Andrea Reece: Everyone’s a Winner

Everyone’s a winner

The Newbery Award is one hundred years old this year. Reading an article about the award and its 100 winners got me thinking about prizes, their importance and impact. I should say that prizes have been a big part of my professional life (though, sadly, not as a recipient). Publishers I’ve worked for have sponsored prizes; authors I’ve published have won them. I’ve been a judge myself (Costa Children’s Book Award 2015 – a big year). I’ve been part of the team behind the Branford Boase Award since 2012 and am currently running the Klaus Flugge Prize. And, most pertinent here, I’m delighted to say that this will be my third year working for CLPE on the publicity and promotion for the CLiPPA, the UK’s leading annual award for published poetry for children. Put it all together, and that’s a lot of judging sessions observed, and a great deal of applauding, not to mention lots of opportunities to ponder who prizes are for, and what they can do.

The Newbery anniversary has sparked debate around the list of winners and not all of its 100 winning books are recommended reading for today. Times change, taste and sensibilities with them of course, but it’s true too that anyone who’s participated in an award will be conscious of excellent nominees who, because of some one thing, failed to make the final list. Then too, if there can only be one winner, surely there must be four or five disappointed shortlistees too.

Well, no. Because to see a prize as only being about its winner really misses the point. As an expert, here are five glorious things I’ve realised are true of all prizes.

  1. The judges. Every literary prize I’ve ever observed (and this is particularly true of the CLiPPA) had as its panel of judges a group of informed, enthusiastic and engaged people, ready to share their opinions honestly, to listen to their fellow judges, and to determine the very best qualities in each collection they were considering.
  2. That excitement and passion is then shared with the public, bringing a whole new audience to books, poetry collections and poems that they would not otherwise have discovered.
  3. The best shortlists – and again, this is particularly true of the CLiPPA but it’s also true of the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prizes – do more than just showcase what is on the list. They highlight exactly what is happening in the field at the time, new and important developments, what is exciting the best practitioners of the moment. How cheering it is for example to see Manjeet Mann’s verse novel The Crossing on the shortlist for this year’s Costa Book Award, and then to see it win the category – the first time in the award’s history that the children’s prize has gone to a verse novel.
  4. No matter how often we think that surely everything there is to say or think has been said, thought or described, prizes put the spotlight on new and original work, reminding us all of the boundless capacity of human imagination.
  5. And finally, the celebrations are for everyone. Michael Rosen was named winner of the 2021 CLiPPA but on the day of the announcement, didn’t it feel as though everyone was talking about children’s poetry? How glorious was that!

Even as I write this, submissions are coming in for the 2022 CLiPPA – publishers, there’s still time if you have yet to put your books forward – and entries are also pouring in for the much-loved CLiPPA Shadowing, the scheme that prompts poetry performances in schools up and down the country. I can’t wait to share the announcement of this year’s shortlist and the celebrations of the very best new poetry books for children.

Andrea Reece

Andrea Reece is Managing Editor of Books for Keeps and reviews editor for Lovereading4Kids. She’s also director of the Children’s Programme for the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. As administrator and publicist for prizes the CLiPPA, Branford Boase Award and Klaus Flugge Prize, she knows how to keep a secret and enforce an embargo. 

Fay Lant: A Whole Voice

A whole voice

What’s the word for a joke so unfunny you can’t help but laugh? The word for the amount of water you can hold in your hand? Or the word for the feeling you get when you listen to a story and feel that you are actually there in the world of the story?

The job of a poet is often to convey complex ideas and emotions in a concise and meaningful way. But there really are single words for each of those meanings:

  • A joke so unfunny you can’t help but laugh – “Jayus” (Indonesian)
  • The amount of water you can hold in your hand – “Gurfa” (Arabic)
  • The feeling you get when you listen to a story and feel that you are actually there in the world of the story – “Goya” (Urdu)

At the National Literacy Trust we’ve been working to deliver poetry projects in schools across the country for nearly ten years and we are still excited to see the ways that children use words to create new meanings. But for a while we’ve been aware that for the multi-lingual learners in our classrooms, we are only hearing a part of their creative voice. This year we are working closely with Bradford-based poet and teacher Nabeela Ahmed to put this right.

This year children will have the chance to see and explore poems written in a voice unique to the poet. They will have the opportunity to see how poets use dialect and borrowed words to convey ideas and meaning. The children will have the chance visit a local landmark – the Brontë Parsonage – and interpret their experience using all of the words and meanings available to them. They will be the expert in how their words are written and spoken. The words that are special to them and their families will be shared with their whole class and celebrated. In other words, the children will be given permission to use their whole voice.

