curiosity.

I tell them that all writers are ideas detectives, that we’re always on the look out for something strange or different that might lead to a poem. There are, of course, very few new ideas, but there is always the possibility of taking an old idea and looking at it from a different angle. Think of fireworks, for example, and avoid the whizz, bang, whooshes. Write instead about the charred and blackened treasures pulled from the bonfire ashes next morning.

An idea, of course, is like a knock on the door. Ignore the knocking and whoever it is gives up and goes away. So with poetry, when an idea calls, I need to be ready to act on it. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, I need to capture that idea, to scribble it down on a scrap of paper, file it away in a notebook, talk it into a voice recorder. My family became used to me suddenly getting up from where we were sitting to hastily find something to scribble on. Quite often too , they fed me ideas, and it still goes on. My older daughter’s partner is training to be a stuntman and on a family holiday this year he told us that he still hadn’t fallen from the saddle of a horse. I was onto that straightaway – Still haven’t found a rainbow’s pot of gold/still haven’t discovered a cure for growing old. Still haven’t painted a new Mona Lisa/still haven’t straightened the Leaning Tower of Pisa.’

Often it is the things people say that get me thinking. I was in a school staffroom once where I discovered that six teachers were all telling each other what they wore in bed. It was an absolute gift and I made notes as they spoke which later developed into my poem ‘What Teachers Wear in Bed. Another time I heard a young boy ask his Mum, ‘Did pirates wear make up?’ I ended up with a poem all about a topsy-turvy world of pirates.

Perhaps the poem I’m most associated with, and the one that seems to be the most listened to poem on the Poetry Archive for much of the time, is ‘Walking With My Iguana’ – a performance poem involving drumming which seems to inspire children to perform their own versions. (Take a look on YouTube.) The idea behind this came from a meeting with a man and an iguana on a very hot day on Bexhill beach. The creature was called Ziggy and only came out for a stroll during summer heatwaves. I love finding out about things that sound as if they shouldn’t be true, but actually are. I wrote the poem very quickly and premiered it a few weeks later at the Edinburgh Festival.

Signs that I see in the street or glimpse by the roadside as I’m driving are often a source of inspiration. In Nottingham once, a department store were holding a ‘Monster Sale’ . Well, obviously that meant there was to be a huge clear out of unwanted stock but looking at it another way, it might just have easily have been ‘Buy one monster, get one free’. A poem and a book resulted from that. On another occasion I saw a sign for ‘Carpet Warehouse’.

Not a terribly interesting subject for children, but split ‘Carpet’ in two and it becomes something quite different – ‘car pet’. What would we find in a ‘Car Pet Warehouse?’ Maybe earwigs to keep in ashtrays or a hamster for the glove compartment. Perhaps a snake on the back seat to deter would be car thieves. The possibilities are huge.

In any book that I write there are poems that I hope will make children smile or laugh, but poetry, of course, touches every emotion and I always make sure that in my books there are poems to make children shiver, or think, or wonder, or maybe a little sad at times. I always include a selection of these in any performance I give along with the humorous ones.

Friends ask how do I keep coming up with fresh ideas. Surely, they say, you’ll run out of ideas one day? But it’s what I’ve done all my life, as a teacher for 13 years with year 6 in the days when you opened them up rather than closed them down, and then as a professional writer for the past 30 years. I’ve searched out ideas, both for my own writing and ideas to inspire children in the writing workshops I run on my school visits. A cat called Elvis moved in next door, Laika, the space dog, troubled me till I finally found the right words and the right mood, turtles in captivity, a white feather (from an angel?), stars, unicorns, snakes. Recently too, I’ve written to order, writing 30 poems in six months about space, sport, war, scary stuff, pre 1066 history and most recently dogs. That’s a real challenge, the final poems often wrung out of me in pure desperation as the deadlines loomed.

There’s another question I’m asked too by children who see themselves as writers of the future. ‘What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write?’ First of all, I reply, if you want to write, then write. Don’t talk about it, do it. So many people talk about writing a book one day but never do.

Secondly, keep a writer’s notebook. Write down what you see, hear, jokes people tell you, thoughts about strange situations, odd signs. It will, as time goes on, become a treasure chest of ideas to refer to again and again. I have notebooks going back many years and they still prove useful. Finally, train yourself to be an observer. Look, listen, note it down. Be receptive to anything and interested in everything. Spot possibilities. Be that ideas detective.

