Joshua Seigal: I Bet I Can Make You Laugh

I Bet I Can Make You Laugh

Some of the most fun I have had so far in my career as a poet was when Bloomsbury asked me to edit an anthology of funny poems for children. Entitled I Bet I Can Make You Laugh, the book came out in 2018 and features poems by myself and a bunch of other poets, all ostensibly funny. I put out an open call for submissions, and for several months was inundated with poems from hundreds of poets. From these, I had to choose the ‘funniest’.

What was the importance of this activity? And what indeed is the value of funny books, and funny poetry, in general? One obvious purpose is to appeal to reluctant readers. When I was at school, I was not an especially voracious reader. When I started to get seriously into books, it was always the funny ones that first grabbed my attention. I remember howling with laughter to myself in my room whilst reading Adrian Mole and The Beano, and even now some of the most pleasure I have gleaned as a reader has been from Viz magazine (not for kids!). I know from personal experience that if something is funny it will have a readership beyond people who are typically considered bookish.

Relatedly, writing funny poems can appeal to people who might not normally pick up a pen. I run workshops in schools, and I have lost count of the number of times I have seen humour, or the prospect thereof, galvanise children into writing. Speaking for myself as a writer, I got into poetry in part through watching stand up comedy, and one of my favourite things as a poet is when I stand on stage and the audience laughs (not straight away; I normally have to say some words first). This, for me, is an experience unlike any other, and one of the reasons I cannot imagine doing another job.

It is not the case that to be funny means to be flippant, or facile. Funny poems can serve the purpose of highlighting serious issues. Much of my own poetry, though funny, is tinged with a sense of sadness in ways I’m not sure I can explain. Perhaps this is not obvious to the reader, but for me the sadness is often there. I started messing around with words in the first place as a kind of antidote to depression, which I am sadly never far away from. The best humorous poetry works hard for its laughs, and uses clever, tricky wordplay and sophisticated jokes. These were the types of poems I tried to select for my anthology (although I also firmly believe toilet humour has a place in a book of funny kids’ poems).

So far I have been trying to justify the use of humour in poetry, reading and writing, but at a profound level I’m not sure it needs justifying. Its benefit is self-evident. Laughter is one of the things that makes life worth living; it is a basic good, like life itself, that does not need to be justified. If there were no humour, life would be a tunnel of grey – empty, colourless and devoid of meaning or worth. As I mentioned before, I love it when audiences laugh. For me, this is an affirmation of life at an elemental level.

I am surely not the only one who thinks this way. The Lollies Award (Laugh Out Loud Award; formerly the Roald Dahl Funny Prize) is the only prize in the UK for funny books. I am delighted to say that I Bet I Can Make You Laugh is on the shortlist for 2020, and I am even more delighted to say that whether or not it wins is in your hands! You can vote for my book in the 9-13 year old category, and you can do it using this link here (if you are a teacher you can vote up to 35 times!): Lollies.

Joshua Seigal

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader. He frequently visits schools to run inspiring poetry workshops, and has performed all over the world, including the Edinburgh Book Festival and the Dubai Literature Festival. His most recent book, I Bet I Can Make You Laugh (Bloomsbury), is shortlisted for the 2020 Lollies Award.

You can vote for the Lollies if you are a child, teacher, or grown up voting on behalf of a child. Voting closes the first week in December.

 

James Carter: Poet Laureate… for Children

What better date than National Poetry Day to suggest something new to the children’s poetry world…?

Now. In the 20 years or so I’ve been lucky to be working as a children’s poet – writing and publishing children’s poetry, visiting well over 1200 schools in the UK and abroad – I’ve noticed a gradual but significant sea change. For up-and-coming poets I’d argue it’s a more welcoming place than it ever was. Moreover, there’s a wonderful, thriving and wholly supportive community of UK children’s poets online; check it out on Twitter. I feel that the poetry books – collections and anthologies – we publish now are of a better quality overall and have a more inspiring range of topics than ever before. Many of the wonderful teachers I meet – Primary teachers – seem to be so much more enthusiastic about poetry now and have shaken off that age-old intimidation or reluctance – even saying to me how much their classes love doing poetry – reading, writing and performing it. Not so much do I hear ‘poetry is scary’. Hurrah! Literary festivals are booking more poets. We even have a number of children’s poetry awards. (A couple more would be good though…) Plus, as far as I can see, poetry seems to be read far more at home than it ever was. Allelujah to that!

Yet the ‘p’ word still garners the odd groan amongst adults particularly, and that will never go away entirely – and I partly blame the English Literature curriculum’s obsession with verse deconstruction at GCSE for that.