From Kashmir to Yorkshire

From Kashmir to Yorkshire

From lush hills and noisy streams

To patchwork moors and crashing weirs

From kachmach, bathuwa and kachnaar for spinach curries

Lasoore for pickles, patakari for haandi, shehtoot and phuware for snacks

Beir dried for winter, devoured around a firepit

Hills covered with fallen clouds, skies full of stars, moonlights of a thousand watts

I left all behind for my lifetime home, Yorkshire

Reservoirs, Brontë moors, canals, rivers, rushing streams and waterfalls

Purply pink heather, taller than me bracken, mossy rocks and mighty oaks

Cheek reddening air, eye soothing waters, postcard perfect hills

Red currants for jelly, gooseberries for chutney and blackberries for jam

Bill berries, raspberries and apples for nourishing treats with friends on long walks

From a strong Kashmiri girl to a tough Yorkshire woman

My landscapes are like me

Not just pretty to look at

© Nabeela Ahmed 2021

Fay Lant

Fay Lant is Head of School Programmes at the National Literacy Trust where she leads on writing and libraries. She has formerly been a secondary school English teacher and delivered education projects for the British Council. 

The National Literacy Trust is dedicated to transforming the lives of children from the UK’s most disadvantaged communities through literacy by improving their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. The Trust’s research underpins several programmes, campaigns and policy work which have supported the literacy skills of 268,490 children during the last year alone.

Rachel Piercey: Introducing Tyger Tyger Magazine, Issue 1: Beginnings

Introducing Tyger Tyger Magazine, Issue 1: Beginnings

In my last post for the blog, I announced the launch of Tyger Tyger Magazine, a new online journal of children’s poetry. The first issue has just launched, and I would like to introduce the twelve poems we ended up choosing, from a wonderful pool of submissions, along with short extracts and some of my thoughts on these lovely pieces.

*

The delightful ‘Assembly’, by Rob Walton, puts us in the shoes of a child who just can’t stop asking questions. They may come across as cheeky, but we can see that they are genuinely probing at language and meaning.

We have an Assembly about new beginnings.

I put my hand up and ask if it’s possible

to have old beginnings

*

‘In the beginning’, by Carole Bromley, perfectly captures that feeling when a small fib gets out of control. The resolution of the story is gleefully undermined by its last line, and we start wondering about truth and lies all over again…

[…] it was just a little fib

but it GREW.

Nobody checked the facts,

nobody knew.

*

‘Indian Cradle Song’ by Piu DasGupta reflects the circular, interconnected nature of Earth with its beautiful circular structure. It is a poem of mighty contrasts and song-like repetitions.

The earth’s crust begins in the ocean  

The ocean begins in the moon-tides […]

*

‘Blueberries’ by Jérôme Luc Martin is a triolet with an empowering message for young readers. The repeated blue whales / blueberries image delights and surprises me every time I read it!

Start small, if you begin at all.  

Blue whales begin as blueberries.

*

Hilary Elder’s ‘Catching a Yawn / Catching a Wave’ compares the experience of yawning, line by line, to a cresting wave. Together, the poems form a sort of living simile.

The wave caps,

Catching the bottom of the sky

And it holds on, on tippy-toes.

*

‘The Morning is Quiet’, by Robert Schechter, explores how quiet is just as complex and alive as noise: the lion may not be roaring, but it’s still there!

I think there’s a riot

of hush in my ear […]

Illustration: Imogen Foxwell

‘New Baby’, by Paula Thompson, warmly captures a child’s thoughts about the arrival of a new sibling. As baby paraphernalia fills the house, doubts and anxieties fill the speaker’s mind.

I’ll have to share

            their love; my stuff.

*

Andy Nuttall’s ‘The Platform Clock’ thrums with the excitement of train travel, conjuring a child’s sense of scale, potential and adventure. There’s a timeless, fairy-tale quality to the poem.

Up the line the track is singing;

Silver rails are faintly ringing.

*

Sarah Ziman’s speaker in ‘In-betweener’ is interested in the philosophy of beginnings – because it’s the summer holidays, and they’ve finished year six, but not yet started year seven…

Well, here is a puzzle I can’t seem to fix

Am I in year seven? Or still a year six?

*

In Amlanjyoti Goswami’s ‘Seeing it new’, the speaker also stands poised between the old year and the new, feeling suddenly nervous. The poem explores different understandings of a ‘new’ year and ends with a line of exquisite beauty.

But that door is knocking. I hear a bell.

Wait, I shout, not time yet […]

*

‘On Your Marks…’ by Jay Brazeau is a poem of joyful exuberance and highly satisfying repetition, firing the starting pistol for everything from bakers to bedbugs. Definitely one for performance!

runner, runner

              ready, set, go!

baker, baker

              ready, set, dough!

