Interview with Edel Wignell


NB. In July 2013, Edel Wignell bequeathed her copyright and earnings to the Australian Society of Authors. For queries, contact Mr Steven Wimmer, General Manager, Australian Society of Authors Ltd, Suite C1.06, 22-36 Mountain Street, Ultimo, NSW, Australia 2007. Tel. (+61 2) 9211 0125;

edel no 71.When did you first become aware of poetry? How did this come about?         When I was a kid, our grandparents lived 100 metres from our family on a farm near Echuca, Victoria. Gran had been a school teacher who married a farmer, my Papa. She loved the oral tradition of folk tales, myths and legends, and poetry and nursery rhymes. As a young woman, she had learnt elocution and, daily, when we ran in and out, she corrected our grammar and speech, told stories and recited.

2. Did your school encourage a love of poetry? Did you learn to recite poems? Which?                                                                                                                                                                                 I attended Wharparilla West rural school (12-16 children) from Grade 1 to Grade 8 in the 1940s, so I was aware of the place of poetry from the first day. It was interspersed with prose in the Victorian School Readers 1-8, and was an important part of the curriculum. Recitation was a subject. Everyone memorized and recited poems daily, and we all performed at the end-of-year School Concert.

Some poems we learned are: Dorothea Mackeller, ‘My Country’; Mary Hannay Foott, ‘Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest’; Andrew Barton Paterson, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’; William Wordsworth, ‘Daffodils’; Henry Lawson, ‘The Ballad of the Drover’; Eliza Cook, ‘Bruce and the Spider’; Maybanke Anderson, ‘Australia Fair’.

As well as poems from the School Readers, we read books that arrived monthly in a travelling library, a box of books picked up by the teacher at the Echuca Railway Station and brought to the school. It contained books for every level and, from Grade 2 onwards, I read every one – including poetry.

Some kids hated poetry; some – like me – loved it. ‘Encouraging a love of poetry’ wasn’t something that the teacher was trying to do. He was fulfilling his duties as a teacher.


3. Which poem (from another poet) do you love the most, and why?                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I have a cherished poem written by a dear friend especially for me during a time of trauma. I shared it with close friends then and it sustains me now. I would like to do the same for a friend.


4. When did you start writing poetry? When were your works first published?                                                                                                                              As a kid, I wrote poetry from about Grade 2 onwards – always rhyming. We weren’t introduced to free verse. My teen-written poems in the early fifties were published in the Echuca High School magazine.

As an adult, I didn’t write poetry during the years I was a teacher (primary schools – eight years, teachers’ college – seven years), or while I focussed on journalism (1974-79). When I started writing for children in 1979, I wrote verse, as well a short stories, scripts and articles for magazines.

‘Ruth’s Tooth’ – a limerick – was the first published, in 1982 – my most successful poem, being reprinted seven times in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US in the next thirty years . Both adults and children respond with laughter, giving me much pleasure. (See A-Z of Poets)


5. Which competitions have you won?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The biggest thrill was being Winner of the Open Poetry Prize, Mackay Arts Festival, Queensland, 1987, with a ballad, ‘Devlin’s Ghost’. The last line of each verse was repeated with a slight change in wording, and presented in italics, inviting the reader to whisper in the presence of the ghost. I had compiled a collection, A Bluey of Swaggies, and I used many of the anecdotes, character studies and events to create poems.

A rhyming poem, ‘A Goer in Murtoa’, won the Murtoa Big Day Out Poetry Competition, Humour Section, in 2010. I based it on the theme of the popular TV series about young people seeking partners in the country.

In 2011, a free verse poem, ‘A One-bird Band’, won the Murtoa Big Weekend Poetry Competition, Contemplative Section. The subject is the well-known performing lyrebird in the Dandenong Ranges. The poem is unusual in that it ends with a five-line rhyming verse – a joyful conclusion.


6. Which type of poem do you prefer to write, and why?

I like writing both free and rhyming verse, with the latter being preferred as I’m able to structure in a way that brings a poem to a satisfying last line. See samples of both:

I write both serious and humorous verse, with a preference for humorous, based on the madness of the English language, absurd situations, logical nonsense, odd place names, common sayings being taken literally…

I like writing short, such as limericks, and long – stories based on jokes with a sequence of events and a surprise ending, and stories imagined after reading a cryptic summary.


7. When you write a poem, what is the starting point?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             It depends on the type of poem. As the last line is the most important in every poem, I usually start with it, playing with the words until I’m satisfied. Then the rest of the poem follows. This is a necessity for limericks and poems based on riddles and jokes and the madness of the English language (homonyms, homographs and homophones).

