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.

 

Imogen Lycett Green: Who Dares, Writes

Photo: © Sam Lane

Who Dares, Writes

“Poetry written by children? But is it any good?” At a funding meeting for the Betjeman Poetry Prize, a board member of an arts foundation asked this very question.

At the time, I was dumbfounded. Whether or not the poetry by 10-13 year olds submitted to the annual poetry prize and judged by poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Brian Patten and Imtiaz Dharker was ‘good’ by adult literary standards (which, presumably, was what the board member meant) was not the point, surely. Later, I began to question myself. Why hold a competition? What was the point of encouraging children to write poetry before – arguably – they had mastered the form? There are now over 100 poetry competitions for under-18s listed on the Poetry’s Society’s Young Poets Network. What is the point of generating all that poetry? Who are the competitions for?

 

Young poets warming up before a writing session at the Betjeman Poetry Camp 2019 with poet Paul Lyalls, and below,  hand-written text showing the workings of a child poet.

Firstly, let’s ask what literature is for: to illuminate, to entertain, to enable readers to see the world afresh, to teach, to moralise, to expose, to dazzle, to help the reader understand the world, to help the reader understand themselves, to make them laugh, to make them cry, to help them feel. These are benefits for the reader. But what of benefits for the writer? Why would any writer put themselves through the heartache, the isolation, the sweat and toil and tears? For some writers, writing is the only way of comprehending their experience; others just want to make money (no guarantee!). For some, it is about curiosity, for others about expressing their inner worlds. For still more it is about the joy of language.

Now let’s translate all these benefits to the space where young people read and write: to feel, to comprehend, to process, to illuminate, to laugh, to cry, to understand, to know, for love of language. Why on earth would we not want our young people to begin all these activities as early as possible?

Year 5 Children from Richard Cobden Primary and Argyle Primary, Camden at St Pancras Station, taking part in a performance of their own poetry for a BPP collaboration project with Paul Lyalls and St Pancras International. They are proudly holding aloft the anthology, Track Record. 

Competition as a concept will always provoke debate. Of course. The naysayers will debate the concept on political terms, on emotional terms, on every term (especially school term) under the sun. But this is a debate amongst adults. I would argue that kids understand competition better than adults do and it is often adult projection (vociferous dads on the side of football matches, Hollywood actresses who buy places for their children at university) that creates a monster out of a teaching tool. Competition teaches kids that they cannot win at everything; while it’s important they strive to be the best version of themselves, there will always be someone ‘better’ than them out there.

That established, you might ask why not just hold a football tournament? There are millions of youngsters who prefer football to writing. Sure, but there are also thousands (maybe even millions) of youngsters for whom writing is vital: I write, therefore I am. While writing competitions are not for everyone, they do provide a goal and a platform for those kids. Is their poetry ‘any good’?  If their poem strikes a chord in the judge’s heart, the young poets will have done their job. If other kids read the poems selected for commendation, those other kids may be inspired to make their own squiggles and marks on the page which – miraculously! – may articulate what they know in their heads and feel in their hearts.

To my mind, any encouragement of that process is worthwhile. Perfection of form may come later. Surely it is enough to draw out a young person’s voice. How much more roundly developed as adults will the next generation be, if, as youngsters, they have played with language, tried to describe, worked through feelings, expressed an individual opinion and crucially, may have been heard.

Imogen Lycett Green

 

Imogen Lycett Green is a freelance writer and educator who runs the Betjeman Poetry Prize, an Artsmark charity inspiring children and young people aged 10-13 to read, write and perform poetry. A former staff journalist on the Daily Telegraph, she is the author of biography and children’s fiction, a judge of the Chiddingstone Short Story Prize and a former chair of the UK International Radio Drama Festival. She was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Southampton University and is an English tutor at Brighton Aldridge Academy working with KS 3&4 students. http://www.betjemanpoetryprize.co.uk.

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

Gaby Morgan: In Praise of Anthologies

In Praise of Anthologies

1993 was an interesting year. Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the USA. Sleepless In Seattle was released. Three members of One Direction were born and Macmillan Children’s Books published two slim anthologies, Doin Mi Ed In – Rap Poems by David Orme and Martin Glynn, and ‘Ere We Go! Football Poems by David Orme, launching a poetry list that is still going strong twenty-five years later. They introduced an exciting new band of very lovely poets to the world and I am so very lucky to be working with them all half a lifetime later. These were collections written for kids rather than at them and introduced them to a wide range of themes viewed from all kinds of different angles.

The biggest revelation that first year was Glitter When You Jump – Poems Celebrating the Seven Ages of Women by Fiona Waters. It was the most astonishing thing I had ever read and introduced me to ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou and ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph.