As a fan of American verse, I often look to see what poetry is happening over the pond. And what I’ve noticed is that they don’t just have a Children’s Laureate, but a Children’s Poet Laureate. So how about having the same over here, in office for say two years, leading conferences, training teachers, advising librarians, doing family shows in communities, training up-and-coming poets on how to perform poems/run workshops, giving media soundbites on why poetry is so vital for the young. And rather than trying to work nationally all the time, they could focus their work regionally, so much more can be achieved and with greater depth. I can think of many contemporary children’s poets that would be ideal for this job.

And though poetry is on the up, there’s still more to be done – more teachers, librarians, parents and carers that need to be convinced and shown the myriad benefits of poetry – in terms of children writing, nurturing children’s reading and developing oracy/performance skills. They need to be shown that prose is a mountain, verse is a hill. The more hills children can climb – and early on – the better communicators, the more passionate readers and committed writers they will become. Poetry writing encourages autobiographical writing (q.v. free verse) as well as figurative and expressive language, full of rich imagery; it actively promotes children writing imaginatively and freely, exploring their own thoughts, ideas and creativities. What’s more, the more poems children write, the better they will be at writing prose. This is not a theory but a fact!

Fancy sponsoring this WH Smiths, Foyles, Blackwells, Amazon? And how about getting National Poetry Day UK / The Poetry Society / Children’s Poetry Summit behind this? If each Laureate does a two year term – after ten years, there would have been five different laureates, say all based in very different parts of the UK, from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, bringing all of us children’s poets ever closer together, with each Laureate spreading their own interests and expertise, inspiring both adults and children, handing out plenty of the good stuff. There. What’s not to like?

James Carter

National Poetry Day Ambassador

James Carter is an award-winning children’s poet and non-fiction writer. He travels all over
the UK and abroad (with his melodica, Steve) to give lively poetry/music performances
and workshops, and in the last 18 years he has visited over 1200 Primary schools.
He is an ambassador for National Poetry Day. Once Upon A Star – the story of the sun, James’s non-fiction picture book in verse, is out now in p/b; The Big Beyond – the story of space travel –is out now in hardback. (both Little Tiger Press). His website is here.

 

Liz Brownlee: Having Fun with Children’s Poetry

Having Fun with Children’s Poetry

In 2014 the wonderful people at National Poetry Day made me a National Poetry Day Ambassador.

My journey as a children’s poetry promoter started in 2008, after meeting with a group of children’s poets who all felt the same way; we vowed to find as many ways as possible of supporting children’s poetry. Later that year we gathered again to be filmed sharing poems, to put out into the world in as many places as possible. Out of that fun-filled few days came this video of the wonderful and much-missed Gerard Benson and his River Song.

Just as I was thinking what to try next, and wondering if targeting families might help to engage the parents that buy books, I was asked by Bristol Poetry Festival 2009 to organise a Poetry Exhibition.

A Bristol Poetry Festival grant, an Arts Council grant, sponsorship money and six months preparation led to a poetry submersion room at the Arnolfini, Bristol. Into a brightly painted room was introduced an explosion of poems, poetry toolkits, and our group of talented and willing poets.

ITV Television workshop supplied children who relished reading poems for us.

It was an interesting experience in that many of the people who came hadn’t been expecting it (the Arnolfini is a cutting-edge modern art gallery), and yet they stayed sometimes for hours. Very few left without writing a poem.

Undoubtedly however, the biggest hit were the giant magnetic words. I have used these ever since in a variety of combinations and venues and highly recommend them. It’s a very easy way of enticing anyone to play with words.

It  is impossible it seems to pass a giant magnetic poetry board without picking up words and placing them together. Few were satisfied with that, they went to hunt in the boxes for more poetic or more meaningful juxtapositions. One of the most  gratifying aspects was the total involvement of whole families, parents helping, inspiring and joining in by writing their own poems.

Other projects include marking most National Poetry Days by a range of poetry videos. My favourite theme was light.

We filmed people whose lives in some way touched on light (a fireman, a projectionist, a cosmologist, etc.) reading poems, sent to me by children’s poets, about light. We also roamed the streets of Bristol and asked children and their families to read poems for us – surprisingly few turned down the offer!

Sometimes you’ll find me in a school, inspiring children to use words as exciting tools to express themselves. And of course I also write poems most days, for a variety of rewarding projects. It is what I love most. At the minute I’m collecting and editing my first anthology, a book of shape poems for Macmillan, and thoroughly enjoying it. This also involves the frustrating fun of drawing with words!

I also run Poetry Roundabout, a website devoted to promoting everything about children’s poetry – at the minute there is a series of poets and their favourite children’s poetry books, and tweet for Children’s Poetry Summit.

