Writing Poetry for Children Panel – Queensland Poetry Festival

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A panel exploring Writing Poetry for Kids, hosted by the Brisbane Square Librarywas held at the Queensland Poetry Festival 2017, Saturday August 26th. It was encouraging to see the theatrette full, and a mixture of backgrounds: parents, local writing for children community members, local writers and poets, and public in attendance, as well as a few children. The library did a beautiful job hosting and making sure the equipment was all sound checked and ready to go. Thanks to the Queensland Poetry Festival for including our panel in the festival.

The panel explored the idea that children are the future of keeping the art of poetry alive. If they love it, then when they grow up their children will also love it.  So how then do we foster and keep poetry vibrant, inclusive, and add it onto everyone’s would like to try or must do, and must buy list, especially children, grandparents, parents, families and schools?  Dr Virginia Lowe posed this and other interesting questions to the panel.

Dr Lowe expressed her love of poetry and how much children from a young age can gain from it.  Her detailed PhD study looked at her own children’s interaction with poetry and metaphorical language beginning with nursery rhymes from birth right up until they were just leaving their teen years.  ‘They can understand much more than we give them credit for.  They benefit so much for the metre and beat of poetry and the way it uses language and encourages metaphorical thinking and abstract thought.’

June Perkins, Sally Murphy, Virginia Lowe

Dr Sally Murphy commented that in nearly all bookshops there is no poetry for children’s section.  She makes a point of checking this whenever she is near a bookshop and did so in Brisbane and found it to be typical.  The shop she went into did have picture books that rhyme (which are enjoyable but this limits what people think of as poetry books for children).  The emphasis  with most ‘poetry books’ for children is heavily on rhyme. Why is this?  Why is poetry not considered saleable and marketable for children in its own right despite the fact it is widely studied in schools and potentially could be popular for this reason? Poetry for children is not seen as something for trade publishing, and is only a small part of educational publishing.

June mentioned the brilliant work of Riverbend books in supporting poetry for all ages and that they had been the first to stock Magic Fish Dreaming.

The challenge is that when children and young people have to pull poetry apart, especially when they are in high school (unless they have teachers that love poetry!), their love of it can potentially diminish unless something in their lives draws them to it again and they discover it anew.

The panel went on to outline where their own love of poetry came from – such as through a parent or grandparent who loved language, and exposure to poetry for children such as AA Milne or Dr Seuss and the poetic language of Shakespeare, musicals and popular songwriters their parents loved.  Their love of it deepened through writing it, and sometimes through realising the healing and transformative powers of poetry in their own lives.  Dr June Perkins had highly encouraging teachers who sent her along to poetry festivals and encouraged her writing and recital of her work.

Each of the panelists found publishing their poetry encouraged them to continue to write it, and in Sally’s case she has written and been awarded for her verse novels.

Pearl cover

June after studying the World War One poets wrote a peace poem and was thrilled to then have it published in the local paper. She also credited her mother’s traditional stories from Papua New Guinea, and her sense of magic and fun as well as her highly literate in the classics father for playing a role in her creative work.

The panel spoke for the highlighting of the emotive elements of poetry within schools for students from an early age rather than just focus on a few set forms like acrostic, limerick and haiku.  If students can connect with the social and emotive power of poetry, and see the role poets have played in society or the role poetry can play at an individual level in their lives, they might just respect the art form more.  This is much more important than just remembering numerical formulas of poetry.

mybook
Magic Fish Dreaming for sale at the Queensland Poetry Festival – A special moment.

Part of the solution to not losing lovers of poetry is creating a greater love and understanding for poetry and all its most attractive attributes in teachers.  Sally Murphy recently completed her doctoral studies into poetry for children, and has worked as a teacher. She found the set ways in which poetry is taught within the curriculum quite uninspiring, to the point where she had to leave teaching, but now visits schools as a poet/writer.  June mentioned a recent enjoyable poetry visit to a high school class where she shared with them life as a children’s poet and did put them in touch with the emotive elements of poetry.

She mentioned a love of what university study taught her about poetry, for it introduced her to African American writers, Indigenous poets and more, and also engaged her with more technical aspects of poetry so she could do more informed experimentation of her work. She loved understanding for the first time how to scan a poem for its metre properly.

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JR Poulter’s many books

JR Poulter, mentioned how it is important for children ‘to feel poetry’ to understand it and write about it.  How the poetry makes them feel can be a vital way to begin their explorations of poetry.

June Perkins, Sally Murphy, Virginia Lowe

Sally focused on the need  for readers to enjoy poetry.  Poetry can bring pleasure and joy and suffers when over burdened with an educative role!  This realisation will attract more people to read it, write it and ultimately buy it.  The panel focused on the magic of words, and their sounds and that we can attract young people to have a great love of language through poetry, and to fall in love with the sounds of words that they then long to understand the full meaning of.  Poetry can also be integrated into all parts of the curriculum and not limited to the ‘literary’ studies subjects but focus on topics like environment, and friendship.  A poem on a topic might bring it alive to students, and increase their engagement with it.  For instance Celia Berrell’s work with Science and Poetry.

