Interview with Sally Murphy


Sally Small

“It is really hard to get poetry published in Australia – there are few markets for individual poems as well as collections. The best way to fix this is by sharing poetry with children in positive ways as often as possible. Books and magazines are published when there is demand for them. When was the last time you bought a poetry book? Was it published in Australia?” -Sally Murphy

When did your interest in poetry begin and what were the circumstances?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love poetry. As a child, my mum read me poetry including the rhymes of Dr Seuss books, and I remember AA Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson especially. I loved the sounds, the silliness, the strangeness of poetry. We had a set of Childcraft Books and I remember adoring the poetry one especially – with rhymes such as the very famous one about a Purple Cow.

What was your experience with poetry as a child at school? 

All positive, especially in primary school where I remember poetry being something I loved to learn and recite, as well as to experiment with writing my own. In high school I discovered the wonders of free verse poetry, which fascinated me. My only struggle with poetry in high school was when I studied Literature in year 11 and 12 and started to panic that I didn’t know the right answers.

Did you write poetry as a child?

Yes. I wrote everything as a child! Writing was my favourite thing to do in class – and out of it.

When was your first poem published?

As a child, in school magazines, which used to be printed on the old purple-inked gestetners. Also in the local paper, the Collie Mail, where there were sometimes writing competitions. As an adult, my first published poem was for adults in the Australian Multicultural Review, but since then all of my published poetry has been for children, because that is who I write for.

Who are some poets whose writing you love?

How long have you got? Contemporary poets I love include Steven Herrick, Lorraine Marwood, Anne Bell (all Australian) as well as Joyce Sidman, Jane Yolen, Valerie Worth. I adore the work of William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, TS Elliot, William Blake. Shall I go on?

Have you had any poetry writing mentors?

Not really. I do read a lot of poetry and try to figure out what makes it great – but those poets don’t know they are mentoring me by example, lol

What inspires you to write poetry?

All sorts of things! I guess chiefly I remember though how I felt about poetry as a child, and how it still makes me feel, and I want to spread that joy.

When you are writing a poem, what comes first — a subject, a line, a word?

That varies. Often it’s thinking about something I’ve seen or heard or felt, and wanting to capture my response in words. Other times though it’s a word or phrase that comes to me that I want to play with.

Do you workshop your poems with anyone?

Not nearly enough. It’s something I’d like to do more, but I find it hard to find the opportunity to sit down with other poets and share work.

How do you know a poem you write is finished?

I don’t! sometimes when a poem is published I look at it and think – oh – I wonder why I didn’t say this or that? But mostly, after lots of drafts and tweaking, I let a poem rest for as long as I can and then, if I get it back out and it reads well and I can find no more tweaks needed, then I submit it.   Often, though, as I said, later I’ll realise a way I could have changed it.

How do you know a poem is ‘good’?

That’s a hard one. I’m very critical of my own work and so not necessarily the best judge of if it’s any good. But if a poem makes me feel when I pick it back up – feel sad, or happy, or tingly –then that’s a sign that I might be on the right track.



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