Alex Wharton: About Poetry

Image: ©Billie Charity

I’m in the shack, a pallet-built shed with a concrete deck – home to a lovely old log burner. I’m happy, because I’ve just lit the fire with some flint and steel that I ordered online. Using the internet so that I can live in a world that is less, well, internet… We’re sheltering from the rain, the dog and I. The horses are fed, the hens, geese and ducks are scratching about, flapping about and squawking their joy into the valley’s quiet mist.

I’m thinking, as poets do. But poetry is about thought, and how we observe the living, the everyday – how much of it we absorb, let in. And tell again, again and again – until it’s something that satisfies our soul. I love the editing, the carving and splitting, dusting, polishing. Poetry is not unlike any other built thing. There’s a process of carefulness, artistry and patience. Stepping back, letting things be. Returning, fresh of thought – new ideas, feelings.

Inspiration is endless, as long as we stay open to the moment, the living and learning. And open to people, in many ways we are shaped by our surroundings, people and place. But we are unique amongst it all. And I deeply encourage this when working with children. I’ll ask them: “Would anyone like to tell me something about their life, just a little something you feel might be different to someone else, it doesn’t have to be epic or crazy, just – anything?”

My Nan taught me how to catch bumpy’s? Said a nine-year-old boy in the Rhondda Valleys.
Me: What’s bumpy’s?
You know, the little fish in the river, bumpy’s.
We catch ‘em with our bare hands like this
(he shows me) 
Oh I see, are they trout or something?
No, bumpy’s, you know em mun.
Well I’ve never heard of em, but it sounds awesome. “Anyone else’s Nan show them how to catch bumpy’s? No? Well there we have it, a unique story. Put it in your poem, my friend.” His eyes lit up, his friends were impressed, inspired!

Accessibility. Finding common ground. This is where I feel poetry most benefits the children I visit and work with. I move them away from structure and more towards feeling. Does it sound like you when you say it out aloud? Do you even want it to?  Poetry is such a dynamic thing, imaginative, living. I want children to know of its looseness, playfulness and freedom. But also of its power to change lives, save lives. It’s true – I mean, those of you reading this, know of these qualities, I’m sure. But the experience, well, I’m not sure what was happening in my own life when poetry swooped in. Fragile maybe. Confused, complicated. Too many thoughts without a space to place them, to shape them and move on.

Daydreams and Jellybeans by Alex Wharton, illustrated by Katy Riddell, Firefly Press

I didn’t know I needed it, but since, I haven’t been without it. So perhaps it was always there. I think being a poet is less doing, and more feeling. And the way in which we feel and absorb the world around us moulds the way we create. Which of course is ever-changing. I’m in the business of creating lovely things. That inspire, shed light, soothe and find the people who need them at the time.

Poetry Hill

All is still on poetry hill,

the horses dip their heads.

The geese are safe within

their sheds and ducks

are tucked in beds.

All is still on poetry hill,

the flowers closing in.

No sound of cars or

engines, just the sound

of quiet things.

Like moonlight on the

meadow, and shadows

shaped as trees. And silent

cats all inky black that tip

toe through your sleep.

All is still on poetry hill,

The poet doesn’t speak.

He piles his thoughts into

a heap and slips into

his dreams.

From Alex Wharton’s forthcoming collection of poems, to be published by Firefly Press.

Alex Wharton

Alex Wharton is an award-winning writer and performer of poetry and has led Writing workshops in schools throughout the UK. His first book of poetry, Daydreams and Jellybeans was published with Firefly Press in 2021. He is one of eleven writers that collaborated on a retelling of the Mabinogion called The Mab, which will be published in the summer of 2022 in both English and Welsh language.