*

The final poem, ‘Night’s Begun’ by Lisa Varchol Perron, soothes us with beautiful imagery and an abundance of ‘s’ and ‘l’ sounds, leaving us on the threshold of a gentle new adventure in dreamland.

Stillness settles, soft and deep.

Quiet lulls and leads to sleep […]

*

I am so happy with this beginning for Tyger Tyger Magazine. Thank you to my fantastic editorial team: Rakhshan Rizwan, Helen Steffens and Kate Wakeling. Each poem features on a free, downloadable poem poster and there are teaching resources to accompany ‘On Your Marks’, ‘Blueberries’ and ‘Catching a Wave / Yawn’. Happy New Year and happy reading!

Rachel Piercey

Rachel Piercey is a poet and tutor, and the editor of Tyger Tyger Magazine, an online journal of poems for children. She has co-edited three children’s poetry anthologies with the Emma Press, taught courses on writing children’s poems for The Poetry School, and regularly performs and runs poetry workshops in primary schools. Rachel has written a poetry search-and-find book, If You Go Down the Woods Today (Magic Cat, 2021), and three pamphlets of poems for adults. https://tygertyger.net/

Teresa Cremin: Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Quickfire Poetry that Matters

Are you and the children setting yourselves any New Year’s resolutions? What are their hopes and dreams as they enter another year with the pandemic a backdrop to their lives?  How might poetry play a part in expressing these?

Children often write effectively about issues that matter to them: that have emotional relevance and connect to their values, concerns and future focused desires.   You can support them by discussing these, recognising them as rich writing material and perhaps simply sharing possible intentions in 2s or 3s. For example, I want to… read more, exercise more, smile more, help others, go to bed earlier, be kinder to the environment, eat more fruit, listen first, be more positive and so forth. You could also jot some down on strips of paper to pass round as examples to use, add to and adapt.

It’s easy to move from this brief warm up to exploring more imaginative one-liners framed by a slightly less pragmatic desire. For instance, using the starters I would like to…, I would love to…, I hope to…. and inviting ‘almost impossible’, ‘ingenious’ and ‘novel’ conclusions to the sentence. All the examples have been written by young primary aged poets.

Additionally, you could offer provocative questions on strips of paper, and invite children to write their own ‘challenging to answer’ questions too, then pop them in a top hat for random selection, copying, ‘answering’ and returning the question to the hat to select another.  You might construct it like a game of consequences, with a question written on the top of the sheet, and poets adding their responses underneath. I find occasional peaking and sharing of particularly arresting question-and-answers helps. 

When you open the sheets up, pairs can read and discuss which responses they think are the most effective and why and can then rehearse an evocation of their favourite in a manner which highlights its meaning. I vividly recall three eight-year-olds in London adding an ostinato to the question ‘What is anger?’ The word ‘anger’ was repeated before, during and after the poetic Q and A as if it were bubbling up and threatening to boil over, they created a real sense of frisson in the room. Using body percussion can also work. Sometimes though, a simple slow repeated voicing is the most effective and there is always a moment of delight as the unknowing young poet in the classroom recognises their own words.

Personally, I have often been amazed at children’s depth of thinking and feeling when presented with such questions, though much depends on the openness, early affirmations and exploratory, accept-all manner of the activity. To start with more ordinary responses will surface, but with time, sharing and celebrating rich ideas, (yours and any other adults, as well as the children’s) more allusive and imaginative ideas emerge. As Ted Hughes (1967) noted “the latent talent for self-expression in any child is immeasurable”.

Longer poems can also be sculpted out of these one-liners, by combining some or adding additional lines or repeating refrains or verses. Reducing the ask increases the space to think through the issues, capture thoughts and convey just ‘the best words in the best order’ in Coleridge’s words.

Quickfire poetry can help us voice our hopes and share our thoughts- why not try it in 2022?

 Teresa Cremin

Teresa is Professor of Education (Literacy) at the Open University. An advocate of developing teachers’ creative artistry, Teresa’s research focuses on teachers’ and children’s literate identities and practices. Her new edited collection Reading Teachers: Nurturing reading for pleasure (with Helen Hendry, Lucy Rodriguez Leon, Natalia Kucirkova and 31 teachers and academics is due out in 2022), alongside the 3rd edition of Teaching English Creatively (both Routledge).

Teresa is passionate about developing readers for life and leads a professional user-community website based on her research into volitional reading. In 2022, the site is supporting over 100 OU/UKLA Teachers’ Reading Groups and 34 HEI partnerships across the country to develop children’s and teachers’ pleasure in reading. @TeresaCremin

Joshua Seigal: Poetry and Philosophy

I often tell people that one of the things that attracts me to poetry is that poems tend to be short. In 2011, I completed a 30,000 word thesis as part of my Philosophy postgraduate degree. The thesis was edited down from about 50,000 words. That is not short. Aside from the obvious matter of length, there is the corollary issue of time. One should not underestimate the time it can take to complete a poem, but it is much shorter than it takes to write a philosophical tract. This suits me because I tend to work in short, intense bursts. In part, my deciding to dedicate myself to poetry can be seen as something of a reaction against my previous life in academia.