Over the years I have read an awful lot of anthologies and was delighted to find that you often can hear the anthologists ‘voice’ in a collection. Brilliant anthologists such as Fiona Waters and Anne Harvey weave the most fascinating stories with incredible skill. When Roger McGough delivered the manuscript for Sensational he had written poem titles at the bottom of each page and I could very clearly see how each poem inspired the next – it was such a delight to follow his thoughts.

After many years of learning from these masters I was lucky enough to be asked to compile anthologies starting with Read Me: A Poem for Every Day for the National Year of Reading.

In my youth I spent days on end compiling the perfect mixed tape. A single song was often the spark for an entire C90. I crafted the perfect collection of summery songs, a tape to impress a new love or even one full of please-stay-in-the-friend zone songs. I still use these mixed tape skills today and that is how I compile anthologies. You have to have album tracks or the hit singles don’t shine. For people who dip and browse you need a very strong beginning and end. You need enough familiar poems – ‘Daffodils’! – for people to feel comfortable and enough brand-new to make people look beyond the collection. You start to tell a story and then the poems suggest themselves.

Poems pop into my head and bring their friends with them…

The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W. B. Yeats, ‘I hear it in the deep heart’s core’,

Beattie is Three’ by Adrian Henri, ‘How her fist fits my palm/A bunch of consolation’,

The White Cat of Trenarren’ by A.L. Rowse, ‘My cat and I grow old together’,

Let No One Steal Your Dreams’ by Paul Cookson, ‘Your only limit is the sky’.

They are joined by poems that I have heard performed such as ‘Dear Hearing World’ by Raymond Antrobus, ‘I have left Earth in search of an audible God’, or poems that I have come across on social media like ‘Saltwater’ by Finn Butler, ‘Everyone who terrifies you is 65 per cent water’ – look them up, they will bring you joy!

The world has changed enormously in the past quarter century and our poetry list has followed the curve of the earth and the signs of the times. We have published a wide range of poetry titles including landmark anthologies such as The Works: Every Kind of Poem You Will Ever Need for the Literacy Hour chosen by Paul Cookson for a new primary curriculum in 2000. Books to echo trends in popular culture like pirates and wizards, or to reflect upon historical events such as the 50th anniversary of the moon landings and the centenary of the end of WWI. To mark sporting events like the Football World Cup or the Olympics; or delve deeper to demonstrate hope and light in challenging times with poetry about extraordinary women, poetry promoting empathy and tolerance, poetry that celebrates our history and heritage and great big gift anthologies which celebrate poetry itself.

Poetry is powerful stuff – from nursery rhymes, to song lyrics, to poetry shared on social media to verse novels. We turn to poems to soothe or rally, to praise, to celebrate, to comprehend, to grieve, to shout ‘I love you’ or to pick ourselves up when it seems impossible – they are words for life.

Gaby Morgan

Gaby Morgan is an Editorial Director at Macmillan Children’s Books and proud curator of the Macmillan Children’s Poetry List. She has compiled many bestselling anthologies including Read Me and Laugh: A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year, Poems from the First World War, Poems for Love, Fairy Poems – which was short-listed for the CLPE Award – and A Year of Scottish Poems.

Lorraine Mariner: “Burrow in, Borrow on” – Working with Children at the National Poetry Library

“Burrow in, borrow on” – working with children at the National Poetry Library

The children’s collection of the National Poetry Library was founded in 1988 when the children’s literature magazine Signal, which ran an annual poetry book prize, kindly donated their collection. We now collect all new children’s poetry books published in the UK, with a selection from overseas (mainly US), and a selection of rhyming story and picture books. Our young adult collection is also growing at quite a pace thanks to the explosion of verse novels in recent years.

One of our ambitions at the NPL is to create lifelong poetry readers. The Royal Festival Hall is a popular place for new parents to meet with their babies so we started Rug Rhymes (Friday 10.30am in term time) for under-5s and their carers. As well as traditional nursery rhymes and children’s songs we try to slip in some stellar poetry: poems like ‘maggie and milly and molly and may’ by e.e. cummings and ‘Give Yourself a Hug’ by Grace Nichols have been big hits! The session is the perfect opportunity for the library to highlight our free children’s membership which allows four books to be borrowed for up to four weeks.

Next up are workshops that schools can book for class visits, all based around work books the library has developed in collaboration with poets and artists. These range from Poetry Explorers for primary schools, where children learn about using a library and also spend time reading and listening to poetry; and Letters Home (our most beautiful booklet, created with Henningham Family Press) which is suitable for primary and secondary schools and introduces the children to experimental First World War poetry.

