I’m told, I knew all my nursery rhymes by heart before I went to Kindergarten. So someone, possibly my mother or maternal grandmother, taught me. My love of verse came from listening, firstly, to my father recite comic verses by Lewis Carroll and melodramatic poetry by Mrs Felicia Hemans [Casablanca, in particular, which he recited with flair] and, secondly, to my maternal grandfather recite The Man from Snowy River, and reading The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll.
2.When and why did you begin to write poetry for children?
I started writing poetry and illustrating my verse whilst in primary. Many of the poems were either narrative or humorous or both, which I read or wrote to my maternal grandmother, who is responsible for having encouraged this behaviour in her granddaughter..
3.Do you think writing for children is the same or different as writing for adults (explain)
That it is written for children should not in any way diminish the pleasure it can give adults. The drama of the ballad, from medieval Barbara Allen to Gothic Edgar Allan Poe and Walter de la Mare and the rollicking humour of poets like Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash are as entertaining for adults as they are for children. Verse is everywhere – it surrounds us – advertising jungles, verse on birthday cards, songs are poems set to music, movie and TV theme songs, national anthems, rally cries, and football team songs.
However, there are categories of poems that are more for the adult reader, rather than the child. The child grows into these latter verse forms – love poems, protest poems and the more convoluted literary forms. The more exposure to verse in its playful and dramatic aspects, the more the child is likely to explore the poetic medium for themselves as they mature.
4.If you could be any poet in history who would you choose to be and why?
Shakespeare! In my maternal grandparents’ home, Shakespeare and the Bible were quoted with equal regularity. They introduced me to the stories of the Shakespearean plays whilst I was in primary. The eloquence, drama and beautiful flow of Shakespearean language is something to aspire to, a ‘gold standard.’
5. What are five words that describe your poetry?
Broadly speaking – Dramatic, rhythmic, storyful, humorous, imaginative
6.Share a few lines from one of the poems you have written that you are most proud of.
From Babi Yar, published in Quadrant, December 2011 –
Verse 4 and last line –
Deep inside collective mind
The forest grows upon mankind.
It hides the children clinging to
The bones of mothers, fathers, kin
Silent as the night within
At Babi Yar.
7. What is your favourite form of poetry?
8. Have any of your poems been illustrated? If so what did you think of the illustration? And or Tell me about how you like to perform your poems?
Yes. Over 100 of my poems have been illustrated by wonderful artist/illustrator collaborators in our Poster Poem Project. I have illustrated a number of my own poems as well.
I love the added visual dimension that illustration gives the written word.
Doing dramatic readings is a passion!
Speech and Drama lessons in high school taught me how to better bring to vivid life a dramatic or humorous reading. It introduced me to the flow of language in a new way and gave me a deeper appreciation of the ‘sounds’ words make, how often words echo their own sense [onomatopoeia].
It is also a great advantage in ‘proofing’ my own book texts, whether rhyming or in prose. Flow is important in telling story – pause and emphasis give heightened dramatic effect; a good rhythm carries the story along, especially in verse.
9.Where is your best spot for writing poetry and why?
Anywhere and any time the inspiration hits!
10. What advice do you have for other poets wanting to write for children?
Hopefully, they will have never lost their ‘inner child,’ the ability to see the world with eyes open wide and wondering.
Revisit the poets you loved as a child, back as far as favourite nursery rhymes. Think about why you loved them and how they got their message /story across to you. Start by challenging yourself with a limerick version of a nursery rhyme or a ballad form retelling of a fairytale or fable. Read what you write out loud to test the flow. Further test what you have written on children. If they respond enthusiastically, [and not because they are your kids and know they better!] you have nailed it.
J.R.Poulter is a Multi-awarded writer /poet with 30+ traditionally published children’s and education books in Australia, UK, USA and Europe, a former senior educator, librarian, book reviewer, she once worked in a circus. Awards include Children’s Choice, New Zealand, Top Ten Children’s & YA Books, NZ, Premier’s Recommended Reading List, Australia, Simone Wood Award, USA. J.R. teaches poetry & prose and heads Word Wings collaborative, 50+ creatives from 20+ countries. As J.R.McRae, she is an awarded, internationally published poet, fiction / YA writer and artist. Works include novels Free Passage and Cats’ Eyes, Picturebook/YA crossovers Dream of the Fox Women, Tatter Wings and The Dolls’ House in the Forest. International anthologies containing her poetry, stories, art include – Colours of Refuge, Mytho, Musings, A Mosaic, Best of Vines Leaves, Trust and Treachery, 100 Stories for Queensland, Basics of Life, Quadrant Book of Poetry, 2000-2010, The Spirit of Poe, Poe-It and Guide to Sydney Rivers.
You can find out more about her works here:
(Interview part of a series of blogs, Ten things about Poetry and Me, by June Perkins)