I feel very excited about starting on my next new project – and I’m so grateful to the lovely NPD  people for giving a focus for my ideas, and to my lovely supportive poetry friends who supplied all the above poems and more.

In the meantime, this year’s NPD theme being Truth, soon I’ll be choosing climate crisis truth poems that poets have kindly sent, and filming them read by people who work in Climate Crisis in some way.  Please look out for them!

Liz Brownlee

Liz Brownlee is a poet and poetry event organiser. Her latest book Be the Change, Poems to Help You Save the World, Macmillan, is out on September 5th. (Poets included in above exhibition, Roger Stevens, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Andrea Shavick, Philip Waddell, Bernard Young, Gerard Benson, Cathy Benson, Jane Clarke, Michaela Morgan, Graham Denton).

Rachel Piercey: Conversation and Crossover

Conversation and Crossover

I started writing for children a few years ago, when I co-edited the Emma Press anthology Falling Out of the Sky: Poems about Myths and Monsters, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It has introduced me to a gigantic new group of readers, writers and co-creators, and a whole new library of joyous, devastating, transcendent poems. It has also given me valuable insights, particularly in terms of clarity and energy, into my writing ‘for adults’.

This was a distinction I had never made before, and one I am keen to blur. The world of children’s poetry makes plenty of room for adult poems, in anthologies and school lessons, and children are gloriously open-minded about deep, experimental creativity. The best children’s poems discuss the same big, knotty themes as adult poems, skilfully balancing accessibility with complexity. Now I would like to see the adult poetry world making more space for children’s poetry, which is a vital part of its foundation and future. I would love to get more people discussing, reviewing and enthusing about children’s poetry, and to encourage more poets to try writing for a younger audience.

Kate Wakeling is one of many poets, including me, who published their first poem for children in the Myths and Monsters anthology. Like many of the poets, she got hooked. And just two years later, Kate won the 2017 Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award with her extraordinary debut Moon Juice. I’ve been in the audience when Kate has read children’s poems (my favourite is her shatteringly superb ‘The Demon Mouth’) alongside adult poems – and it’s an exhilarating combination. I wish more readings would mix the two, amplifying in a small but effective way the conversation between poetry for children and poetry for adults. In fiction, the young adult genre acts as a kind of bridge between children’s books and general novels, but we don’t really have an equivalent in poetry. To move, with no turning back, from the warm, fizzy, inviting world of children’s poetry to the secondary school canon can be disorientating. But if children’s poems were part of the general poetry conversation, sharing the same space, young people could study new, chewy works alongside more digestible ones.

So, let’s disrupt the distinction wherever we can. Let’s make more noise about the many children’s poets who are writing well-crafted, sensitive, probing poems about human emotions and the world around us, and zingy, experimental poems which push and pull language like plasticine – via social media, blogs, readings, and conversations with poetry friends. (If you’re looking for somewhere to start, the Children’s Poetry Archive is a great resource, as are the fabulous archives of the CLiPPA award. The Emma Press children’s list is also full of excellent, eclectic poems – many by poets new to writing for children.)

If you are a poet writing for adults, try reaching back the other way – remembering and celebrating the poems you loved as a kid. Try your hand at writing for children and share what you write, enjoying the licence for giddiness and experimentation. And costumes – see photo above!

Ultimately, what I would really love is to see magazines and journals accepting children’s poems and reviewing children’s poetry books as a matter of course, and even to see children’s poetry potentially in the running for the big prizes, acknowledged for its world-altering potential. Welcoming children’s poetry into the ecosystem of adult poetry would be such a powerful message that what we read when we are young is as precious and important as what we read when we are older. And the more young readers and writers of poetry we can nurture, the more secure that ecosystem will be.

Rachel Piercey

Rachel Piercey is a freelance writer, editor and tutor. She co-edited and contributed to the children’s poetry anthologies Falling Out of the Sky: Poems about Myths and Monsters (shortlisted for the CLiPPA award 2016), Watcher of the Skies: Poems about Space and Aliens, and The Head that Wears a Crown: Poems about Kings and Queens, all published by the Emma Press. She regularly performs and runs poetry workshops in schools, and she has taught courses on writing poetry for children for The Poetry School. Her poems for adults have been published in The Rialto, Magma, Butcher’s Dog and The Poetry Review, as well as pamphlets with the Emma Press and HappenStance. rachelpierceypoet.com