Another thing I am often asked about is the extent to which my background in philosophy influences my poetry. One can take this at least two ways: do I write about the same sorts of things? And how similar is the writing process? Let’s take each of these in turn. Philosophy purports to concern itself with the deepest questions: Why are we here? What is reality? How can we come to know reality? When I first started to write poetry for children my main aim was to provide a bit of a giggle. This, again, was probably a reaction against having to tackle the ‘big questions’ in my day job. However, as the pandemic has progressed my poetry has certainly taken on a philosophical edge. In fact, I have probably started to think about the big issues with more gusto than I ever did as an academic.

How, though, have I been tackling these issues? This brings us onto the second question, regarding the extent to which writing poetry and writing philosophy are similar. For me, there are huge differences, and it is these differences that attract me to the former rather than the latter. When Philosophers write, they tend to lay out an argument meticulously, examine it from all angles, consider counterarguments, and advance slowly and cautiously toward a conclusion. And the conclusion in any one essay is almost always nothing more than a tiny grain of sand added to the great mound of what has gone before. Indeed, most of the work I studied was concerned with minute details of the big issues, rather than the issues themselves as a whole. I think this was one of the things that frustrated me: Anglophone Philosophers, in what is known as the ‘Analytic’ tradition, often tend to be details people, rather than big-picture people.

As a poet, I don’t look for conclusions, and I don’t progress by way of ‘argument’. I try to open up a snapshot, or a window, through which the big issues can be viewed, however dimly. I proceed by way of allusion and metaphor, or else I simply tell it as I see it; in neither case is the goal to convince someone to adopt my point of view, and in neither case am I trying to add anything to a collective body of knowledge. I am simply adopting and describing a point of view. The point of view might pertain to issues like love, goodness, knowledge and truth. Or I may simply be describing how my cat was sick on the rug. I am pleased I did my time as an academic, and I am even more pleased now to not be doing it. And given that I am not doing it, I am going to leave this ‘essay’ without an elegant conclusion.

(please vote for me in the People’s Book Prize. It takes twenty seconds: https://peoplesbookprize.com/summer-2021/yapping-away/)

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader based in London. His latest collection, Welcome To My Crazy Life, is published by Bloomsbury, and he was the recipient of the 2020 Laugh Out Loud Book Award. Please visit http://www.joshuaseigal.co.uk for more info.

Christmas Poems: Merry Christmas!

© Sue Hardy-Dawson

Thank you to Sue for our lovely Robin introduction, and to the other wonderful children’s poets who have sent poems for our Christmas blog 2021. We’d also like to thank all those who have supported us by sending fascinating and illuminating blogs this year.

Angel Dance

…………………………………

See the shepherds with the sheep,

Not one dares to make a peep,

Tonight, no one will go to sleep,

The angels dance above.

…………………………

See the trees turn golden, bright,

The hills are flooded with pure light,

And all feel warm this cold, cold night,

The angels dance above.

…………………………….

See the glint in every eye,

No one asks the question why

Heaven has flooded Earth’s dark sky,

The angels dance above.

………………………………

Coral Rumble

 

Christmas morning

Last year

on Christmas morning

we got up really early

and took the dog for a walk

across the downs

It wasn’t snowing

but the hills were white with frost

and our breath froze

in the air

Judy rushed around like a crazy
thing

as though Christmas 

meant something special to her

The sheep huddled together

looking tired

as if they’d been up all night

watching the stars

We stood at the highest point

and thought about what Christmas means

and looked over the white hills

and looked up at the blue sky

And the hills seemed

to go on forever

and the sky had no bounds

and you could imagine

a world at peace

Roger Stevens

Illustration by Chris Riddell, from THINGS YOU FIND IN A POET’S BEARD (Burning Eye)

A Christmas Poem

When my Great Aunt Bertha,
who was a Quaker,
read in the papers
of how their boys and our boys gave it all up,
put the guns down
and climbed over the top
to kick the patched leather ball
between barbed wire and crater rims,
between the two straight dark ditches they lived in,
she took it upon herself to head down to Woolworth’s
and buy up all the marked down boxes of Christmas cards,
lolling on the January shelves.

She spent her war years licking stamps,
inking addresses,
printing xmas messages in one of a number of different languages,
as appropriate,
signing her love
and visiting the pillar-box at the head of her road.
Sacks of the things went off at once,
whole stretches of trench filled with spade-handled robins,
holly, magi, stockings and snow.
The babe of peace arrived in his manger,
in the stable,
in March, in April, in May,
ceaselessly,
year on year.

