Reading and writing should be enjoyable. If you enjoy a book or poem, share it with as many people as you can. If you want to write poetry, you should. You don’t have to show your poems to anyone, or send them to be published, but putting your thoughts and feelings into a few well chosen words can help to record important moments, or whittle huge emotions down to a manageable size. – Nadine Cranenburgh
When did your interest in poetry begin and what were the circumstances?
I was lucky to grow up in a house full of books with parents who were great readers. As a kid I loved Robert Louis Stephenson and AA Milne, as well as the legendary Dr Seuss. All rhyming poets, which is probably why I am such a rhymer myself! Reading poetry is so important, it teaches you to make images out of feelings, which is a good way of dealing with big emotions.
What was your experience with poetry as a child at school?
The only poem I remember studying at school was one about football in year nine or ten, which I didn’t like very much. I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t a very attentive student, and spent most of my time daydreaming. I did memorise poetry that I read in my own time – Disobedience by AA Milne and The Highwayman are two which come to mind, which gives you an idea of what my poor teachers were up against.
Did you write poetry as a child?
Yes, I still have a booklet full of texta illustrated haiku about apples, cats and other fun things that I think my mum used to get me to work on to keep me busy when I was quite little. Also some lovelorn sonnets and very emotional and unpolished scribbles from my teenage years which I will never, ever show anybody! I didn’t think of poetry as something to be shared or published until quite recently, it was always very personal.
When was your first poem published?
My first poem to be published in print was one I wrote for adults in free verse, which appeared in page seventeen magazine last year and was also shortlisted in their annual competition. This was a bit of a surprise as most of the poems I write are rhyming and for kids! I’m also waiting for one of my poems to appear in an upcoming issue of Ladybug magazine in the US. Before these successes I had some interesting experiences. My first acceptance for publication was from an online children’s site, but the publisher had to stop maintaining the site for personal reasons before my poem went up. I also had a rhyming picture book accepted by a small publisher, but that also fell through. What these experiences taught me was that while it is wonderful to have someone like your work enough to want to publish it, you shouldn’t make this your only goal – it isn’t something you can control. Sites like Australian Children’s Poetry are also a great way of getting poems out to readers (thank you) as are Sally Odger’s Prints Charming anthologies. If you make your poems as good as they can be, and are patient and proactive, you will find a way to get them out into the world if that is what you want.
Who are some poets whose writing you love?
Some I have mentioned above. I also love Lorraine Marwood, particularly her verse novel Star Jumps, Claire Saxby for her clever word play and Michael Rosen and Julia Donaldson for individuality and brilliance.
Have you had any poetry writing mentors?
I’ve been very grateful to wonderful rhymer Jackie Hosking for her encouragement and advice on the poetry publishing landscape. She was a guest speaker in my Children’s Writing course quite a few years ago, and came armed with a list of publishers who accepted children’s poetry. That list made me realise that I could send my poetry out to be published, which was something I’d never considered before. Jackie also has a rhyming editing service, and a newsletter about children’s publishing, Pass it On, which I highly recommend.
What inspires you to write poetry?
I’m mostly a rhyming poet, so I’m attracted to rhythms and music in words. Usually there will be a phrase, an image or feeling that is bouncing along in my head, and it needs to find a rhythm or rhyme that fits it before it goes any further. Often the first three or four lines come to me and I fiddle around with them in my imagination and speak them aloud before writing them down. My kids are usually supportive of this poetic babbling, but sometimes ask if I will go somewhere else so they can have some peace.
Do you workshop your poems with anyone?
I’m a big fan of workshopping, it really helps me gain the confidence to send poems out to readers. I have some trusted workshopping buddies that I’ve met during writing courses and mentorships. I know they understand my work and will give me constructive advice to make it better. It is really important to workshop with the right people. Usually I don’t workshop anything until I’ve done many drafts and just need a test audience to make sure it works for others as well as me! Recently I have also participated in some online events including Kat Apel’s Month of Poetry and Rhyming Picture Book Month, and I’ve now got specific poetry workshopping groups too.
How do you know a poem you write is finished?
A difficult question! For rhyming poems, they need to be able to be read by a wide range of readers without tripping over the rhythms, so I get my long suffering partner to road test them for me. But I also think that the poem’s theme needs to be clear, whether it is rhyming or not. This can sometimes be very tricky, and is a unique process for each poem. Workshopping can help!
How do you know a poem is ‘good’?
Another hard question… I think value judgements about poetry, and all creative writing, are very subjective. There are many writing skills and techniques that you can analyse and learn, but ultimately a ‘good’ poem for me is one that makes me feel something or gives me a new perspective on a subject. In terms of judging my own poems, I think they get better over many drafts and through workshopping. Even then, I accept that not everyone will enjoy them, and that’s fine.
Join the dots
Dot to dot, spot to spot
1, 2, 3 – what have we got?
Pricked up ears with pointy tips
then the eyes and nose and lips
Dot to dot, spot to spot
4, 5, 6 – I’m running hot
Outstretched paw, thick sausage tail,
springy feet to leap and sail
Dot to dot spot to spot
7, 8 – the final jot…
Puffed out chest, another paw,
roomy pouch to hold one more
Dot to dot, spot to spot
9 and 10 – can you guess what?
My mother hitched a sac of hopes high in her final tree
then as her gentle light dimmed out, a cloud of parachutes skimmed out
they whirled and wafted, wheeled about
and one of them was me
I watch my sisters weave their webs and send a voiceless plea
Inside my prison staring out, my silent treaties blaring out
I clamber, crawl and climb about
Why won’t you set me free?