- On being an unofficial ambassador for children’s poetry in New Zealand
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When you unwrap a poem you might find sizzling butter in the pancake pan
the flight of a kite in the deep blue sky crackling laughter when you all say cheese
the look of love in your grandmother’s eye words that taste sweet and words that hop
doorways and windows and rickety gates tickets to space and a wild west wind.
Poetry is a vital playground where children can squelch knee deep in the possibilities of words. Here words can tower and tilt and connect. A few years ago, with a number of poetry books for both children and adults out in the world, I invented a role for myself as an unofficial ambassador for children’s poetry in New Zealand. My key aim was to get parents, teachers, and children to fall in love with the delights of poetry. Poems can hook the most reluctant reader and writer and advance the most sophisticated. There are no rules in the poetry playground, unless you choose to make them. Poetry offers the child a most liberating scope for reading and writing.
To put my plan into action, I wrote new poetry collections, edited A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children, undertook a Hot Spot Poetry Tour of the country, visited schools through the NZ Book Council, and kick started a children’s blog called NZ Poetry Box.
On writing poems for children
a Jack on a camel a Jack and his flannel a Jack climbing rocks a Jack in a box.(From “Which Jack”)
Some authors write poems for children with the adult reader in mind as though any other option will compromise the poetic complexity and reduce potential levels of engagement. My primary aim is to catch the attention of the child reader to the point they fall in love with poetry. Poems that hook the child’s ear and eye ignite crucial sparks in their reading life. For me, children’s poetry begins with sound as the poems need to live in the air (ear) as nimbly as they reside on the page. Rhyme may or may not play a part. What matters is the electric charge between one word and the next that may produce a quiet hum or a hubzubadrub and everything in between. When I do use rhyme, I am as fond of the Dr-Seuss-type rhyme (dog, sog, log, frog) [End Page 73] as I am of words that almost rhyme (escape, alligator, skateboard). Tricky rhyme, as I tell children, is an extremely fun thing to hunt for and adds musical zest to their poems. Hiding the rhyme adds another level of excitement for hungry ears.
Poems can feed the eye with detail that gleams like little gold nuggets on the line. The detail can have anchors in the real world and help a poem relate little snippets of experience. Conversely, the detail might scoop the child up and carry them through the window into the tunnels and train tracks of the imagination. Good detail can produce laughter (a necessary ingredient in my collections), but it can also provide a landing platform to ponder things that surprise or challenge or move. Children, who have caught the poetry spark, will engage with poems that offer a more thoughtful flipside to zany humor.
Poems on the page can catch the eye through form. In my latest collection, The Letterbox Cat, I have played with the tradition of concrete poetry to create poems that produce pictures. Trying to read these sometimes involves a lot of squirming and twisting and getting off the chair to follow the tumble of words (one poem is a rollercoaster; another is a dripping ice cream).
When I write a book of poems for children, I want to show that poems can do a thousand things and, while you might experience all kinds of moods as you read, poems make you feel good. Poetry is a way of reading for delight.
On performing poems with children
I saw little ships instead of pips on...