If there had been no calendars,
no officers, no orders,
no today’s or yesterday’s newspaper in the mess,
in the trench,
no date on the soldier’s letter from home,
then her plan may have worked,
assuming the other side were equally ill-equipped
and open-mindedly eager to clutch peace as it passed.

But
no one was stupid enough to think it might be Christmas
every day,
no one was fooled by her hand,
and besides, the ball
needed pumping
and a puncture repair kit.
Great Aunt Bertha.

A.F. Harrold

Christmas dawn

brings frost

in fields.

Sheep seek

one patch

where sunlight creeps,

and stand

– quite still –

on a Cotswold hillside.

Woolly backs

    steam; 

         shadows stretch.

                 Fingers of friendly light

          linger

    as frosted grass

turns green.

Pie Corbett

Janet Wong: The Children’s Poetry Scene in America: A Recap of #NCTE21

In late November, I attended the NCTE (ncte.org) convention. This conference is one of the most important annual events for children’s authors in America, where we talk about our books with thousands of teachers who work at all levels, preschool through university. There are always dozens of poetry sessions. To give you a sense of the content we share, here is a description of one of the sessions I participated in.

Equity in Poetry: Celebrating Diverse Voices in Verse

Three award-winning poets — Janet Wong, Elizabeth Steinglass, and Carole Boston Weatherford — will share poems that embrace the call for equity. In addition, we will invite audience participation with strategies that promote greater equity with movement, sign language, choral reading, visuals, music, and other tools as we co-create equitable literacy learning experiences together.

This session was hosted by Sylvia Vardell, a professor of children’s literature in Texas and one of America’s top experts on poetry. Each year in January on her Poetry for Children blog, she features a “sneak peek” list of the hundred-plus children’s poetry books that will be published that year. And all through the year, you can read interviews and book summaries, enjoy minute-long “poem movies,” and more: http://poetryforchildren.blogspot.com/.

For decades, Sylvia has been urging educators all over the world, from Athens to Auckland to Austin, to embrace the brevity and accessibility of poetry. She believes — as we all do — that poetry has the power to reach every reader, but not just because of the form or content of a poem. In anthologies that she and I have created together, such as The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, The Poetry of Science, and GREAT MORNING: Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud (please see https://pomelobooks.com/), she always includes “Poetry PLUS”— additional materials that extend the learning along with suggestions for sharing poems in a lively way. As she pointed out in the resources in HOP TO IT: Poems to Get You Moving and also in this NCTE session, we can use movement, sign language, choral reading, visuals, and other techniques when we read a poem to create a level playing field for learning.

In addition to showcasing poetry in programs by authors and educators, another reason that NCTE has become the professional home of many American children’s poets (and poetry fans) is its poetry awards. I received the 2021 Excellence in Poetry for Children Award, a lifetime achievement award that has been given to Paul Janeczko, J. Patrick Lewis, Marilyn Nelson, Joyce Sidman, Marilyn Singer, and others. For a mini-lesson on children’s poetry in America, you can click here (and scroll down): https://ncte.org/awards/excellence-in-poetry-for-children-living-american-poet/.

NCTE also highlights thirty poetry books (collections, anthologies, and verse novels) on its annual Poetry Notables list; my book Good Luck Gold & MORE was lucky enough to be included on the current list. Here are excerpts of a poem, prose piece, and discussion questions taken from its pages.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized in her opening keynote speech for #NCTE21 that “it’s harder to hate up close.” In the closing keynote speech, poet Amanda Gorman said, “Writing — telling truthful stories that matter — is an essential service for humanity.” And in America, this is what many of us children’s poets are focusing on today: how to make our country (and the world) a better place, one poem at a time.

A note about #NCTE21: Originally planned as an in-person conference in Louisville, Kentucky, the decision was made to shift to a virtual online format in the summer before the conference as COVID-19 surged again in the United States. I’ve attended the annual NCTE conference almost twenty times in person, with a thousand good memories; but, oddly, I felt an even stronger sense of community with this virtual format. All throughout the talks that I gave and attended, people chatted, responding immediately to the content with questions and feedback. It felt to me that we were sitting together in the same room, though photos posted on social media showed people in many different settings: lounging on the couch with cats in front of their screens, munching on samosas, or sitting on their balconies as they watched. As much as I keep hearing people say that they hope we can return to in-person conferences very soon, I hope we’ll always keep a virtual element at future conferences. At #NCTE21, people logged in from all over the world. Making global participation easy is something that justifies—actually, mandates—keeping a virtual element for future in-person conferences. Fingers crossed that we see (or at least “see”) each other at #NCTE22 in Anaheim, California. Disneyland, anyone?