Pie Corbett: The City of Stars

The City of Stars

This game is one of my favourite surreal poetry games. The initial idea is to put the children into pairs. The first pair makes a list of 5 generic places (by that, I mean not ‘Paris’ but ‘city’) and their partner makes a list of similar length of abstract nouns without seeing each other’s lists. Here I have listed 17 ideas for each:
Generic places: city, cellar, beach, cupboard, attic, town, village, house, shop, cathedral, park, forest, planet, alleyway, motorway, patio, kitchen, classroom.
Abstract nouns: wonder, despair grief, greed, sadness, joy, death, hope, peace, kindness, jealousy, war, imagination, creativity, anger, anxiety, happiness.
The pairs then put their two lists together in the order in which the words were written. This is to ensure that the combinations are random and not influenced by logic. The combinations that work most are the fresh and startling juxtapositions when two ideas are placed together have never been heard before and this unique combination often catches the imagination. If I use my first five ideas from each list, it would produce:
The city of wonder
The cellar of despair
The beach of grief
The cupboard of greed
The attic of sadness

You could then choose out one idea and create a list poem:

In the city of wonder, I saw –
A serpent with eyes of rubies,
A song thrush flying from a golden cage,
A sunset slipping over the darkening landscape,

In the city of wonder, I found –
A scarlet rug, softer than an eagle’s feathers,
A crimson pen nib, sharper than pirate’s blade,
A scintillating canary, yellow as mustard blossom.

James Walker from Knowle Park experimented with this idea. He began by banking with the children as many ‘colour’ words as possible plus abstract and ‘magical’ nouns. When randomly combined this gave lists of ideas such as:

Velvet shadows
Ebony whispers
Indigo happiness
Cerise laughter, etc

These ideas were then linked and the children wrote extended sentences:

• Sapphire suns created golden shadows whilst an indigo moon conjured up a velvet nightmare.
• A cobalt truth floated gently through the captured eternity as a gossamer spell darted violently through the ashen sky.

Tom Wrigglesworth from Selby Primary has experimented with different categories. In one game, he gathered with the class a list of ‘collective nouns’ and added these to various sinister abstract nouns.

The class selected four and Tom used shared writing to jointly create a sinister paragraph.

A further development of the game is called ‘split definitions’. This involves each child using a piece of paper divided into four. They write down a concrete noun plus a definition and an abstract noun with a definition. Here are two examples:

 

Door is an opening  from one room into another
Secret is something important that you are not going to tell anyone

 

Train is a vehicle with trucks or carriages that runs on tracks
Greed  is when you really want something that you don’t really need

 

Once everyone has completed their grids then the pieces of paper are cut or torn up and a pile of all the concrete nouns is made, a separate pile of the abstract nouns and one pile of all the definitions. The three piles are shuffled and then everyone selects randomly a new concrete noun, abstract noun and two definitions. Given the two examples above we could end up with the following:

 

A door is when you really want something that you don’t really need.

A secret is a vehicle with trucks or carriages that runs on tracks.

A train is something important that you are not going to tell anyone.

Greed is an opening from one room into another.

 

©  Pie Corbett 2019

 

Pie Corbett is a teacher-poet – his collection ‘Evidence of `Dragons’ is used in many classrooms. He has published and edited over 250 books, runs ‘Talk for Writing’ and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters for services to creativity, poetry and social justice.

Talk for Writing.

Chrissie Gittins: A Thoughtful Children’s Literature Festival, and a Thought

A Thoughtful Children’s Literature Festival, and a Thought

At a time when schools are struggling with budgets and ever more pressures it can be too much of a stretch to organise and pay for an author visit. A week-long festival in Oundle near Peterborough invites children to take part and engage with poets and writers.

I received an invitation to appear at the Kid Lit arm of the Oundle Festival of Literature from Helen Shair, the Festival Manager. The email informed me that coach costs would be subsidised so that children from all backgrounds and from a wide area would be able to attend.

Local schools are sent a programme of the authors on offer in good time for them to opt to attend. All the schools involved contribute towards the costs of the festival. I was pleased that Year 3 pupils from 8 schools (including 6 state schools) were expected for my morning event. In the afternoon I would perform at a second event held at a state school which could not afford the transport costs.

Helen sent out a list of my books to each school with a detailed description she had written about each one. This meant that children could decide well in advance which book they wanted to buy. It also meant that after I arrived to stay overnight with Helen, we spent some time attending to a series of cardboard boxes. The boxes were from each of the schools coming to the morning event and contained the children’s book orders. I set to and signed the ordered copies.

As I went up to bed I left Helen pondering on how to ice a coffee cake she’d made.

‘Who’s it for?’ I asked.

‘You,’ came the reply.

The excitement was palpable in the panelled Great Hall of Oundle School the next morning as the schools began to arrive. Helen has a band of volunteers who were on hand to help, and the local bookshop had set up a table at the back of the hall with additional copies of my books. The schools were allotted spaces which were drawn out with Helen’s chunky chalk. These spaces rotate year on year so that the same schools are not always at the front.