The panel discussed that despite the fact it is so hard to traditionally publish poetry many people still write it and publish it on blogs and in chap books, perhaps aware of its healing power, but together they raised the question are poets only performing to other poets.  How do we then attract a readership beyond poets?  This is perhaps something that really needs to change for poetry as a whole. Bring poetry to the people! Address things that appeal to a wide range of the community, including families and children. There are many kinds of poetry for many kinds of people and there is space for all voices, and many choices in style, genre and poetics.

June who had written poems from a young age mainly about experience, nature, identity and peace, began writing poetry for children when her children were small, and she was doing projects  like Ripple,  to advocate for poetry in her local country town with a RADF grant from council. During the discussion June paid tribute to the children’s writing community of Brisbane and Australia wide, and their support and backing of Magic Fish Dreaming.  June also encouraged the writing of poetry with a strong sense of place and identity.  The unique voices of their world can find their own forms of poetic expression, and be shared and nurtured.  By reflecting the spaces we live in within our poetry, we can contribute something unique to the world landscapes of poetry.

The panel tackled the challenges of publishing poetry for children.  There are only a few magazines  where poets can send work to, such as School MagazineCaterpillar and Cricket and the Australian Children’s Poetry blog but trade publishers tend to steer clear of it.  Sally suggested that poets for children within Australia need to work together to create a demand for the genre.  She commended June for her efforts with crowd funding and marketing Magic Fish Dreaming.

The panel  discussed the role of visual books in keeping poetry alive, that is beautifully illustrated books of poetry for all ages from the young to high school readers.  Sally’s verse novels, and all of Jennifer’s works are beautifully illustrated.  At high school June used to have a friend who illustrated her poems for the school newspaper and she spoke about the wonderful collaboration with Helene Magisson and the way she was able to make poems like ‘Beyond Caterpillar Days’ more accessible for any reader through her breathtaking art.  All of the panel discussed the role of the illustrator in adding layers or illumination to the poem which could lead to people who are not practicing poets themselves to engage with the form more.

June encouraged young poets and the audience to become advocates for the art form, to learn many different forms from many cultures not just the European/Western Canon and to then become editors of their school magazines and make sure poetry makes it into the publications.  She mentioned the diverse poets at the Queensland Poetry Festival and the need for the sharing of collections with poets from around the world.  The panel also shared a list of places children and youth might seek publication.

The panelists were asked some questions from the audience.  This was followed by an enthusiastic and interactive reading from the three panelists.  J.R Poulter dynamically read three poems with a backdrop of slides to show the illustration (she has created many poetry posters), whilst Sally performed two rhyming poems, although she strongly believes not all poems should rhyme! Her call and answer poem about washing day was a lot of fun. June invited audience participation in her selection from Magic Fish Dreaming with a back drop of slides of the pages of the book and places and creatures in Far North Queensland as well.

Those gathered, including our lovely library host, continued to chat about poetry and think about what we can do to foster and ensure a publishing future for poetry for children, and by them as well.

All in all a wonderful day which can be built upon. The panel, and now hopefully also the wonderful audience who attended,  share a dream to nurture and bring about more dynamic poetry for children events in Brisbane and Australia wide.  All of us want to see more publishing and sharing of poetry for children, as well as by children for children.

Highlights

Sally Murphy – call and answer poem
Reading ‘Giggle Poems’ with Sally Murphy’s assistance
With local poets and Children’s Literature Community of QLD
Audience Participation – Discovering Magic
June’s Treasured Collection frm the QLD Poetry Festival and preevents
Special – Signed from Sally Murphy!

Thanks to David Perkins for his photography of the day.  We have shown only people who gave consent for their photographs to be shared.  A big thank you to Sally Murphy for flying from Western Australia in the middle of a busy book week to be with us,  and to JR Poulter, and  Virginia Lowe for journeying from Victoria. Virginia also ran a wonderful workshop for creators of children’s books.

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(Pictured above, Virginia Lowe, Create a Kids Book Workshop, 2017)

N.B. This is just my own recollection of the event, and others who were there may remember more or slightly different details. Feel free to send us your blog of your view of the discussion and day.

 

 

 

 

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Poetry for Children Event

Writing Poetry for Kids

When Saturday, August 26, 2017, 1 – 2pm

Are you thinking of becoming a children’s poet? Are you already a children’s poet looking for a way forward in your journey? What can poetry do for children?

Join poets Sally Murphy, Dr June Perkins and JR Poulter, in-conversation with Dr Virginia Lowe, for this fascinating discussion.

Brisbane Square Library, 266 George Street, Brisbane City

Bookings required.

Phone Brisbane Square Library on 07 3403 4166 to reserve your place.

Queensland Poetry Festival & Brisbane Square Library

Cost FREE

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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