Janet Wong

Janet Wong is the author of more than 35 books for children and teens. Her most recent book (with Sylvia Vardell and 25 poets) is THINGS WE DO, an alphabet anthology; 100% of the profits from this book will be donated to the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund https://www.ibby.org/awards-activities/ibby-children-in-crisis-fund

Wes Magee: A Tribute and Celebration

On Thursday 21 October 2021, Wes Magee, well-known children’s poet and author, passed away peacefully in his sleep.

Here is a selection of his poems, published with permission, chosen by just a few of those who admired his wonderful work.

Brian Moses

Wes Magee was a role model when I first started writing poetry for children. Like me, he was a teacher at that time (later a headteacher) and his classes had inspired him to write his own poems, when he couldn’t find ones relevant to the work in hand. I remember a four page booklet of poems about dinosaurs which the children in my classes loved to hear, and then in 1989 there were two books from Cambridge University Press,  Morning Break  and The Witch’s Brew.

These were such diverse collections from someone who understood children, their lives and what made them tick. Wes was a master craftsman too. His poems were finely tuned and there was something for everyone – spooky poems, funny poems, sad poems and poems that begged to be read aloud. Reading aloud was something Wes did brilliantly. We shared the stage on a number of occasions and I was always struck by the way he quickly developed a relationship with his audience, no matter what age. He was particularly at home with younger children, and they listened intently as if he was imparting the kind of secrets that they needed to see them through life.

Recently Wes toured Northern Ireland on several occasions. I talked with him once after he’d spent the day in a school in Belfast with 12 classes. “I visited every one,” he said. I envied his energy and his stamina. Fortunately his poems are recorded on the Poetry Archive. Do give them a listen.

I have many favourite poems but for me, this short one is near perfect.

A hot day at the school

All day long the sun glared

as fiercely as a cross Headteacher.

Out on the brown, parched field

we trained hard for next week’s Sports day.

Hedges wilted in the heat;

teachers’ cars sweltered on the tarmac.

In the distance, a grenade of thunder

exploded across the glass sky.

Wes Magee

Judith Nicholls

Wes, of course, wrote many school-based poems which children can easily relate to but I’ve chosen something a little different: VOICES, in which all three verses are linked by the voices of different adults calling the children in.

The first verse begins with four friends ‘adventuring’ in an overgrown garden where ‘ … a tumbledown shed, half lost in waves of weeds/was our pirate ship, sailing uncharted seas’ … a lovely alliterative image of the waves of weeds. In the second verse, cousins are rowing on a lake’s sunlit-wrinkled water and here it is the hand-cupped shout of the boatmen calling them in from the jetty.

In the final verse the poem takes a more sinister turn with its Hansel and Gretel reference of a crabbed old woman inviting the children lost in the wood to rest in her cottage, with its final Come in!/dear children./Come in! It is, we learn, a story being told by a teller who mimics the witch’s final invitation … but we are all aware of the power of story and the children stare intently, dry-mouthed, at the teller!

I love poems that change the mood as they proceed and this would be a wonderful poem to perform; I never heard Wes perform this one but can imagine what a great telling he would give it!

Voices

‘Come in!”

My mother’s voice boomed across the backs of houses,

calling me home as dusk fell that July evening.

But still we played, four friends adventuring

at the end of Mathew’s long, overgrown garden

where a tumbledown shed, half lost in waves of weeds,

was our pirate ship sailing uncharted seas.

Dirt-streaked, and oblivious of the deepening purple dark,

we played on as first stars blinked like harbour lights.

         ‘Come in!

         It’s late!

         Come in!’

        

‘Come in!’

The boatman’s hoarse voice reverberated

across the lake’s sparkling, sunlit-wrinkled water.

Yet my cousins continued to row towards the reed beds

where ducks, moorhens and coots paddled and pecked.

We laughed as heavy oars dipped and splashed,

and gazed when a flight of geese took off, wings clapping.

The rowing boat rocked in the wind and waves,

and still the boatman’s hand-cupped shout from the jetty,

         ‘Come in!

         Time’s up!

         Come in!’

‘Come in!’

The crabbed old woman smiled toothlessly

as she invited the children lost in the green wood

to rest in her cottage half hidden in the bushes and trees.

I remember how the storyteller added scary sound effects

— an owl’s wavering hoot, wind hushing in the treetops,

and his fingers snapping like dead, woodland twigs.

Dry-mouthed and wide-eyed we stared intently

as he mimicked the witch’s final invitation,

‘Come in!

dear children.

Come in!’