Brian Moses

Posted in Poet's Piece

The Joys and Frustrations of Editing, by Celia Warren

Celia Warren lives in the very south of England. We have some things is common –  we both like dogs and I also happen to know Celia likes writing poems about worms, in fact she has written an entire book about them. Celia Warren’s poems have appeared in hundreds of anthologies. But she is not only a children’s poet – she also writes teaching materials for children and edits children’s poetry anthologies. I thought it would be interesting to hear about being a children’s poetry anthologiser/editor from the point of view of a poet, and Celia has kindly written all about it.

From the minute I was old enough to enjoy words and their rhythms I have loved poetry. I attribute this initially to my mother, who would frequently recite or read poems to me. Often she read from poetry collections by single poets, such as A A Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Just as often she would read me verses from a wonderfully fat book called The Book of a Thousand Poems. I now own that very book and still turn to it to read old favourites. It wasn’t a single poet’s collection, it was an anthology – that is to say it contained poems by lots of different writers.

As time went by I continued to enjoy reading poetry in many different styles, old and modern, traditional and new, rhyming and non-rhyming, some written in English, some translated from other languages. And the more I read, the more I began to write my own poems. I now have shelves full of poetry collections and anthologies, for adults and for children – in many of which my own poems appear.

I am a collector. But where some people might collect stamps or ornamental hedgehogs (as I did once upon a time), I collect poems. I do this for my own pleasure. Over many years I collected poems about worms – diverse takes on the little earthworm penned by a wide range of poets. No publisher was interested in printing a book of worm poems, until I produced a book of poems about worms that were aimed at younger children and all by me! It involved writing the poems and then editing them. That is, I had to choose which to keep and which to drop; which needed revising and tweaking, and which order to put them in my book. At last it was finished: to my delight Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles was published by Bloomsbury.

That is one kind of editing – picking and choosing and tweaking my own writing. But I had already experienced the joy of another kind of editing – that of compiling collections of poems by lots of different authors: anthologies. These delicious opportunities arrived like buses – two came along at once. I was in my seventh heaven! First, I had already collected dozens of poems about birds – again, this was for my own pleasure. It was when I thought I’d like to share the collection that my anthology grew. The subject matter broadened from birds to British wildlife in general. Now I had even more poems to choose from! I wanted my collection to appeal to families – grown ups and children. I wanted it to appeal to readers who lived in cities as well as those who lived in the country. I wanted to include old favourites, by poets no longer living, and I wanted to include new poems from poets very much alive and rhyming. That’s a lot of ‘wants’! I needed balance.

Finding balance

The hardest part of being an editor or anthologist – a chooser of content – isn’t deciding what poems will appear in the finished book; it’s deciding which poems to leave out. That is difficult. For instance, one of my favourite poets, Walter de la Mare, wrote dozens of poems about birds and about lots of other wildlife. If I put all of his poems in my anthology, I should upset the balance, so inevitably I had to decide to leave out a lot of his lovely poems. The same applied to many other poets’ works, some author friends, some poets I’d never met. Finally, when I had my collection and its ‘running order’ sorted, the publisher’s editor also suggested a couple of poems that she thought should appear. I loved them both and totally agreed to include them.

Of course, new poems are being written every day, and I come across old poems that I’ve not read before. Inevitably, I find myself thinking how well this or that would have fitted in to the finished book, but there would not have been room for more in my RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poems. In this book, the ‘icing on the cake’ came with the illustrations. Every page had illustrations, largely provided by the best wildlife artists in the country – members of the Royal Society of Wildlife Artists. Illustrations are broadly chosen by the publisher, but I did have my say, too, and was thrilled with the end result.

Meanwhile (remember, I was compiling two books at once!), another book was developing. All anthologies need a theme to hold the poems together. I had the idea of using lines from a famous biblical verse, which appears in the book of Ecclesiastes, as “pegs” on which to hang poems. It begins,

There is a time for everything
And a season for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born
And a time to die
A time to plant
And a time to pull up

… and so it continues, ending with the lines

A time for war
And a time for peace.

