1. What is your earliest memory of poetry?
The earliest poems I remember hearing were ‘Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace’ by AA Milne, and The Swing, ‘Bed in Summer’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I enjoyed imagining myself as a soldier in a beefeater hat and hearing words about playing in the park and going to bed in daylight as they were things I actually did! I must have been very young (under five) when my mum read them to me, and they were early influences when I began writing poetry for children.
2. When and why did you begin to write poetry for children?
When I had kids! At first I didn’t write anything down, I made verses up and recited them aloud to entertain and occupy my sons when they were babies and toddlers. Not surprisingly, the first poems I thought up were about them. When I was studying children’s writing around that time, and was asked to write a children’s poem – I was lucky to have one in my head ready to go. My poetry has gotten older as they have, although I still sometimes write for very young children.
3. Do you think writing for children is the same or different as writing for adults?
That’s a good question. I often write for children in a child’s voice, but not always. A recent poem I wrote in my own (adult) voice was picked up by a literary journal for children aged 12 and up.
I suppose a good poem should appeal to all readers, whatever their age. The most important thing is a clear theme, and carefully chosen words that paint vivid images, and that is the same for children and adults. The themes and language need to resonate with the age you are writing for, and that means the experiences and feelings described must fall within those children know or can imagine. But extending experience and language is something that poetry can do as well – so it is good to push the limits a bit.
4. If you could be any poet in history who would you choose to be and why?
Can I choose more than one? That’s a doozy of a question! Julia Donaldson has the most fun of any poet I’ve come across recently, and she’s still alive – so I pick her. Seriously though, Donaldson is consistently an amazing read-out-loud rhyming poet, who becomes more enjoyable with every read. And that’s important when reading to young kids over, and over and over.
5. Give five words to describe your poetry?
Playful, curious, quirky, real, musical
6. Share a few lines from one of the poems you have written that you are most proud of?
Wind whistles past my eardrums
a cyclone raging near
My toes are rockets blasting off
the bedsprings creak in fear
7. What is your favourite form of poetry?
Up until a couple of years ago, I would have said rhyming poetry, but I’ve been enjoying trying out other forms of poetry, including free verse, and syllabic poems including haiku and cinkqu.
I still love a good rhyme, they are super-satisfying to read out loud.
8. Have any of your poems been illustrated? If so what did you think of the illustration
Yes! I’ve had two poems illustrated. Both were organised by publishers, without any input from me and I’ve loved both of the interpretations. The illustrators have brought their own layers to the poems and made them so much more than I could have imagined.
9. Where is your best spot for writing poetry and why?
In my head, wherever inspiration strikes. Sometimes I need to scrabble for a scrap of paper or notebook and pen, so I try to keep them handy.
10. What advice do you have for other poets wanting to write for children?
Tap into your inner child, and listen to the children in your life – whether they are kids, grandkids or classmates. Some of my best lines come from listening to children. And read out loud, to make sure the poem sounds the way you want it to. If you are just starting out – read and re-read the children’s poets you love, and practice writing in their style until you find your own voice, it’s a great way of building your skills.
Nadine has poems and stories for children published online at Australian Children’s Poetry, and in Cricket Media magazines (US), Balloons Lit. Journal (Hong Kong), Comet and Alphabet Soup. She has a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing from RMIT and is currently working on a hybrid graphic novel for young adults (Dark Room: Do Not Enter). In 2016-17 she won an ASA mentorship to develop her work.
To find out more about Nadine Cranenburgh
(Interview by June Perkins, This blog is part of a series on Poets for Children, Ten Things About Poetry and Me.)