Wes Magee

Pie Corbett

My favourite poems by Wes are either about Thorgill, winter or the annual Christmas card poem in which I felt that Wes was writing about his life. Elegant and finely crafted, this poem slows time to capture and preserve a moment. And every time the poem is read aloud (preferably in Wes’s wonderful rich voice), the moment is recreated and happens again. The poem draws the reader in with ‘you’ and we are there – in the dales, watching the Moon, car lights, cat and bright stars. The poem draws to a magical and comforting closure; a wonder-struck fragment – a prayer. 

This Silent Night 

(… … on the North York Moors) 

Bathed in the back door’s yellow light 

you gaze upon a winter’s night 

and view the shy Moon’s misty veil 

as car beams flick across the dale. 

A black cat pads the patio 

to leave small paw-prints in the snow, 

and air’s aglitter, stars are bright 

         this Christmas Eve, 

                   this silent night. 

Wes Magee

Celia Warren

I’ve picked What is the Sun, as it was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little, and I must have read it at hundreds of bedtimes. What, at first encounter, could be seen as a string of metaphors, is deceptive in its apparent simplicity. Each word is carefully chosen and placed so that the lines rise and fall, like a gentle incoming tide, as each soothing image follows the last. It is irresistible to read aloud, slowly, and bathe in its rhythmic calm.

What is the Sun?

The Sun is an orange dinghy

sailing across a calm sea

it is a gold coin

dropped down a drain in Heaven

the Sun is a yellow beach ball

kicked high into the summer sky

it is a red thumb-print

on a sheet of pale blue paper

the Sun is a milk bottle’s gold top

floating in a puddle

Wes Magee

Moira Andrew

Being invited to select a single poem from Wes Magee’s vast collection of poetry for children is like choosing a favourite child! There is so much to admire in his work, so apt, What is a million?, so clever with words, Deep down in the darkness, so sensitive, Tracey’s tree, – and on occasion, so full of fun, Miss Jones, football teacher, that the task is almost impossible.

But here goes!  The children in my Years 3 and 4 really enjoyed Down by the school gate. They loved its rhythm, sustained throughout the poem, its fun, and of course, it brings the joy of the countdown. It’s a ‘joining in’ poem and that makes it special for 7-8 year-olds. And indeed, for Special Needs classes who can shout the numbers and thump the floor as it moves to the final triumphant One lollipop man …

In addition, Down at the school gate provides a pattern on which to model the children’s own poems. It is cleverly crafted, yet looks easy – and that shows the poet’s skill.

Wes has left us bereft, we teachers, poets and friends will miss his friendship, his enthusiasm and above all, his way with words.

Down by the School Gate

There goes the bell

it’s half past three

and down by the school gate

you will see . . .

. . . ten mums in coats, talking

nine babes in prams, squawking

eight dads their cars parking

seven dogs on leads barking

six toddlers all squabbling

five grans on bikes wobbling

four child-minders running

three bus drivers sunning

two teenagers dating

one lollipop man waiting. . .

The school is out,

it’s half past three

and the first to the school gate

. . . is me!

Wes Magee

Allie Esiri: Who Should be Included in a 2021 Poetry Anthology?

Writing in his 1821 essay ‘The Defence of Poetry’, the Romantic poet Percy Shelley famously declared that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. A bold statement, it captures the rather paradoxical nature of the poet – at once a figure who has the potential to shape the world irrevocably with just a handful of well-chosen words, and one who is also perpetually overlooked and under-appreciated by society at large.

This new anthology seeks to shed light on the place and influence poets hold in the world – as forces of change and witnesses of history; as chroniclers of the everyday and architects of transcendent images – and to make sure that their genius is very much appreciated. Within the pages of the book you will discover an array of some of the greatest poems ever written by 366 different poets – one for each day of the (leap) year.

Poetry at its best has always, from Homer in Ancient Greece to contemporary greats such as Kae Tempest, Simon Armitage and Amanda Gorman, enabled us to see different worlds, or rather, our own world differently. And yet so many similar collections of verse have focused almost entirely on white, western male writers, creating an even more unacknowledged class among the already unacknowledged exceptional women, LGBTQIA+ and minority poets. It is important to redress this wrong and include a huge range of writers from across the globe and across time, going as far back as 2000 bc. Sitting alongside canonical titans such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Wordsworth are lesser known names such as Enheduanna and Charlotte Mew.

But unlike my previous anthologies, which were built around the idea of offering A Poem for Every… the focus here is as much on the writers as their works. Each poet is introduced to you through a short paragraph that will give you a snapshot of their life story, their place in literary history and other pieces of context or anecdotes.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri

Much of this book is dedicated to the promotion of those who have been unfairly all but forgotten. But conversely, it’s also important to address the complex reputations of some of our most beloved writers. How do we go about reconciling the fact that so many writers who were so rich in talent were so inexcusably poor in their treatment of others? Racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, intolerance and cruelty have been found in countless poets – does this diminish the brilliance of their writing?

