Poetry Box Interview: John Parker plus a poem by Libby



If you look on his website you will see that John Parker has had all kinds of jobs (from postie to tv actor to house painter). Most importantly he is a children’s author who has many writing strings to his bow. He can write for all ages (not everyone can do this!). He can write great stories, non-fiction that sparks my interest and lively poetry. He has written over 130 books and lots of his writing has appeared in the School Journals (which is where I first discovered his poems). John was born in Christchurch but now lives in Auckland.

home_john  books_dragon books_frontier4

If you scroll down you will find a poem by John and a poem by Libby D from Prebbleton SchooI, but first I asked John a few questions:

Did you have any favourite poems as a child?

When I was young, AA Milne was one of my favourite poets. I had two of his poetry books. One was When We Were Very Young.   The other was Now We Are Six. I loved the way all his words came together so rhythmically and how they made music for me. I liked so many of his poems, but I’ll just choose two.

The first is “Spring Morning” from When We Were Very Young. It still makes me want to get outside and feel the sun on my face, and listen to the birds and the conversation between the wind and the trees.

And the second is “King John’s Christmas” in Now We Are Six.  It’s a about a lonely man who got the present he wanted at Christmas, and it reminds me that no matter who or what we are, it’s important that we are as happy as we can be.

Do you have a tip for young poets?

I have three tips.

Learn to love words and to explore them. They have different sounds and shapes and weight. Some are long and leisurely. Some are short and snappy. Some are as sharp as a tiger’s teeth. Some are as soft as a feather-down pillow.

If you can, carry some paper and a pen with you to most places. Then you’ll be ready to catch that special thought that suddenly flies into your mind as a result of what you see or hear or experience.

Great poems can be just a few words long. The important thing is to make them the best words you can.

Did you like to write about real things or use your imagination or a bit of both?

Most of my poems or writing start from something that’s real.  I couldn’t write about a talking lion, for example, unless I’d seen a lion and got to know how it moved and ate and behaved. Then I could put my imagination into it. One of my books is about a cat that climbed a rainbow – but first I noticed how my pet cat, Mister, effortlessly climbed up a tree. The real happening seemed to act as a springboard into the imaginative story. That’s how it often works for me.

Do you have any favourite kinds of poems?

I like the ones which discover something new in familiar things and which make you nod your head and say, “That’s so true!”  or “I’d never thought of that before!” And because we live most of our lives in familiar surroundings, such poems are important in keeping us alive to different possibilities and ways of looking at things. When I come across a poem like that, it feels as a window has been opened in my brain and a breath of fresh air has blown in!

Did you like writing as a child?

Well, I certainly liked the look of words on paper, especially when I could use the keys of my dad’s typewriter.  That black print on white paper was mysterious and wonderful and I could sense its potential. I read anything and everything, too. Reading and writing go together like fish-and-chips. It’s a magical combination.

books_john       schools_parapenting     books_sucked

Thanks John. What I love about John’s writing is that he can make you laugh and he can make you think. His poems show me he loves to play with words — they are acrobatic, flavoursome and often put a smile on my face. I definitely want to include some in the anthology I am editing. John has given me permission to post a poem and I couldn’t decided whether to post Mr Swash which is full of fun, imagination and zany sounds or Finding a Poem which made me think.

I have picked Finding a Poem because it is all about getting ideas for poems and what you want your poems to do. John says he would love his poems to ‘dance like a butterfly‘ or ‘prance like a unicorn‘ or ‘sting like a bee.’ The more we write, the more we discover how many different things our poems can do. I love the way John’s poem has two halves. In the first half the poet is listening out for a poem and in the second half the skinny cat on the fence ends up giving him his starting point.

The photos I have posted from John’s website show he is trying out as many wonderful things outside as he is inside his poems!

Finding A Poem

I feel there’s a poem calling me in a stale room.

I can’t presume,

but if I could get at it,

give it air,

it might dance like a butterfly,

sing like a forest of bellbirds,

prance like a unicorn,

sting like a bee –


but the front door’s locked,

and rattling the knob won’t do it for me.


The back door’s shut, too.


There’s no key under the mat.


As I wonder what to do

I sense a pair of eyes.

I’m being observed by a skinny cat,

sitting on a brown wooden fence.


It watches me try round the house.

Maybe there’s an open window?

A gap to squeeze through?

A point of entry?



So I turn to go –

then the cat rubs hard against my leg, purring.

Its green eyes stare at me, unblinking.

Suddenly a stirring –

is this the poem I’ve been searching for?


© John Parker

Reading John’s poem reminded me of the poem Libby  sent me from Prebbleton School in Christchurch. Libby is in Year 8. I really loved the way Libby has concentrated with her ears and eyes on a moment and made that moment come alive on the page. It took me back to my school days at Horahora Primary when the class was writing. I would feel my pen turn from the solid brick to something buzzing across the page. It was pure joy! Great job Libby — your pen got moving and now we have poetry.

Writer’s Block

It sounds like clicking pens and sighs of boredom.

It looks like flaring nostrils and tired eyes.

It sounds like frustrated hands and brains.

It looks like twitching eyebrows and loud tapping pens.

My pen is a brick, as solid as a brick.

It won’t move.

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