It all began with a poem from my over-fifty-year-old copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous collection A Child’s Garden of Verses – and the poem, Keepsake Mill – “A time to keep”! Yes, again, this anthology began life simply for my personal satisfaction. Then, at last, I was able to share my favourites with others when publisher Schofield and Sims agreed to print my anthology, together with a teacher’s book, giving ideas of how to enjoy the poems in the classroom and in school assemblies. It became a huge project, and ended up with 100 poems. I started with lots of ideas of poems I wished to include, but now I had the added task of finding poems to hang on some of the trickier pegs. It was a labour of love! And I fervently hope that among so many poems, every child (or adult) who dips into the anthology will find at least a few poems that they enjoy. Oh – and the irony of the collection, that typifies the frustrations that interrupt the joy of compiling – the poem that had been the start of my collection had to be left out. Not unreasonably, the publisher pointed out that I’d already chosen this poem to use in another of their books, aimed at the same market, so they wanted to avoid duplication. Fair enough, but sad for me!

Joys and frustrations

An anthology of poetry is better than a box of chocolates. Its pleasure lasts forever. You can dip into a lovely anthology again and again, rereading old favourites and finding others that you missed first time around. My mother’s Book of a Thousand Poems that brought pleasure to my mother during her lifetime, I continue to enjoy in my lifetime and, one day, I shall pass it on to my children.

The titles of my anthologies were agreed, with the publisher having the final say, or in the case of the wildlife anthology, the charity that was supposedly advocating the book. Sadly, it is not the title I should have picked and works to the detriment of sales, particularly as said charity promotes it not one iota. Frustrating! Set against that, each of my anthologies had a foreword written by prestigious poets – former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, and poet for grown-ups and children, Wendy Cope. Joy!

Meanwhile, my reading and collecting hasn’t stopped. Already I have a number of ideas for future anthologies. The only problem is … finding a publisher willing to finance their publication. A compiler, however enthusiastic and experienced, however willing to spend however long is required to achieve perfection, is limited to a budget. That’s never going to change. But if you love collecting poems – then you, too, are an anthologist, even if your personal selection remains for your own pleasure. Never stop reading – in English and translation; old and modern. It’s a joy for life!

© Celia Warren 2017

The following are anthologies and collections edited by the poet:
Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles – Bloomsbury
The RSPB Anthology of Wildlife Poems – Bloomsbury
A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen – Schofield and Sims, hardback 
A Time to Speak and a Time to Listen – Schofield and Sims, paperback
The accompanying Teacher’s Guide: ISBN 978 07217 1206 2

Posted in Poet's Piece

Three Simple Steps to Perk Up Your Poems by Roger Stevens

Roger Stevens carries a notebook everywhere he goes; I have seen his notebook in glimpses over the years, and it is packed full of notes, poem workings, observations, ideas, drawings… it is all you need to write a poem seen through Roger’s eyes and poured out onto pages. It’s like raw diamonds and rocks with seams of gold in dug out of the ground. It’s probably worth MILLIONS. If poetry paid well that is. Roger has run The PoetryZone since 1998, full of really interesting poetry things, such as children’s poetry, reviews of children’s poetry books, and poetry teaching resources. Children can send in poems and if they are good enough get them published there – and Roger runs poetry competitions, the next is due very soon! More details below from Roger – along with how to finish a poem!

Here at Poetry Zone HQ we receive some wonderful poems, written by children and teenagers. But I am often disappointed because a poem which is actually quite good feels incomplete or just needs a few final touches which would change it from a nice piece of writing into something excellent.  So, if you have written a poem and you are ready to send it to The Poetry Zone – or you’re going to enter it into a competition, or you are just writing it for school, or for pleasure – here are three simple things you can do to take your poem on to the elevator and up to the next level.

