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:
http://www.nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk

Poetry Society Stanzas:
https://poetrysociety.org.uk/membership/poetry-society-stanzas/

Lorraine Mariner: Rug Rhymes at the National Poetry Library

The Imagine Children’s Festival took place at Southbank Centre in February this year and it was a chance for the National Poetry Library to hold its Rug Rhymes session for under-5s for the first time since March 2020. That final Rug Rhymes in 2020, just before the first lockdown, was very surreal with just two mums and two toddlers in attendance, though I do remember one of the mum’s talking to her child about a friend they had recently visited who didn’t have real grass in their garden but artificial grass – which on reflection sounds a great subject for a children’s poem! We came back with a bang this February and held 3 sessions over 3 days with roughly 40 children and 40 adults at each session, filling up the foyer outside the NPL.

Rug Rhymes was established in Autumn 2013 as part of our mission to create lifelong NPL members. We sometimes get people in their late teens and early twenties who join the library and tell us they first visited the library on a school visit and it’s our hope that in a few years a young adult will say the same thing about Rug Rhymes. Before we launched Rug Rhymes I visited a few public libraries and sat in on their rhyme time sessions to see how it was done. They seemed to consist of traditional nursery rhymes, action songs and a picture book but we wanted to make sure our sessions also included poems and a rhyming story so it was more of a unique offer drawing from our children’s collection.

As well as gathering together animal puppets that we could use to act out different poems and songs, artist and poet Sophie Herxheimer made two puppets for us who lead the sessions and they’ve become known as Federico and Firebird. We say that they’re Spanish poets who live with us in the Poetry Library because Sophie made them while she was visiting Spain.

Over the years we’ve put together many different session plans, including animals (from the specific – bears, cats, dogs, owls – to more general – pets, jungle, zoos, under the sea), themes that appeal to young children like bodies, food and transport, seasons and festival days and also Southbank Centre festivals such as WOW (Women of the World) and Poetry International. In 2015 Poetry International focused on poetry of the Middle East and we put together a session that included rhymes and poems from Afghanistan and Pakistan thanks to the books in our collection My Village : Rhymes from Around the World (collected by Danielle Wright, Frances Lincoln, 2010)and Children’s Songs from Afghanistan : Qu Qu Qu Barg-e-Chinaar (edited by Louise M. Pascale, National Geographic, 2008).

Since we started Rug Rhymes, something that’s been really great for the sessions is the publication of wonderful books of poems for very young children. We regularly drew on Margaret Mayo’s Plum Pudding (Orchard Books, 2000), but since Michael Rosen’s CLiPPA winning A Great Big Cuddle (Walker) was published in 2015 it’s been good to see other books of rhymes for young children being published and shortlisted for the CLiPPA, such as James Carter’s Zim Zam Zoom! (Otter-Barry, 2016) and Jane Newberry’s Big Green Crocodile (Otter-Barry, 2020). The theme of our recent sessions was Back Together with a focus on children being able to attend parties again, and ‘The Queen Comes to Tea’ from Big Green Crocodile went down a treat and will be used again with the 70th Jubilee celebrations fast approaching.

In May and June we’ll be running Rug Rhymes every Friday between 11.30am-12pm. It takes place in our Little Library space just outside of the National Poetry Library on Level 5, Blue Side, of the Royal Festival Hall. Please check out our website for more information http://www.nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk

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). She also writes poems for children and writes poems for Rug Rhymes from time to time.

Lorraine Mariner: NPL IRL! The National Poetry Library is Open!

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NPL IRL! The National Poetry Library is Open!

Since my last post for this blog, about the National Poetry Library eloans collection for children and young people, I’m delighted to say that you can come and visit us again and borrow actual books In Real Life – we’re open!  We are currently having some maintenance work done so we have limited space, please check our website here http://www.nationalpoetrylibrary.org.uk/visit we would be so pleased to see you in the library soon. It was a very special day for the NPL team when we reopened on 28th May and unveiled a new rainbow design on our rolling shelves.