It is a difficult, sensitive issue with no easy answer, but maybe we can turn to the poets themselves for guidance. W. H. Auden – seemingly one of the good guys, who helped a woman escape from Nazi Germany through a marriage of convenience – once argued for the separation of the artist from their work in his poetic elegy for W. B. Yeats, saying, ‘The death of the poet was kept from his poems.’

But the book also seeks to celebrate all the progress that has been made. Poetry today is less an elitist circle, more an ever-growing community that’s enriched by a plurality of writers who are giving a voice to the historically voiceless and lending an ear to those too often left unheard. I’m proud to have put together an inclusive book that strives to be representative of, and relatable to, readers of all backgrounds.

A collection of such infinite variety fittingly has no set way of being read. You can make it a daily habit – a poem in the morning to invigorate the mind, or every evening to calm the soul – or approach it as a treasure trove of poetic gems to dip into whenever you want. 366 poets are waiting for you within these pages. All they need, dear reader, is you, as, in the words of Walt Whitman, ‘To have great poets, there must be great audiences.’

Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri curates poetry anthologies, audio projects, live shows and film. Her poetry anthologies are A Poem for Every Night of the Year, the bestselling new poetry book of 2016, A Poem for Every Day of the Year and Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year. Credited with bringing poetry into the digital age, Allie Esiri’s apps iF Poems and The Love Book feature readings with actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hiddleston, Bill Nighy and Emma Watson.

Sue Hardy-Dawson: How to Grow Your Inner Poet

Here’s a few things I’ve found useful. Tips, either, collected from other poets or along the way. Hopefully you’ll find something helpful here or interesting – perhaps both.

Read lots of poems by different poets: all good poets read lots of poetry. If you want to write it’s the single most important thing to do. Why? Because it helps you get in the zone, to see new words in context and avoid clichés. 

Be a word collector: when I find new words I explore their use and sound, then add them to the large pile in my head. I’d love to tell you it’s a neat, orderly pile but I doubt it. It’s probably like my bookshelves, three deep with a few balanced on the top. Poets, like all writers, need lots of words to choose from.

Keep a notebook (sort of): all poems start with ideas. It doesn’t matter how you get ideas down. Scribble, text or write on anything you can find. Spelling/handwriting is tricky for me so I don’t worry unless I won’t be able to read it later. I even draw pictures if I’m stuck. I never rub/scribble words out though. Many good things are lost like that.

Write every day/any words are better than no words: If you’re stuck try a free-write, write for a few minutes anything that comes into your head. Our amazing brains put all sorts of abstract concepts together and that’s a really good start for any poem.

Good or bad, never throw ideas away: Why? Ideas sometimes grow wings (improve) if you put them away. Equally you’ll always have something to begin to work on.

Experiment/take your time:

Occasionally

poems only

need a tweak

or two.

But mostly

there’s much

shuffling

and polishing

to do.

Finding the poem’s often the most difficult part: it sounds a little odd perhaps but maybe the first line is buried in the middle, it might even be the only line you actually use in the end. The best words are almost always in there somewhere. Time and practice will tell you where. Try cutting words into strips and moving them around. Take some in and out. When will it be finished? Only you will know. Maybe not even you. I’ve changed poems months, even years later.

Don’t use words JUST because they rhyme: the sense must always come first. Obviously with nonsense or list poems it’s easier to rhyme. But always ask yourself first, would I put these words together for any other reason? If not, don’t. Only use words you really like and would have written anyway. Always be careful to make sure those words make sense and sound natural.

Write about what you know: the best poems come from within, you can write with honesty and understanding then. Even if you are using a persona, use your own experiences of emotions. Recycle your life. It’s what writers do.

Finally read it aloud: to pets, friends, anyone at all. My dogs probably think all dogs have poetry recitals in large fields with an audience of surprised sparrows and passing joggers rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. Why aloud? Well, to know if the words fit. Even poems that don’t rhyme have a rhythm, a tune. If there is a clunk or awkward sentence that falls off the line that’s how you’ll discover it.

So that’s what I do. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any particular way. But if you’re not sure where to start why not give some of these ideas a try?

Sue Hardy-Dawson

Sue Hardy Dawson is a poet & illustrator. Her debut collection, ‘Where Zebras Go’, Otter Barry Books, was shortlisted for the 2018 CLiPPA prize. Sue’s poems and teaching resources can be found on the CLPE website. Her second, ‘Apes to Zebras’ Bloomsbury, co-written with poetry ambassadors, Roger Stevens and Liz Brownlee, won the North Somerset Teachers Book Awards. As a dyslexic poet, she loves encouraging reluctant readers and writers. Her second solo collection ‘If I were Other than Myself’ is out now with Troika Books.