As promised in the programme we went on a tour of my poems. The audience joined in with sounds, actions, refrains and when I asked questions they contributed their own stories. When it came to the poem ‘My Dad’s More Embarrassing Than Your Dad’ the children had many suggestions for lines to contribute to a group poem. I wrote these on two adjacent flip charts. Apparently as the children left the hall some were chanting a line from the last poem I’d read. When the hall was empty and we could take a breath Helen served the coffee cake.

I read to KS2 in the afternoon school and this was just as well organised as the morning. Helen had driven to the school beforehand so that she knew just where it was. It was this forward planning and careful attention to detail which made visiting this festival such a gratifying experience. The schools in the area then enjoyed another four days of author visits.

In Scotland author visits are supported by the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature programme. They part-fund 1,200 events a year (funded by Creative Scotland) and fully fund a number of school residencies annually (privately funded). Author visits encourage reading for pleasure and inspire creative writing; they spark imaginations and encourage reluctant readers and writers; they make the link between a book and how it came into being. Perhaps if there was a similar initiative to Live Literature here in England, these valuable outcomes could be harnessed to benefit a great number of children.

Meanwhile happy reading and writing – with or without an author!

Chrissie Gittins

Chrissie writes poetry for children and adults, short stories and radio drama. Of her five children’s poetry collections three were Choices for the Poetry Book Society Children’s Poetry Bookshelf, and two were shortlisted for the CLiPPA Poetry Award. Her new and collected children’s poems Stars in Jars (Bloomsbury, 2014) is a Scottish Poetry Library Recommendation. She won the Belmont Poetry prize and was a finalist in the Manchester Children’s Literature Prize 2014. Her poems have been animated for Cbeebies TV and she appeared on BBC Countryfile with her fifth children’s poetry collection Adder, Bluebell, Lobster (Otter-Barry Books, 2016). She visits schools, libraries and festivals, she has recorded her poems for the Children’s Poetry Archive, and she is a National Poetry Day Ambassador.

Chrissie Gittins’ Website.

Cheryl Moskowitz: The Wild Woods of Summer

 

The Wild Woods of Summer

 

The year speeds by
like a bullet train –
a ramjet, scramjet
supersonic aeroplane
streak in the night
bright meteorite
a shooting star
from where we started
to where we are.

And soon now soon now
very very soon
like a giant sized
tight-filled
helium balloon
big and bursting
(but lighter than air)
we’ll rise up high
and disappear.

You can search the sky
but we won’t be there;
we’ll be out of sight
we’ll be underground
we’ll be with friends
and heading on down
to the wild woods
of summer…

The poem which begins and ends this post is published in the current issue of The Caterpillar, a gorgeous magazine chock full of quality writing for children. The wild woods in this poem could be a real place, and also a metaphor for the imagination, the place where all poetry begins. I wrote it for a graduating class of yr6 pupils at Highfield where I was Poet in Residence for 3½ years, anticipating the summer along with them.

Now the May half-term is over, the month of May finished (and PM May’s term of office too), we are all, no doubt, looking ahead to our respective summers, wherever we are and whatever we may be planning to do.

Summer, with its long languorous days and warm, balmy nights. Summer, when it feels as if ‘life might be beginning all over again’ as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby says, ‘with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies’. Or the kind of summer which is ‘everything good to eat…’ and ‘a thousand colours in a parched landscape’ according to Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

For most children, the summer is a time for adventure, play, and time for rest. Away from the hustle and bustle of the classroom it is an opportunity to be by yourself, a time for being outdoors and enjoying a certain peace. For some, it is only when school ends and the summer holidays begin, they can feel free to be truly themselves. In summer it is not only everything around us in nature, but also the imagination that goes wild. No wonder so many great writers pay homage to this season in their poems and stories. Here are some links to three of my favourites.

Lewis Carroll – A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky
Emily Dickinson – As Imperceptibly as Grief
Eleanor Farjeon – It was Long Ago

Poems, summer poems especially, are often about place: the place we’re in, a place we long to go to, or a place we miss. ‘A person can only be born in one place’, writes Palestinian poet and author, Mahmoud Darwish. ‘However, he may die several times elsewhere.’ Darwish was referring specifically to the experience of exile, imprisonment or the way a person is estranged when their homeland is transformed by war or occupation. Childhood, with all its difficult transitions can be a kind of exile, making us feel like strangers, even to ourselves. Each new phase we enter can feel like a mini-death and rebirth. ‘Poetry,’ says Darwish, ‘is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be reborn out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace… with life.’

This time of year, with the pressure of exams and everything out of place with the end of term looming, encouraging pupils to read or write poetry may be low on the school or home agenda. However, for children, parents and teachers alike it might be that poetry is just the thing that is needed to establish a place for yourself and ensure a positive and productive summer.

