Lorraine Mariner: What Rhymes with Rug? Writing Poems for Children

Image: Pete Woodhead

What Rhymes with Rug? Writing Poems for Children

I’ve been writing poems for adults for over 20 years now but it was really through working on Rug Rhymes at the National Poetry Library that I started to write poems for children. I feel like a newbie but I realise it’s almost 9 years since I wrote my first children’s poem. It grew out of some copy we’d written to promote Rug Rhymes: “What rhymes with rug? Join Poetry Library puppets Federico and Firebird on their poem rug to find out!” What does rhyme with rug? I found myself wondering, so I wrote a poem that Federico and Firebird could say:

Rug Rhyme

What rhymes with rug?
            A slow slimy slug
            A buzzy bug
            A pudgy cuddly pug (Woof!)

What rhymes with rug?
            A juice-filled jug
            A milky mug
            A big thirsty glug glug glug

What rhymes with rug?
            A sleepy shrug
            A bath time plug
            My friend’s special hug

Working on Rug Rhymes also coincided with my becoming an aunt which gave me further inspiration for poems for children. I’ve always remembered a quote from Ted Hughes, that when he had his children, poems for them “welled up like mother’s milk”, but a very small portion of adult poets who have children end up writing children’s poems. And some of the best children’s poets never have children of their own. Eleanor Farjeon is one such poet and I find this quote of hers quite heartbreaking, that “In my youth, I dreamed of being a “real” poet, but half-way through my life the dream died, and whatever figments remained went into writing songs and verses for children”. I don’t agree that children’s poets aren’t “real” poets but I find it very intriguing that some poets seem destined to write for children rather than adults and I wonder sometimes if maybe I shouldn’t be attempting to write children’s poems.

I’ve edited the ‘Rug Rhyme’ poem over the years and can understand why some of the finest children’s poets are also school teachers; having your target audience to try poems out on can be invaluable. I recently added some more alliteration after taking a course on writing poems for children inspired by Charles Causley, probably the most famous teacher children’s poet, led by Rachel Piercey for the Poetry School. One of the things I loved about the course was that for the first time in a long while I got out my rhyming dictionary and thesaurus. My adult writing tends to be very direct and not formally structured and I had a lot of fun tapping into Causley’s rhythms and rhymes and wordplay.

Image – NPL Children’s Collection Shelves by Takis Zontiros

In 2014 we ran a book club at the National Poetry Library looking at classic children’s poets every adult should read and Causley was one of them, along with Eleanor Farjeon. I feel very lucky to have access to over a hundred years of children’s poetry as part of my day job and I would recommend any aspiring children’s poets to join the National Poetry Library.

Books by James Berry

As well as being able to read your way through the back catalogue of the likes of James Berry, Tony Mitton, Grace Nichols, Jack Prelutsky and Naomi Shihab Nye, you can get your hands on the most recent UK children’s poetry publications and make unexpected discoveries. I’ve recently been charmed by the work of Finola Akister who started writing poems to entertain her grandchildren.

Poems by Finola Akister, illustrated by Colin West

If you can’t get to London we also have an eloans collection that includes ebooks for children and young people.

I produce children’s poems at a much slower pace than adult ones. Over the years I’ve attended many courses and I belong to a workshop group and this has really helped me develop my adult poetry but there aren’t so many opportunities for poets starting to write for children. I was thrilled when following her Causley course Rachel Piercey set up an online Poetry Society Stanza group for children’s poets, Zig Zag Stanza. It’s been great to meet other poets writing for children, workshop poems and discuss different aspects of children’s poetry. Hopefully, it will lead to more poems I can pretend Federico and Firebird have written!

Lorraine Mariner

Lorraine Mariner is an Assistant Librarian at the National Poetry Library and has published two poetry collections for adults with Picador, Furniture (2009) and There Will Be No More Nonsense (2014), and two pamphlets Bye For Now(The Rialto, 2005) and Anchorage (Grey Suit Editions, 2020). 

National Poetry Library:

Poetry Society Stanzas: