Ten Things About Poetry and Me: Teena Raffa-Mulligan

1.What is your earliest memory of poetry?

Sitting beside my tiny English grandmother on the sofa or my bed, listening to her recite poems to me. I particularly recall a sad poem called Papa’s Letter about a little boy who writes a letter to his father in Heaven and is trampled by a horse when he goes out to post it. I’ve since learnt it was written in the nineteenth century by an anonymous poet. Another that lingers in my memory from that time is William Allingham’s The Fairies, a favourite of both Nana’s and Mum’s and one I eventually shared with my own children.

 

2.When and why did you begin to write poetry for children?

I always thought of myself as a writer, not a poet, though I did produce a number of rather serious contemplative poems as a young adult. It never occurred to me to write poems specifically for children until years later when my children were in primary school. I was writing mainly short stories, picture books and chapter books but occasionally I’d have an idea for a poem. I discovered The School Magazine in 1998 and began to write poetry with these wonderful publications in mind. Some of my published poems were initially written as rhyming picture books that didn’t sell in that format. I believe in being open to possibilities so I looked at alternative markets for them and struck lucky.

 

3. Do you think writing for children is the same or different from writing for adults?

The same skills as a writer are required for both. It’s a matter of keeping your audience in mind when choosing what to write and how to write it. However, a well-written poem for children will be appreciated equally by adults. We’ve all been children and can remember how we felt in our younger lives. When poets can draw on this child aspect of themselves, the poetry they produce will have universal appeal.

I know how much I enjoy reading the wonderful poems being submitted to the Australian Children’s Poetry website for posting as Poem of the Day and how often I think, ‘Wish I’d written that!’

  

4. If you could be any poet in history who would you choose to be and why?

John Masefield. His poem ‘Sea Fever’ has been a favourite of mine since childhood for its rhythm and imagery. It gives me goosebumps even now when I say it aloud. Cargoes, too, has a wonderful sense of rhythm.

 

  

5. Give five words to describe your poetry?

Child-friendly, whimsical, playful, amusing, simple

   

6.Share a few lines from one of the poems you have written that you are most proud of?

‘ Leaf Lace’ was inspired by the discovery that caterpillars had been making a feast of my geraniums. One night when I couldn’t sleep, I mentally sifted and sorted the words until they felt right.

 

Lace maker

Toils secretly

Tucked out of sight;

Creates ornate

Patterns

Until they’re just right.

Delicate, intricate

Handiwork done

Designer departs

To start

The next one.

Serrates, decorates

All my plants in this way.

I confess

I’m impressed

At this leaf lace display.

 

 7.What is your favourite form of poetry?

Rhyme. I get a lot of pleasure from playing with different rhyming patterns, so I might focus on rhymes within lines, or an AAB, CCB end line rhyme pattern. Whatever pattern I choose, it’s always a challenge to make the rhyme feel natural rather than contrived. I also enjoy reading well-written rhyming poems.

 

8, Have any of your poems been illustrated? If so what did you think of the illustration? 

All of the poems I’ve had accepted by The School Magazine (about 20 in all, several also reprinted) have been accompanied by wonderful illustrations. It’s always a thrill to receive my copies of the magazine in the mail and see how an artist has interpreted my words.

 

9. Where is your best spot for writing poetry and why?

I don’t have a best spot. Once I have an idea, I will mull it around in my head as I go about my daily activities, jotting down fragments or lines in a notebook as they come to me. Often I’ll mentally work on a poem if I’m awake during the night. When I’m a passenger in the car also seems to trigger my poetic impulses. Of course, the real work of refining poetry happens in my office when I start keying my random bits and pieces into the computer.  

 

10. What advice do you have for other poets wanting to write for children?

Read the work of contemporary poets to get a sense of what is being written and published now. Today’s children are incredibly savvy and they’re exposed to very different influences than earlier generations through technology and social media. Keep in mind who it is you are writing for, and don’t forget there is still a child in you who knows what it is to be a child. Write from that place.

You can find out more about Tina here

Website: www.teenaraffamulligan.com

FB author page: https://www.facebook.com/TeenaRaffaMulligan/

Twitter: @TraffaM

Blog: https://intheirownwrite.wordpress.com

Ten Things About Poetry and Me: Virginia Lowe

In 2016 Virginia was awarded the Leila St John Award for services to children’s literature in Victoria. Here she is with the medal.

1. What is your earliest memory of poetry?

My mother was a pianist. She was always at the piano, and I could sing 80 nursery rhymes when I was two (so my baby book says). Then there were the Zoe McHenry songs as well. All of these are rhymes, of course, so my first introduction to poetry was via song. The piano was a player piano, and we had rolls of most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas as well. As soon as I could read, I could sing these too – and loved them.