Here are some opportunities (all FREE to enter):

1) Throughout the summer writers of all ages are invited to write poems about place, heritage and identity, and pin them to the Places of Poetry map. I’ve written some resources to get you started (KS1–KS5, plus teacher guides) available via the Poetry Society or the Places of Poetry website.

2) Betjeman Poetry Prize invites poems on the theme of ‘Place’ by 10-13 year olds.

3) Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for 11-17 year olds invites poems on any theme!

4) The Winchester Poetry Festival runs the Young Poets and Artists Competition for children living in Hampshire aged 4-16. This year they want poems about ‘Seasons’ – why not write about summer?

The days unfold
like a three-toed sloth –
a crawlback, sprawlback
laze in the undergrowth
tar-drip slow
dreams of indigo
time to chill
from the end of your bed
to the windowsill.

So forget about school
(but not completely!)
break a few rules
but do it sweetly
and this time
when that home bell goes,
kick off your shoes
and wiggle your toes,
hang up your things
put your schoolbag down
turn the corner
and head on round
to the wild woods of summer.

 

Cheryl Moskowitz

 

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet, performer, playwright and educator. She studied Developmental Psychology at Sussex University and trained in dramatherapy and psychodynamic counselling. In 1996 she co-founded LAPIDUS (The Association for the Literary Arts in Personal Development) and taught on the Creative Writing and Personal Development MA at Sussex University from 1996–2010.

She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. Currently she is working with Pop Up and KSENT, a three-year project bringing authors into schools to develop creative resources for use in SEN schools across Kent.

She is an editor for MAGMA poetry magazine, on the organising committee for the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival (epff10) and co-hosts, together with her musician husband, Alastair Gavin, The All Saints Sessions, a bi-monthly experimental music and poetry performances.

Publications include novel, Wyoming Trail, Granta (1998), poetry for children Can it Be About Me? Frances Lincoln (2012) and poetry for adults The Girl is Smiling, Circle Time Press (2012).

Cheryl’s Website.

 

Roger Stevens: Making Books

Making Books

I know very few poets who do not want their work to be published. Poetry is not the solitary communication with the Muse that it is sometimes thought to be. We poets are driven to express ourselves. We want to tell people how we feel. We want to share our writing journey. We want to show off.

For many of us, particularly those of us who write for children, this desire to share stretches much further than seeing our work in print. We also want to work with those young readers we are trying to reach.

As I often tell teachers when I visit schools to give performances and workshops, we are not trying to teach children how to be poets. We are helping them to improve their writing skills, to write creatively, to communicate and to express themselves, and to enjoy using words.

Of course, we want to pass on a love for poetry and thus motivate young readers to write. And we often succeed, our workshops producing a plethora of poems. And then what? Maybe the children read them to the class, maybe they go straight into folders – often that is it!

But why should these young poets feel differently to we older ones? Perhaps they would like their work to be published, too; to share their poems, not just with their classmates, but with the school, their family and the wider world.

We often see lovely displays in the classroom, in the school hall, in the school entrance hall and even in the local library. But one of the best and most satisfying ways to share poems is to make a book.

So please take note all teachers, but also anyone who has, or knows, talented children who write poetry – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends. This is a great way to help these youngsters share their work.

I had a residency in a Basildon school for a few years. It consisted of one morning a week for one term with one Year 4 class. At the beginning of one term I announced we would write a book. I gave everyone in the class a free notebook, to start making notes and jotting down ideas. I explained that they didn’t have to share anything in the book if they didn’t want to. It would be private and personal to them. A couple of the children lost their books, a couple wrote nothing, but most of the children filled their books with all sorts of things, just as a ‘real’ writer would. We chose animals as a theme. And each week began working on different styles of animal poems.

Towards the end of the term we chose an editorial team, gathered together the best class illustrators, assembled a production group and lastly a sales team. We aimed to mirror the way a ‘real’ book would be made and marketed. We used the ‘old-fashioned’ cut and paste method. Poems were written on, or transferred to, computer and edited. Then printed. Then, finally, poems were cut out with scissors and assembled on the pages. Illustrators illustrated. We gave the book a title – My Name is Fire, wrote a blurb, invented a publishing house and decided to sell the books for £1 each – the money going to Comic Relief.

The whole process was brilliant fun, the children loved it. There was so much creative energy. They were thrilled with the final product, everyone had at least one poem in the book, we photocopied 100 copies (it was cheaper than printing them). We sold every copy! And the book was a permanent reminder of the fun we had and the creative skills of the class.