  1. Ask yourself: Does the poem say what I want it to say? Does it make sense? It’s amazing how many poems are sent to the Poetry Zone that make no sense at all. Why? I don’t know! A poem may arrive with a last line missing. Or the author may have added a couple of lines just because they want to finish with a rhyme. But, unless it’s meant to be a nonsense poem, a poem must really make sense. Making sure your poem says something is more important than making it rhyme. Sometimes I can tell that the author didn’t read the poem through properly. I always ask someone else to read my poems and stories before I send them anywhere. So, first rule – CHECK IT MAKES SENSE.
  2. Read your poem to make sure it has rhythm. For me, rhythm is the most important element of a poem. It is certainly more important than rhyme. Does your poem flow nicely? Does it have a beat? Are there any awkward words or phrases that interrupt its flow? My rule here is to READ THE POEM OUT LOUD before you send it; read it to someone else. You will hear whether or not it has rhythm and they will tell you if they get a sense of the meaning of the poem.
  3. Check your spelling and punctuation. Generally speaking, you don’t need commas or full stops at the end of lines. Usually the end of each line of a poem signifies a natural break, or the meaning runs into the next line. So there is no need for a comma or full stop unless you need punctuation to make the meaning of the line clear. You might like to use the convention of beginning every line of the poem with a capital letter – or you might prefer to use capital letters as you would when writing prose. The important thing here is to be consistent. And finally on this topic, two bugbears of mine. Firstly use a capital letter when writing in the first person. For example – ‘I wrote a poem’ NOT ‘i wrote a poem’. Secondly learn how to use there, their and they’re. There refers to a place. It’s over there. It even has the word ‘here’ in it to help you remember. Here and there. Their means something belongs to someone . This is ‘their’ story. One way to remember is to change the sentence – if you can change it to ‘my’ or ‘your’ then it’s ‘their’. This is my story, this is your story . . . And they’re is a shortened form of they are. Hence the apostrophe.

I hope you found that useful. There are lots of other things you can do to make your poetry better, of course. You can find more advice on the Poetry Zone or from other websites or poets on the internet. But follow these three simple rules and you’ll notice a real improvement.

So, do send your poems to The Poetry Zone . Do enter our competitions. And do watch out for our special 20th anniversary celebrations next year, in 2018. Good luck. (www.poetryzone.co.uk)

Posted in Poet's Piece

Sue Hardy-Dawson – Language Rules!

The first guest poster on Poetry Roundabout is the excellent poet and illustrator, Sue Hardy-Dawson. Sue’s wonderful book, Where Zebra’s Go, is published by Otter-Barry Books.

I wrote this poem when I was feeling very sad and angry. I often find that writing is a really good way of exploring my feelings. I remember thinking that nowadays children spend a long time being reminded of what they should or shouldn’t do before they write. Of course there are lots of rules to remember.

Yet I don’t recall being asked to think much about them when I was a child.

I have always loved learning new words even though I have dyslexia, and struggle to spell most of them. Only in secondary school did anyone attempt to teach me what nouns, verbs and adjectives were. Later on I vaguely remember rhyme, similes and metaphors being mentioned and that was as much as I knew until long after I started writing poetry. Yet I had no difficulties in having ideas, in using language. I knew where words went and how to use them. How? Because I, just as you are, was surrounded by people who talked. Also my parents read to me and when I too learnt to read, I read everything I could get my hands on. I still believe reading well is the very best way to learn how to write well.

Just think for a minute how amazing our brains are. Did you know we actually begin to learn the rhythms of our native language listening through the walls of our mothers’ wombs? In fact, in the first seven years of our lives, the language part of our brains develops rapidly. This is why talking, reading and sharing poetry and stories is so important, even for the smallest of children.

So without even trying, you, like me, have been collecting words all of your life. Spoken language changes all the time and I still get excited when I find a new word. There are lots of really interesting things to learn about language. So should we be learning and worrying about the rules of grammar? Of course sometimes, when we need to. But not when we are writing creatively, then it should be something we only think about afterwards.

I know if I stopped to consider carefully every word I put on the page I would struggle to write at all or to enjoy it. When getting my ideas down I rarely pause to check anything other than that I can read what I have written. ‘Fine tuning’ (spellings, punctuation, even if it makes sense) is my very last step. Why? Because although there are lots of rules about writing; ideas ignore them. Ideas just want to get out and onto the page. Of course if you don’t listen carefully they will disappear. Ideas are tricky like that and later you will struggle to remember exactly what they were.

So remember what an amazing brain you have. Read everything you can and write for fun, write for yourself. Just have a go without worrying about it. Then perhaps, one day soon, I will pick up a book and find myself reading a poem or a story that you wrote.