I think we also had to  AA Milne When We were Very Young and Now We are Six, as I vaguely remember ‘Jonathan Jo had a mouth like an O’, ‘Christopher Robin is saying his prayers’ (oh no, it’s called ‘Vespers’ isn’t it?) and ‘Buckingham Palace’ – but I read them so often to my own children later, that it’s hard to think back through that to my own childhood experiences.

We learned quite a lot at school, for which I am very grateful – they stay with you for ever. I remember some of Walter de la Mare’s, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, and Shelley’s ‘The Cloud’ from elocution  in secondary school).

 

 

2. When and why did you begin to write poetry for children?

I have written poetry for as long as I can remember (at least since adolescence) and I am interested in children’s literature.  I have been a children’s and school librarian and lectured on children’s literature at uni, the book from my thesis is Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell, and for the last twenty years I have run a manuscript assessment agency Create a Kids’ Book. Some of my poetry naturally turns out to be for children.

Published by Routledge in 2006.

 

3. Do you think writing for children is the same or different as writing for adults (explain)

Pretty much the same – it’s all about playing with words, and settling on just the right words in just the right order, whether it’s for adults or children. I do think children like rhyming poetry better. At least the poems I remember from school – the ones of Walter de la Mare for instance, all rhyme. And the favourites of my own children – by Ogden Nash, Lewis Carroll and Doug McLeod for instance – also rhyme.

 

4. If you could be any poet in history who would you choose to be and why?

Emily Dickinson. I wouldn’t really want her isolated life, but in her few pithy words she can sum up a situation and an idea – it leaves me breathless sometimes! Such a philosopher.

 


5. Give five words to describe your poetry?

Narrative, socially aware. Take a simple idea and elevate it by cleverly twisting it and putting it in a poem. (Just needed some extra words for this one!)
6. Share a few lines from one of the poems you have written that you are most proud of?

From ‘Baby Walking’

a baby, much too small

stands stolidly erect

then deliberately

loses balance

to step forwards

into his future

as a biped

 

7. What is your favourite form of poetry?

The really short pithy ones telling a philosophical or social truth – but I can rarely manage it myself.

 

8. Tell me about how you like to perform your poems?

Other people’s poems: I used to take a poetry basket into schools, with about 30 little objects in, and everyone in the class would have a chance to feel in and take something out and hold it while I recited/read ‘its’ poem.

I just read mine, when I have a chance.

 

9. Where is your best spot for writing poetry and why?

In my study, at my computer. I rarely know what I think till I see what I say (as EM Foster had it…)

Sometimes I also think of a few lines, or solutions to lyrical problems, while I am swimming laps in the pool – there is pen and paper in the car for me to write them down as soon as I get out.

 

10. What advice do you have for other poets wanting to write for children?

Keep writing poems. Some of them will turn out to be suitable for children, some not. And read, read, read. Get a name for yourself by publishing to the weekly prompts on Australian Children’s Poetry https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/

 

To find out more about Virginia

https://silverbirchpress.wordpress.com/?s=virginia+lowe.

https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/?s=virginia+lowe.

www.createakidsbook.com

 

(Interview by June Perkins, This blog is part of a series on Poets for Children, Ten Things About Poetry and Me.)

 

Ten Things About Poetry and Me: J.R.Poulter/J.R.McRae

1.What is  your earliest memory of poetry?

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?

All forms!:)

 

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:

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/wordwings

www.wordwings.wix.com/publishing

https://www.facebook.com/WordWingsPublishing/

 

(Interview part of a series of blogs, Ten things about Poetry and Me, by June Perkins)

 

 

Poem of the Day

Loving the prompts at Australian children’s poetry.  The Open Windows inspired me to think of a breeze wishing the windows would open!

Australian Children's Poetry

Outback Afternoon

The breeze coaxes

the windows open:

Windows as large as doors;

Windows as small as Nana’s china blue

dinner plates;

Windows of rainbow coloured glass

covered with trees and angels;

Windows frosted, so you can’t see through them,

textured and light grey.

The breeze beckons the windows open

creak

squeak

knock, knock.

The breeze doesn’t care if they are latched

lifted,

or pushed out

as long as

they open.

The breeze remembers when

windows had no glass

and were just open squares in

the walls and there was no air conditioning.

The breeze knows that some windows

are so clean and clear

that when they are closed

clueless birds fly into them.

Splat!

Whoosh!  Ha, ha!

The breeze chuckles its cooling fresh breath

through open windows

into the outback houses

wishing for the end of summer.

© June Perkins
  • Submitted in response to Poetry Prompt #6

poetry-prompt-6

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