Some Thoughts on Poetry

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Why do I read it?

  1. For the love of word play, rich language, words used in original and thought-provoking ways, the way poems are structured, the way they read rhythmically (especially when read aloud)
  2. Some poems make me laugh and think and feel
  3. All poems inspire me to be more creative
  4. Poems teach me that everyone has their own voice, even if they all wrote on the same subjects
  5. To see how other poets have shaped their poems, to study the rhythms, the language use, how they begin and develop and end (to help me become a better poet)
  6. The best poems remind me not to be ordinary in my own writing.

 

What do I read?

1, Lyrical poetry by poets such as those by Pablo Neruda, Max Williams, Margaret Atwood, Kate Llwellyn, Rodney Hall, Garth Madsen, Jorie Albinson, Sylvia Plath, Galway Kinnell, Ann Sexton.

Ann Bell & Colleen Burke are two Australian poets who write lyrical poetry suitable for children that I love to read. Overseas poets whose lyrical poetry I love include Walter De La Mare, Valerie Worth, James Stephens and Rachel Field.

2. I read poems for enjoyment, because they make me laugh and often make me see the world in an original way, and because they often express exactly how I feel. Children’s poets whose writing I enjoy include Bill Condon, Elizabeth Honey, Max Fatchen, Doug McLeod, Steven Herrick, Lorraine Marwood (all Australian), Colin McNaughton, Jack Prelutsky, Roger McGough, Michael Rosen, Spike Milligan, Shel Silverstein et al.

3. Anthologies: a. recognise poets whose work I enjoy, themes which interest me, variety of styles and subjects, because of the artwork, because I recognise the compiler and know he/she is skilled (for example John Foster, Pie Corbett, Kenn Nesbitt, Graham Denton).

4. Song lyrics, verse on packages, graffiti,

 

Further Observations:

I hate reading poems which I can’t understand, usually because the poet has tried to be super-smart – and failed!

I have favourite individual poems and collect them, paste them into books and often re-read them (I sometimes accompany the poems with appropriate illustrations, including photos). In a special notebook, I also write poetic words and phrases which touch some part of me.

I love writing poems, especially for particularly people to celebrate events in their lives or to celebrate that those people are in my life, and also because writing poems helps me express my feelings and thoughts

© Dianne (Di) Bates

Di Bates is the compiler of Our Home is Dirt by Sea, a collection of children’s poems by Australian poets, to be published in 2016 by Walker Books Australia.

NOTE: If you would like to share your thoughts and feelings about reading and/or writing poetry, send them to dibates@outlook.com for publication in this blog. Don’t forget to include a biography.

Poem of the Day

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As Like as Two Peas

I wanted a brother,

But was warned by my mother

That we might get the other.

But no! It was twins!

Then Pa comes to stay,

His grandsons he sees.

‘Why bless me!’ he cries,

‘As like as two peas.’

 

Identical boys,

Double the noise,

Duplicate toys.

A pigeon pair!

Two mouths that dribble,

Two heads that nod,

As like as two peas –

Two peas in a pod.

 

Hair that is fair,

Gums that are bare,

Four eyes that stare.

Help! Mirror image!

To tell them apart,

Mum says it’s a breeze,

All but their ears

Are as like as two peas.

 

By Edel Wignell

© The Australian Society of Authors

 

Poem of the Day

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Code-Breaker

 

I strolled down to the park last week

To watch a game of cricket.

They speak a different language there –

Please, what’s a sticky wicket?

 

I stood with rapt attention

But soon became downhearted.

How is something over when

It hasn’t even started?

 

I thought most bowls held soup or fruit

And bats could squeak and fly,

That bowlers were a type of hat

And maidens rather shy.

 

The people sitting on the grass

All loved to clap and shout.

They yelled out things like “Four!” “No, six!”

And “Is he still in or out?”

 

They had a tea-break halfway through,

The sandwiches were good.

I concentrated really hard

But still misunderstood.

 

The next time I go for a walk

And see a cricket match,

I might learn how to spin a bowl

Or not to drop a catch.

 

My girlfriend doesn’t seem convinced.

“You’re all confused”, she said.

“Why fuss with all those words and rules –

Try something else instead.

 

I’ll walk beside you to the park;

Don’t buy that cricket glove.

We’ll sit and watch the tennis where

At least they speak of love.”

 

© Elaine Harris

“Teaching” Poetry in Primary Schools

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Many years ago, I was bouncing along quite happily in the middle of a poetry presentation at a primary school, when I noticed with some consternation that the teacher who had booked me, and who was sitting in the audience, was not smiling

My consternation turned to dread when she stood up with stern countenance and left the room, returning a short time later with a man I (correctly) assumed to be the principal. A black cloud hovered above them both as they sat stolidly together through the remainder of my show.

In spite of all this, I felt I did a good job. I could see the kids were happy, too. Nevertheless, I could see these two were clearly not.

I decided to be proactive, and approached them both shortly after the show. “Is there anything wrong?” I asked, with trepidation.

“But you didn’t teach them anything!” came the angry reply.

I was speechless.

