We asked poet Michaela Morgan to talk about being a children’s poet
Who are you?
Michaela Morgan is my name. I am a wordsmith, a dreamer, someone who loves the taste of words. Someone who likes to imagine, find facts, play with words, make up stories and poems – and share them by putting them in books or performing them
How long have you been writing poetry for children?
I have been writing for a long time! My first books for children were published in 1988! They were picture books – but picture books share the poetic qualities of power, economy, and rhythm. In a picture book no words are wasted, every word should count. It’s the same with poetry.
How did you get started?
My first published poems were included in anthologies put together by John Foster and Oxford University Press. After that I had my poems included in many anthologies. These anthologies were valuable starting points. Typically, I would be approached to see if I could write a poem on a given topic. This provided me with focus and motivation – and resulted in making me much more productive.
There was a golden age when there were lots of anthologies such as The Works series published by Macmillan. These were so valuable, inspirational and helpful. They were loved and appreciated by participating poets, children and their teachers. They still are!
What do you enjoy writing?
I like the first frenzied phase of writing – scribbling down ideas, leaping at words and connections. Then I enjoy the slower phase of polishing – attempting to perfect the writing.
I write poetry, but also fiction and non–fiction. I write for an enormous age range, so my enjoyment of writing is widespread.
Which book was most important in your career as a poet?
Wonderland: Alice in Poetry has a special significance for me. It celebrates Lewis Carroll – particularly his poems. He took and twisted existing verses which children of his time were routinely made to learn and recite – and which were intended to teach them solemn life lessons.
So he took ‘Against Mischief and Idleness’ which starts:
How doth the little busy Bee/ Improve each shining Hour,
Lewis Carroll, who had a taste for mischief, turned it into:
How doth the little crocodile/ Improve his shining tail…
I passed the poetic baton on to contemporary poets. Roger Stevens produced his reflections of How the Scary Centipede whiles away his idle hours (playing hopscotch and watching Arsenal apparently). Children reading this book can then pick up the baton and add their poem to the chain.
I wrote my share of contributions to this collection but was honoured to be joined by many others – Roger McGough, John Agard, Rachel Rooney, Joshua Seigal, Liz Brownlee, Tony Mitton, Jan Dean, Grace Nichols, Cheryl Moskowitz, Joseph Coelho, Shauna Darling Robertson, Vivian French, Nicholas Allen, Sue Hardy- Dawson. I would have loved to cram even more poets in, but time, space and budget impose their limitations.
As a lifelong fan of the Alice books, this collection was wonderful for me to work on.
It was particularly powerful for me as I was taking my first steps forward from a period of trauma during which I had been unable to read or write anything. To return to reading a book that had supported and entranced me in my childhood – and stayed with me all my life – was magical. To find poetry friends willing to contribute new poems and to turn up and perform them at the wonderful launch of the book offered consolation, confidence, companionship – and fun. The collection was shortlisted for the CLiPPA – and so featured on the stage of the National Theatre. Who could ask for more? But actually, I did get more. While I was working on the collection, I became a grandmother. Entirely coincidentally, she was named Alice. An historic celebration of Lewis Carroll was also an historic book for me.
Which is your favourite amongst the books you’ve written?
This is like asking someone to name their favourite child! My books are very varied. Some are for the very young. Some are read by adults. Some are fun. Some are poignant. Some will make you think. Others will make you shout out loud and join in.
My favourite book has not yet been published but I intend to collect all my poems and put them into one volume so that at the end of a performance or a school visit there will be the perfect book to buy and take away. That will be my favourite – because it will have all my most popular, loved poems in it.
I’d take it to my desert island and perform it to the palm trees and the parrots. The parrots might even be able to join in.