Gaby Morgan: Cats

Cats

I spent a long time thinking about what this blog would be about – most of it thinking about poems of hope and consolation, and some of it thinking about poems about spring, but in the end it turned out that what I was writing about was cats. I have two cats who are fond of me, but not each other, and both well into middle age. They have been very attentive while I have been at home. The Orange Cat sits by my computer as I work, next to me on the sofa as I read and follows me around in the garden digging up all of the things I have just planted. The Blue Cat – asks for food and sleeps on my bed. We serve our purpose for him.

I have enjoyed seeing all the photos and videos of other people’s pets on social media and during work video calls. I probably know more about my author’s pets than any other part of their lives, and the very first author pet that I met belonged to Charles Causley. He had a magnificent ginger cat called Rupert. Rupert was an excellent correspondent and I still have photos and postcards that he sent me. When I was compiling Read Me: A Poem for Every Day of the Year Charles suggested that I include a poem by his friend A. L. Rowse called The White Cat of Trenarren. It is sublime and begins:

 

‘He was a mighty hunter in his youth

At Polmear all day on the mound, on the pounce

For anything moving, rabbit or bird or mouse –

My cat and I grow old together.’

 

Charles wrote about cats too – from I Had A Little Cat in which our narrator takes his cat Tim Tom Tay to market to sell but ends up bringing him home again:

 

‘But when the people came to buy

I saw such a look in Tim Tom’s eye

That it was clear as clear could be

I couldn’t sell Tim for a fortune’s fee.’

 

To In Sam Remo about Edward Lear’s cat Foss:

 

‘Deep in the garden of the Villa Tennyson,

Under a Fig tree, end of the orange walk

(Where, in his life, he’d often sprawl and snooze)

Lies the good gatto Foss, for sixteen years

Daily companion of Edward Lear.’

 

I was lucky enough to work on a few of Robert Westall’s books – and happily look after Blitzcat and The Machine Gunners to this day. Robert loved cats and always had several – he wrote in a letter to a friend ‘Cats to me are one of life’s great and certain plusses. When I get angry with God I can forgive him because he made cats – a divine and beautiful joke.’ He put together Cats Whispers and Tales: A Treasury of Stories and Poems as a tribute to them. This was also the book that introduced me to the magnificent Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, which begins ‘For I will consider my cat Jeoffry’,

 

‘For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.’

 

… and Pangur Bán (the scholar and his cat), an old Irish poem, written in the ninth century at or around Reichenau Abbey. I like to imagine the monk hard at work illuminating a manuscript with his white cat looking on. It begins:

 

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

 

And ends:

 

Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.’

 

I would love to hear what your favourite cat poems are.

 

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.

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.