Peter Bland is one of my favourite poets for children. He lives in New Zealand but has spent his life living between here and England with his family. His poems are on all kinds of subjects but the words always dance and dart, swing and skate as though they are in playground. Peter knows how to play with words and he knows how to write for children.
Peter has published two collections of poems for children: The Night Kite (Mallinson Rendel, 2004) and When Gulls Fly High (Penguin, 2011). His daughter (Joanna Bland) painted pictures for one and his son (Carl Bland) painted pictures for the other which makes these two books pretty special. I have so many favourite poems in these books that it was hard choosing one to post here! You will have to hunt for his books yourself. The poems are always playful and will take you to all kinds of places and put you in all kinds of moods.
Peter has kindly given me permission to post one of his poems. I picked ‘The Bed Boat’ as I love the way an ordinary thing (like your bed) can become so much else. I also love the words on the end of the line and their tricky rhymes.
The Bed Boat
My bed is a boat.
The mattress won’t leak.
My head-board’s a rudder,
my sail is a sheet.
I sail every night
exploring my room,
past wardrobes like ships,
past mirrors like moons.
As I drift into sleep
my bed-boat sails on,
though where it sails to
is known to no one.
But when I wake up,
my voyage safely done,
I throw back the curtains
and let in the sun.
© Peter Bland The Night Kite Mallinson Rendel 2004
Peter kindly answered these questions for Poetry Box:
What did you like to write when you were little?
I wasn’t encouraged to use my imagination or write anything as a child. I mostly did drawings of battleships and fighter planes and buildings getting blown up. This is because I was brought up in England during the last war. As a ten year old I began drawing things from nature … fossils ans mushrooms and birds and ponds. I also invented maps leading to buried treasure.
What else did you like doing?
I was left on my own a lot, so I took to the wandering through the surrounding countryside exploring.
Do you have any favourite children’s poetry?
I liked Walter de la Mare‘s poetry because it was lonely and spooky and full of mystery.
Do you have three tips for young writers?
Always write about what really interests you.
Have fun with words. Be as silly as you like with them. Learn to speak your own poems to yourself as you’re writing them. Voice is the way a poem comes into the world.
What do you think is important when you write poems for a children’s book?
Try not to offer advice or instruction. Be playful and imaginative and full of physical relish. Children’s poems have to be immediately accessible and bursting with energy and invention. When you write a poem for children it has to take you by surprise as you write it. I wrote a lot of my poems for my own children to read to them at bedtime. This was in the 50’s and 60’s before television. I enjoyed that shared experience so much I’ve gone on writing them. Grown-ups seem to like them as much as children. I think this is because it brings back to life the forgotten child in their own nature. Children have a wonderful ability to be fully at home in the moment, and poetry is very sympathetic to this. It likes to hop and skip.