© Takis Zontiros

And a new section for Young Adults:

Having a more prominent Young Adult section was always a dream of my former colleague and Children’s Poetry Summit member Pascal O’Loughlin, who has now moved on to pastures new in the Wirral, so it was a thrill to send him a photo of this and some of our recent Young Adult additions.

We continued to collect books during our closure and here are some of my favourite purchases from the past year for our children’s collection.

Anyone with a UK address can sign up to join the National Poetry Library. Children can become members too and borrow 4 books at a time. We’re open Tuesday 12-6 and Wednesday-Sunday 12-8. You can find us on Level 5 of the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. If you can’t visit us in London in person you can still sign up to our eloans collection.

Like all other libraries and cultural centres we continue to grapple with the new normal and what the winter months may bring. Our much loved Little Library space for children in our foyer remains closed until early next year and our schools workshops are currently on hold, as is our weekly Rug Rhymes session for under-5s. I miss these sessions very much, especially as my nephew, born during lockdown, has recently learned to roar during ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ and clap during ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and has yet to see his auntie lead these songs in a professional capacity. Plus, there are some new rhyming picture books we can’t wait to include at this session. We hope to revamp and relaunch our children’s programme for Spring 2021 and will have some exciting news to share about Southbank Centre’s schools programme in the coming months.

© Takis Zontiros

In the meantime, we’re delighted to announce the return of the National Poetry Library Open Day on Saturday 23rd October on the theme of Friendship as part of the London Literature Festival.

This is a chance for us to display recent acquisitions, including books for children, and specially curated displays. This year we also have two activities, open to children as well as adults, where we’re inviting visitors to get creative on a postcard that we will ink stamp to send to a friend and the chance to make a Friendship themed mini-zine (materials provided).  Come along from 11am and help us create a mini-zine friendship library!

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).

Lorraine Mariner: ELoans for Children and Young People at the National Poetry Library

Though we’re currently unable to welcome visitors to the National Poetry Library, behind the scenes we continue to collect all new UK poetry publications for children and adults, ready for reopening later this year. In 2014 we launched an ebook collection and during lockdown this has really come into its own, enabling our members to continue to read the latest poetry publications. Over the last few months we have added to the books and audio available for children and young people poetrylibrary.overdrive.com

Children’s poets featured range from stellar names such as Roger McGough, Grace Nichols and Michael Rosen, through to new stars on the scene including Joseph Coelho, Matt Goodfellow and Kate Wakeling. Recent additions are the anthologies Midnight Feasts: Tasty Poems edited by A. F. Harrold with illustrations by Katy Riddell (shortlisted for the 2020 Clippa Poetry Award), I Bet I Can Make You Laugh poems by Joshua Seigel and friends, and young adult verse novel Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam. The collection ranges from titles for the very young through to novels in verse for teenagers. Audio highlights include beloved American children’s poet Jack Prelutsky reading his work and The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, read by Edith Bowman, Guy Garvey, Cerys Matthews and Benjamin Zephaniah.

The ebooks work in much the same way as the physical books in our collection. A title can be borrowed by one person for up to two weeks. We allow a member to loan two titles at a time and reserve two titles. They can be read or listened to on a laptop or computer through the web browser, or the Overdrive app can be downloaded and they can also be accessed on a tablet or smartphone. Members can also make recommendations.

We host our eloans through Overdrive, so a title has to be available on the Overdrive platform for us to be able to purchase it for the collection. What has been encouraging for us this last year is to have some publishers contact Overdrive to get their books added to the platform so we can offer them to our members.

The service is free to join. All we require is proof of a UK address via email. The parents or guardians of under-16s can sign up on their behalf. Email info@poetrylibrary.org.uk for more information (and with any other poetry related questions – our enquiry service remains open).