I was telling this to a group of children at our local children’s book shop (the Book Nook) and a girl in the audience, Evelyn, aged 9, took it to heart. She went home and wrote a book of her own poems – The Magic of Poetry (illustrated with the help of her Dad, using images from the internet). She sold the books at £1 a time and sold 350 copies for Children in Need. I’m very pleased to say that I have a copy signed by the author herself.

I also love making small books. If I have a class for a day we can go through the whole book-making process from beginning to end. We write a poem. The book is A6 size, folded in half. The text is written on a single sheet of A6 paper folded in half, making four pages. The cover is a piece of A6 card, also folded in half. We write a blurb, invent a publishing house, make a dedication, add a pretend barcode, write a biography and so on. At the end we have 30 or so tiny books, and a whole new class library.

Making home-made books is not just for children. If you’re an adult writer you can join in too! Either by using the photocopy method or splashing out and paying to have your work published by a small Press. Indeed, there’s a rich and noble history of writers, particularly poets, self-publishing their work. You must just be wary of vanity publishing – publishers who will tell you that your poem is akin to Wordsworth’s best and will offer to publish it (along with probably five hundred others) and charge you an exorbitant sum for doing so.

When I first began visiting schools as a poet, I’d had several poems published in anthologies, but I did not yet have a collection of my own work. So I self-published my own book, Never Trust a Lemon, to take into schools to share and sell. Nearly 25 years and 40 ‘real’ books later, Lemon is still one of my favourites and still sells!

Making books, especially with children, is great fun, and very rewarding for all who are involved.

Roger Stevens

Website for students and teachers: PoetryZone

Twitter: @poetryzone

Roger Stevens has had nearly 40 books published: novels, numerous solo poetry collections and edited poetry collections. Some of his most recent books are The Same Inside: Poems about Empathy and Friendship (Macmillan); Apes to Zebras: an A – Z of Shape Poems illustrated by Lorna Scobie (Bloomsbury), I Am a Jigsaw (Bloomsbury), and June 6th will see the publication of his anthology of poems to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing – Moonstruck! (Otter-Barry Books) When not writing, he visits schools, libraries and festivals performing his work and running workshops for young people and teachers. He is a National Poetry Day Ambassador for the Forward Arts Foundation, a founding member of the Able Writers scheme with Brian Moses; and of course runs the award-winning and most excellent poetry website PoetryZone.

 

Brian Moses: Pick a Poet

Pick a Poet

Poetry is a niche genre, those of us who make a living as poets understand that. It is often a genre that is at best marginalised, at worst neglected, in favour of fiction.

Lists of recommended good reads often fail to include poetry books, but poetry can be a life saver for children who find pages of solid text quite daunting. Just as there isn’t one method of teaching reading that fits all, there isn’t one common path for a child’s reading journey once the mechanics have been mastered.

So why not invite a poet into your school to widen the reach that poetry can have among your pupils and staff?

Children do enjoy hearing poems read well, and the best way to do that is through direct contact with the person who wrote them. If children are to learn how to read with expression and to perform plays and poetry (as the curriculum stipulates) then this is vital.

The best visit begins to happen a week or so before the poet arrives. The teachers who explore the poet’s work via the Poetry Archive, the poet’s website or videos on YouTube and those who seek out any books or poems in anthologies that they already have on the school library shelves, will build up anticipation and expectation. There will then be a buzz around school before the poet even sets foot in it.

If children know something about their visitor and his or her work, they will become much keener to be involved on the day. (I once had letters from a class of children who informed me that they had been told to write to me and that they hadn’t read any of my poems but they felt sure they were very good!)

My aim is always to make sure that if there are children who say that they don’t like poetry at the start of the day, they will have hopefully changed their minds by the end of the visit.

Quite often too, teachers feel a little scared of poetry, that there must be some kind of magic formula that they haven’t quite grasped and this makes the teaching of poetry difficult for them. Maybe they had bad experiences with poetry and the way it was taught when they were at school. A poet in school can help to dispel that fear. Besides a performance of my poetry and percussion show, I run workshops for classes or year groups.

Mostly we start by writing a poem together. I draw out ideas from the children and show them how their ideas can form the basis of a poem. We work on the poem, in the way that writers do. We modify, cross out, find better words, change lines around, knock off the odd word or syllable, restructure the poem until we are satisfied that it reads well.

Then the children write themselves and hopefully teachers will then carry on the ideas in their own lessons so that children see a poem develop from initial ideas, through composing and editing, to proof reading and final copy. Better still, if finished poems can be displayed or published in some way.

At the end of the day I offer to do a signing session in the school. This ensures that children can have immediate access to copies of my poetry books if they feel inspired to read them.