A long poem may start with a tiny summary of a story (e.g. the ‘Odd Spot’ in The Age newspaper). A sequence of events is needed, and I work out the number of verses, then the structure and the rhyming scheme. Sometimes a chorus springs to mind and I work on it so that the repetition after each verse, and at the end, is enticing.


8. Have you ever taught poetry?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have talked about poetry (rather than taught) at two levels: to adults and to children. With adults (at CAE classes) I have read my poems and explained what inspired them and how I achieved certain results. This was satisfying when participants, working alone or in pairs, tried some of my methods.

With classes of children, I have read my poems and found that the best way to give them pleasure is, after reading and discussing, to present them on charts so that children can see the structure and the rhyming scheme. (A power-point presentation is the way today.)

Children who enjoy a poem, such as ‘Toggannoggera’ (a place name), giggle even more when they see how other ‘og’ words (log, fog, bog, dog…), when extended, add humour to the final line in each verse. (See A-Z of Poets.)


9. Do you belong to a community of poets?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I am a member of the C J Dennis Society, and attend the annual festival in October in his honour at the Singing Gardens which was his home in Toolangi in the Yarra Valley Ranges, Victoria.

For many years I attended the monthly meetings of the ARVOS (Australian Rhyming Verse Orators on Sundays) on the first Sunday of each month. Like-minded poets and poetry-lovers read or recite by a huge log fire in the Scout Hall in Kew.


10. Do you have any favourite poets?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 As child my favourites were A. A Milne, A. B. Paterson, Henry Lawson and C J Dennis, and I still find their poetry appealing.

When I was a teen I adored John Keats (1795-1821), especially the sensuous language of his Odes ‘to a Nightingale’, ‘to Autumn’, ‘on a Grecian Urn’, and ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’. As an adult I have long loved the reclusive US poet, Emily Dickinson (1831-86), and her penetrating, often moving and insightful observations of life. My favourite Australian is Judith Wright (1915-2000), especially her later poems expressing political and environmental concerns. The words of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker, 1920-93) are always moving.

During the last thirty years I have enjoyed reading the works of contemporary poets: Colin Thiele, Bill Scott, Max Fatchen, Michael Dugan, Doug McLeod, Bill Condon, Dianne Bates, Duncan Ball, Sally Odgers and, more recently, Lorraine Marwood, Claire Saxby, Janeen Brian, Meredith Costain, Mark Carthew.

My current favourites for children are Bill Condon, Dr Stephen Whiteside and Jackie Hosking. Condon’s awareness of language, his wit, word-play and lop-sided logic bring delight to readers and listeners. Whiteside, who has had a long association with performance, brings humour or philosophy (often both) to his lively creations on a huge range of subjects. Hosking creates flowing, flawless rhyming poetry, and generously gives time to stimulating the poetry-writing-for-children community. And Dianne Bates not only writes splendid poetry, but has created the perfect blog, read daily by many, which unites the Australian children’s poetry world.


11. Have any poets influenced you as a poet?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  In about 2007, Stephen Whiteside introduced me to ARVOS and encouraged me to perform. Discovering which poems my listeners enjoyed spurred me to write more humorous verse. When I was introduced to Lorraine Marwood and Sherryl Clark and their free verse in the 2010s, I began to write more free verse.


12. Are there any books of children’s poetry you could recommend to readers?                                                                                                                                                                                                If you enjoy free verse, read Lorraine Marwood’s collections, including A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems. Stephen Whiteside’s recently released collection of rhyming poetry is the Billy that Died with its Boots On and Other Australian Verse.

Interest by publishers in rhyming picture-stories waxes and wanes. Considering the fact that all Dr Seuss’s picture-stories are in rhyme and are never out-of-print, this is inexplicable. After a long period of non-acceptance rhyming p/s are being published again, the latest being Jackie Hosking’s The Croc and the Platypus.



10 thoughts on “Interview with Edel Wignell

  1. It was great to read Edel’s interview, and fantastic that others younger than me, will get to know about her. Edel has been writing successfully for a very long time, and her work crosses over a number of genres. Not only does she write excellent verse, picture books, and non-fiction titles, but her young adult novel Escape By Deluge, is brilliant. Just a couple of years ago she was shortlisted in the CBCA Awards with her non-fiction picture book, Bilby Secrets. Well done, Edel!

    • First cab! Thousand thanks, Janeen. I suffer from typos, too – frequently!
      Very generous, Bill. I’m super-grateful.
      Gratitude, Errol – always kind and thoughtful (and rarely suffering from typos!)

  2. What a wonderful interview – I love reading about how writers came to be, their loves and their inspirations, you’ve certainly been an inspiration to me!

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