For secondary schools we also have Poetry Box, a science and poetry activity developed with poet Mario Petrucci where children use science and space exploration to create poems, and Dictionary Story, based on a visual poetry book by artist Sam Winston, which is well-suited for A’ Level students studying art and design. Secondary schools are also welcome to bring small groups to the library for a tour and teacher led activity – these are proving popular currently during the lull between exams and the end of the school year. During the summer holidays teachers looking for new ideas for the classroom may want to check out our section of books aimed at supporting the teaching of poetry.

And the library isn’t just for school visits. February half-term sees our annual Day of Children’s Poetry as part of Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival. This year we held a poem illustration workshop with children’s poet and illustrator Ed Boxall, had a puppy poems reading with Brian Moses, Roger Stevens and, also, Victoria Adukwei Bulley reading from Thinker : My Puppy Poet and Me by Eloise Greenfield. Later in the day we welcomed poets Simon Mole, Karl Nova and Rachel Rooney for a reading for ages 8-11. We’ll be making plans soon to try and top this for next February’s Imagine Festival.

An unexpected personal outcome of working with children at the National Poetry Library is that I’ve started to write children’s poems. Sometimes I would write a poem for the Rug Rhymes session and this led to my colleague Pascal O’Loughlin and I setting ourselves the challenge of writing a new children’s poem each month for a year. It extended into two years and I’ve recently published my first children’s poem in Dragons of the Prime, an anthology of dinosaur poems from The Emma Press, and had a poem shortlisted in the YorkMix Children’s Poetry Competition. The National Poetry Library’s children’s collection is not just a wonderful resource for children and families – “Burrow in, borrow on” says regular visitor John Hegley – but can be an inspiration to aspiring children’s poets too.

The National Poetry Library is on level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall. More information about visiting and joining the National Poetry Library can be found here, National Poetry Library.

Follow this link to find out more about booking one of our schools workshops.

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).

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.

Andrea Reece: Celebrating Poetry from the CLiPPA Until National Poetry Day, 3rd October

Celebrating Poetry from the CLiPPA Until National Poetry Day, 3rd October

National Poetry Day was honoured to attend the award ceremony for the fabulous CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) at the National Theatre on 3rd July. And what an afternoon it was! An excited audience of poetry fans enjoyed superb live performances not only from the shortlisted poets – Steven Camden, Kwame Alexander, Rachel Rooney, Eloise Greenfield and Philip Gross – but from the pupils of five primary schools who had each shadowed the award. Groups of children, plus one solo performer took to the stage to give enthusiastic and accomplished performances of favourite poems from the shortlisted collections. By turns funny, touching, revealing, poignant and powerful, these poetry performances effortlessly filled the huge auditorium of the Lyttleton Theatre. Here again is proof of the creativity that poetry releases in children not to mention the confidence (the Lyttelton seats over 800) and of course the sheer joy.

We at National Poetry Day want every child in the country to experience that same rush of excitement that performing poems for others brings. Equally importantly, we want to encourage every young person to write their own poem ready to perform on National Poetry Day. That’s why we were delighted to announce the launch of #MyNPDPoem as the culmination of the CLiPPA ceremony.

Created in association with CLPE and with the support of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), #MyNPDPoem encourages schools everywhere to create poems, performances, displays and even special books.

This year’s National Poetry Day theme is Truth, and #MyNPDPoem invites students aged 6 to 13 to express the truths that matter to them, in poems. Topics might be the truth about your family, or your school; nature might provide inspiration, provoking a poem about the truths the natural world reveals; perhaps you’ll want to share a hidden truth about yourself and the way you feel about the world; or maybe you’ll want to explore the opposite of truth – lies!

National Poetry Day ambassadors Michael Rosen, Rachel Rooney, Joseph Coelho, Victoria Adukwei Bulley and Karl Nova have created special films filled with tips and poetry writing prompts all of which are available now on the NPD website nationalpoetryday.co.uk while a resource pack by CLPE gives teachers everything they need to get the most out of this new project.

Once children have written a poem or poems on the theme of truth, schools or teachers can share the best on National Poetry Day by tagging pictures on
Instagram or Twitter with #MyNPDPoem. We’d love it if schools choose to hold their own poetry show on National Poetry Day by inviting everyone to perform their poems aloud and there’s a special certificate for every young poet available for download from the National Poetry Day website. Schools who really want to celebrate their pupils’ writing can even publish the poems as a book for pupils to take home to show their friends and families, using Scholastic’s We Are Writers scheme.

This year is the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Day, and we’d like to make it the biggest ever. Every school who takes part in #MyNPDPoem will be part of those national poetry celebrations, celebrations that began at the CLiPPA, and that might just carry on for lifetimes.

Andrea Reece

Andrea Reece works for the Forward Arts Foundation as manager National Poetry Day. Andrea is the one in the middle in the top picture!

National Poetry Day Website.

 

 

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.