At this time of year we’d usually be gearing up for the Imagine Children’s Literature Festival at Southbank Centre, when we host poetry readings for children in the library. Three of our past Imagine events can be found on Soundcloud:

Poems from a Green and Blue Planet a celebration of this anthology of poems about the natural world led by its editor Sabrina Mahfouz.

Amazingly Magical Poems featuring two of our favourite picture book poets, Peter Bently and Jeanne Willis, and teller of tall tales, Andra Simons.

Incredibly Incorrigible Poems featuring Liz Brownlee, John Lyons and Kate Wakeling.

We can’t wait to welcome families and class visits back to the National Poetry Library when it’s safe to reopen but in the meantime we hope our ebook collection and audio might provide a diversion during the current lockdown.

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). She has recently published a chapbook with Grey Suit Editions Anchorage (2020).

Lorraine Mariner: Poems Go Green! at the National Poetry Library

Poems Go Green! at the National Poetry Library

As I write this the Southbank Centre’s Imagine Children’s Festival is in full flow and the Royal Festival Hall is bursting at the seams with children and their grown-ups. The Imagine Festival takes place annually during February half-term and for the last five years we have been holding a Day of Poetry in the National Poetry Library for ages 0-11. We like to think of it as a Poetry Festival within the bigger festival.

This year our day of poetry was devoted to eco poetry. The idea for the day was sparked by Poems from a Green and Blue Planet edited by Sabrina Mahfouz, a wide-ranging and majestic nature anthology published last autumn. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a whole day of eco poetry at this time of climate emergency, when so many children, inspired by Greta Thunberg, are taking a stand?

Our day of poetry began at 10.30am with Rug Rhymes for under-5s and Ed Boxall joined us for this Eco Edition. He shared a picture book he has recently illustrated, Dragons’ Wood (Troika, 2019), of a poem by Brian Moses. We all took a walk through the wood with our dog catching glimpses of dragons. At 11.30am we had a workshop run by the UK’s Green Poet Martin Kiszko. Martin has worked with Sir David Attenborough composing music for nature documentaries such as BBC’s ‘Wildlife on One’ and has published two collections of green poetry for children illustrated by Nick Park (of Oscar winning Wallace and Gromit fame). Our workshop was aimed at ages 6-10 and Martin got the children writing in different forms; an animal kenning and a clerihew about an environmental issue.

Ed and Martin were back with us for our 1.30pm reading, aimed at ages 5-7, along with poet Carole Bromley, for Poems Go Green! Ed had realised that sticks feature quite a lot in his poems and his gentle, contemplative poems got us looking closely at nature. Carole took us to Australia, a country she recently visited, and which the children were aware had been tackling catastrophic bushfires. One of her poems reminded us to care for the less loveable animals and insects along with the cute koalas. Martin finished this set with his exuberant, rhyming word play, celebrating, amongst other environmentally friendly energy options, poo power.

Our final event of the day was a 3pm reading for ages 8-11, Poems from a Green and Blue Planet, where poet and editor Sabrina Mahfouz shared poems from the anthology along with contributing poet Liz Brownlee. The UK had just been battered on two consecutive weekends by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, so the reading began with a selection of stormy poems. Sabrina also got the children thinking of words to describe a storm and we combined these with objects. I think my favourite was “clattering candle”. Highlights of some of the classic and newly commissioned poems that Sabrina and Liz shared were Adrian Mitchell’s ‘Peace and Pancakes’, Hollie McNish’s ‘Anything!’ and Imtiaz Dharker’s ‘How to Cut a Pomegranate’ (with pomegranate prop!).

At 4pm it was over. It was a hectic day but all of our events sold out, poets sold and signed books, and I left work feeling less eco-anxious and hope the children that attended felt the same. We’d asked the poets for green tips and Martin advised that you should love the planet in the same way as you would your parents, brothers and sisters or pets. Nature poetry is a great way to foster this love and we have some wonderful collections and anthologies in the National Poetry Library that we recommend – please click here to see our list on the National Poetry Library Catalogue.

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).

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).