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: Stephen Whiteside

Stephen Whiteside

 

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!

Banjo Paterson

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.

CJ Dennis

 

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

http://www.stephenwhiteside.com.au

http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/The-Billy-that-Died-with-its-Boots-On-and-Other-Australian-Verse-9781922077431

https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/australianpoets/u-z-2/stephen-whiteside/

 

(Interviewed by June Perkins, Part of a series of blogs on Poets for Children, Ten Things About Poetry and Me.)