1.What is your earliest memory of poetry?
My father read me the poetry of Banjo Paterson when I was a young child. I loved the bouncy rhythms, the clever rhymes, the rollicking stories, the colourful characters, the rich settings. In short, I loved everything about it!
2.When and why did you begin to write poetry for children?
I began writing poetry in a consistent way from the age of 21. However, it was not until I reached my mid 30s that I began to write for poetry for children. I think I needed that distance from my own childhood. It feels like a great privilege, but also a great responsibility, to write for children. Adult minds are largely formed, but the minds of children are still very fluid, and can be influenced for better or worse by a great range of stimuli.
3.Do you think writing for children is the same or different as writing for adults (explain)
I love the challenge of writing a poem that can be enjoyed by both adults and children, but there are differences. When I write for children, I try to locate within myself that sense of what it was like to be a child. I then try to entertain that version of myself. It is harder than writing for adults, because I have to make a conscious move to step out of my ‘adult self’.
4. If you could be any poet in history who would you choose to be and why?
The Australian poet C. J. Dennis. He lived in a fascinating time and place – Melbourne in the lead-up to and during the First World War. The decades that followed, with the return of the soldiers, followed by the Great Depression, were also amazing. He was also very involved with the beginnings of the Australian film industry. Dennis was friends with Henry Lawson, George Robertson (of Angus & Robertson), David Low, Hal Gye, Bob Croll, the English Poet Laureate John Masefield, and many other fascinating characters.
5.Give five words to describe your poetry?
Fun. Clever. Witty. Unusual. Rhyming.
6.Share a few lines from one of the poems you have written that you are most proud of?
A flying saucer came last night.
It landed in the drive.
I warned the crew, “My dad parks there.
He’ll eat you all alive!”
(from “Dad Meets the Martians”)
7.What is your favourite form of poetry?
I love poetry with rhyme and rhythm.
8. Tell me about how you like to perform your poems.
My poems are written to be read aloud. They are inspired by the old tradition of telling stories ‘around the campfire’. Ideally, they should be performed in a social setting, with an audience as well as a performer. I love to believe they could serve as a ‘social glue’, helping to bring people together.
9.Where is your best spot for writing poetry and why?
I often write my best poetry while I am walking, and I love to walk in the bush. Lying in bed at night is also a good place to write poetry.
10.What advice do you have for other poets wanting to write for children?
Only do it if you enjoy it. There is very little remuneration, so don’t write for the money. On the other hand, if you do truly love it, and you stick at it, the rewards can be very great indeed. Also, write often, take risks, and don’t worry about making mistakes. My favourite quote (paraphrased): “The most mistakes are made by the most successful people.”
To find out more about Stephen and his work visit these links
(Interviewed by June Perkins, Part of a series of blogs on Poets for Children, Ten Things About Poetry and Me.)