I always say to children on my visits – you too can be writers. One day you could walk into a book shop and see your name on the front cover of a book. This is my job as a poet who visits schools and I take it very seriously. We all do. So how about inviting a poet into your school?

(In the interests of fairness, other poets are available!)

Brian Moses

Brian Moses’ Website

Brian Moses’ Blog

Brian Moses has been a professional children’s poet since 1988. To date he has over 220 books published including volumes of his own poetry such as Lost Magic and I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze, anthologies such as The Secret Lives of Teachers and the recently published Spaced Out, (edited with James Carter), plus picture books such as Beetle in the Bathroom and Dreamer.

Over 1 million copies of Brian’s poetry books have now been sold.

Brian also visits schools to run writing workshops and perform his own poetry and percussion shows. To date he has visited well over 3000 schools and libraries throughout the UK and abroad.

He is also founder & co-director of a national scheme for able writers administered by his booking agency Authors Abroad.

 I Thought I Heard a Tree Sneeze (The Very Best of Brian Moses’ Poems for Younger Children) – Troika books.

Rachel Rooney: Reflections on a Poetry Project

Reflections on a Poetry Project

Several years ago, I happened upon a TV documentary about Limpsfield Grange; a secondary residential and day school for girls with communication and interaction difficulties. My interest was piqued, both as a former SEN teacher and as a parent of someone with an Aspergers diagnosis. Alongside this, the nature of certain girls within the film caught my attention; reminding me somewhat of my former self. Long story short, I returned a year later (with my own relatively unexpected Aspergers diagnosis) to begin an Arts Council-funded autism and poetry project at their school.

There’s a growing recognition of the unique relationship that poetry and (able) autism can hold. Attention to detail, heightened interest in pattern, slantwise thinking, and a desire to communicate that which can’t readily be spoken are just some of the ways that these worlds intersect. I’d wager that a disproportionate number of poets, knowingly or not, are placed somewhere along the autistic spectrum! However, this is not to say the poetry residency itself was a breeze. It took several sessions for groups to settle and fully engage with me. Anxiety, lack of confidence, a resistance to change, and a reluctance to speak in group settings were some of the challenges they might face.

But during my time there, I witnessed definite poetic moments, both in their creative writing and, more importantly, in aspects of personal development. The anxious girl, who leaves the session, only to return in time to successfully complete her poem. The perfectionist who manages to accept that it’s really is okay not to write a satisfying poem that day. The shy student who musters the voice to read her work out, then receiving spontaneous applause from her classmates. These small acts of bravery help to build resilience and self-confidence.

Almost all poetry demands an emotion, but it also requires the control of that emotion. Therein lies its power. To illustrate, here’s a poem written by one pupil, in our last free-write session:

Nightmare

(on losing an elephant lucky charm)

Security waves and slips away
knowing it’s not yet seen.
Sorrow and grief will come around
when I wake up from my dream.

I open it up and look inside.
The empty packet gleams.
My heart begins to shatter
and there’s nothing to be seen.

They don’t quite understand it all,
small as it may seem.
My problem’s large as an elephant
and a drop becomes a stream.

A tiny thing can be so big.
Streams can lead to sea.
I’ll find my way eventually
and wake up from this dream.

That day, the student who’d written this had been very upset. A treasured miniature elephant charm she’d carried around for years had gone missing. At break time I’d noticed she was visibly distressed and I wondered how she’d manage in our workshop later. But I also knew she was a natural poet, one who valued her own creative writing process. So I wasn’t surprised when I was presented with this poem, written in the twenty-minute writing slot that our workshops allowed. Later, in her feedback form she written ‘I liked it because I could say my feelings and writing one of my poems helped me through a difficult time.’

We ended the project with a celebratory recitation from some of the pupils, accompanied by live illustrations, courtesy of Chris Riddell, who’d kindly agreed to donate his time and talent to the day. One the many highlights of the fifteen months there was watching that young poet reading out in a strong clear voice, to a large, appreciative audience. That, for me, is the essence of poetry.

I’m in the process of collating some of their poems to be published in an illustrated booklet Welcome to My World, soon to be available from Limpsfield Grange School. I am also working on a collection of poems in response to my experience there.

Rachel Rooney.com

RacheI Rooney’s poetry collection The Language of Cat, latest edition illustrated by Ellie Jenkins, won the CLPE Poetry Award and was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. Her second collection My Life as a Goldfish, Illustrated by Ellie Jenkins, was shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2015. Her new book, A Kid in My Class, illustrated by Chris Riddell and published by Otter-Barry Books, has been shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2019. Rachel visits schools for workshops with pupils and has performed her work at festivals and for The Children’s Bookshow. She was Chair of Judges for the CLiPPA 2017 and the Betjeman Poetry Prize.