I was confident I had entertained – perhaps even inspired – for a good half hour, probably longer. I had very possibly also introduced many to a new art form, and demonstrated the power of performance poetry and rhyming verse. Isn’t that lesson enough? What did they want from me? A technical dissertation on the various forms that rhyming verse can take – iambic pentameter, etc.? A discussion on rhyming patterns? The place of rhyming verse in Australia’s cultural history and geography? Some thoughts on the bush poetry revival? An attempt to unearth the international antecedents of the writing of Paterson, Lawson, et al? All of this I could have attempted, and more…if I had felt it was appropriate, but I didn’t. Indeed, I have always taken the view that primary school is not the time to ‘teach’ poetry to children. I was ‘taught’ poetry at that age, and it is a miracle that my love of poetry survived the process.

So far as the actual ‘writing’ of rhyming verse is concerned, it is really beyond primary school children. I know that from experience, and from discussion with other poets. Sure, children can find rhyming words, but the whole process of metre (the really hard part), of making lines scan, is – with perhaps the occasional brilliant exception – quite beyond them.

These days, if I am asked to perform poetry in a primary school, or conduct a workshop, I spend a fair bit of time trying to talk myself out of the gig by explaining all the things I do NOT do. Even then, trouble can ensue.

“Oh, but I thought you would still do such and such.” (Somebody wasn’t listening…)

So, what does it mean, exactly, to teach poetry? I have always felt my shows are highly educational. I should add that I also always begin them with some discussion of poets and poetry.

To my mind, there is plenty of time in secondary school for a more formal, analytical approach to poetry – if, indeed, it must happen at all.

Sadly, though, not everybody agrees.

What do you think?

 

© Stephen Whiteside   12.08.2014

 

Poem of the Day

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Mother and Child

warren cox

Once … upon a long ago

we sat inside the quiet

and watched the sun-kissed waters drift

beneath the morning light.

 

A place without a number;

a world with no address;

tucked away behind the trees

where Golden Whistlers nest.

 

Where thoughts so soft and gentle

filled my mind with peace.

And locked me in a moment

that I hoped would never cease.

 

But nothing lasts for always

and time will have its way.

The world and I have aged since then

and dimmed my yesterday.

 

Yet still one memory strong and clear

rests safe where it was filed.

A snapshot of the love that is

a mother and her child.

 

© Warren Cox

Poem of the Day

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Silly Shifts

 

All traffic jams jump questions.

No one can lose a dog in a hurry.

Therefore every day has a shape.

******

All fires have a starting point.

There is only one sky.

Therefore clouds surrender at will.

*******

All squares have four corners.

Fish rarely swim in circles.

Therefore the ocean may look flat.

********

© Katherine Gallagher

 

Writing for Children without Writing about Children

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During the recent national SCBWI Conference in Sydney, I heard a quote which stuck in my mind. I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this: “So many writers seem to think children want to read about Nature, but most of all, children want to read about children”.

A pang of guilt instantly swept through me, because I know am one of the writers guilty of that crime — if that is indeed what it is.

Of course I know that children want to read about children, and of course I do often write for children about children. But some of the time – much of the time – perhaps even too much of the time – I write for children about Nature.

So why do I do it?

The first and most obvious reason is that as a child I was introduced to the natural world – the beach, the sea, the forest, the mountains – and the birds and beasts that therein dwell, and loved it. So it is natural enough that I should wish to pass this love and appreciation on to the next generation.

Yet there is an even stronger urge to write about Nature for children, and it is this. So much of what I took for granted as a child is no longer available to children today and, on current trends, the situation will be even worse for the next generation. The reasons for this are complex, and I do not fully understand them all. Indeed, I doubt if anybody does.

The threats to wildlife seem to mount exponentially, and outstrip our ability to deal with them effectively. There was a time, for example, when it was considered sufficient to simply protect an area from development in order to protect the wildlife living there. Now, this is no longer enough. I heard recently of a national park in the Northern Territory (I think it was Kakadu) where wildlife numbers are falling in spite of what would appear to be adequate protective measures being in place.

Off the coast of British Columbia, orcas (killer whales) are no longer physically assaulted in any way (in the past they have been shot at by fishermen, and captured for public display), yet their numbers are falling. Furthermore, it is the young adults that are predominantly dying. It seems quite possible that humans are simply outcompeting orcas for salmon, causing them to suffer from malnutrition.

Across the face of the planet, human numbers continue to grow, and spread into new areas to live. Despite our best intentions, it would appear we are unable to protect animals from ourselves.

Dystopian visions of a world without animals and birds, perhaps with sophisticated robotic replacements, abound. Perhaps this is indeed the future that our children’s children’s children face.

Personally, I hate to think of a world without birdsong, without the blow of a whale, kangaroo footprints on the beach, or a wombat patiently making its way across a snowfield.

Anything that I can do to promote in the children of today a curiosity in and a love of the natural world I will do. I certainly don’t want to preach, but I do want to educate, and perhaps even inspire.

There may come a time when all that is left of the world’s fauna and flora is photographs and recordings, and references in poems, songs and stories. Until that time comes, though, I will continue to search for ways to pass on to the children of today my own sense of wonder and awe at the natural world. Of course, I will also continue to write about children for children.

© Stephen Whiteside   08.08.2014