An Interview: Joy Cowley likes words ‘as fresh as a breaking wave’ on Poetry Box …


I have written about Joy Cowley before on Poetry Box as I think she is a wonderful author. She writes all kinds of books. Books that make imaginative leaps and skips; books full of delicious poems, picture books, chapter books and books that are based on facts. Thanks to Random House, the winner of the bird-poem competition will get a copy of Joy’s book, Manukura: The White Kiwi with illustrations by Bruce Potter (2012).

IMG   Elephant-Rhymes-5678770-4

Her poems are really good to read aloud (which is the mark of a good poem I think). Her elephant poems are such fun and her cat poems are some of my favourites.

Joy very kindly offered to answer some questions I sent her. I loved reading her answers because I could really identify with what she said (especially about writing poems!). And I do love her tip. It is a very good one.

What did you like to write when you were little? 

When I was little I was obsessed with drawing pictures. They were my “stories.” I was a late reader and didn’t start writing stories and poems until I was ten – eleven. I liked making up stories and thought nonfiction, especially essays, were tedious.

What did else did you like to do in your spare time when you were little?

I was the eldest of five children with parents who had ill health. Most of my time out of school was concerned with domestic chores. I didn’t mind this because I learned a lot of life skills at an early age. I particularly liked cooking, gardening, chopping wood  for the stove, and mending things.

Name three of your favourite New Zealand children’s books. What do you like about them?

Top of my list would be Margaret Mahy‘s “Memory.” It’s a story beautifully told, about a 14 years old boy and an elderly woman with dementia. I enjoyed Sherryl Jordan‘s “Rocco” as the first of some fine fantasy writing from a New Zealander. Maurice Gee‘s “Under the Mountain” was the first fantasy novel set in this country. These books are historical, I know, but they left indelible impressions. [Great picks! I loved these books too. Paula]

Do you have any favourite poetry books for children?

I enjoy poetry for children but don’t have any single favourite. I grew up with AA Milne‘s poems for children, and then read Dr Seuss to my own children. These days children have a rich variety of poetry from many authors.

You are really good at writing poems for children as your words dance in the ear and your poems are such fun. What do you think is important when you write a poem?

You use the word ‘dance.” I like words that dance, words that are delicious in the mouth, words that are as fresh as a breaking wave, words that run their fingers up your spine, words that open doors to places that are beyond words. Most of us learn to talk by hearing words repeated. Ordinary conversational language tends to lay down tracks like railway lines in our minds, and when we sit down to write, these are the words that will come to us first. When we write a poem, we need to look beyond ordinary everyday language and find new ways of saying what we mean, ways that will make an impression on the reader.

Do you have any tips for young writers? 

If you can’t think of exciting new words, make up some.

Thank you Joy Cowley. If anyone wants to add a comment about Joy’s interview, her writing and books please do!

2 thoughts on “An Interview: Joy Cowley likes words ‘as fresh as a breaking wave’ on Poetry Box …

  1. Jan Shoupe

    Joy Cowley=my favorite, my inspiration! I love using her books in my kindergarten classroom! I attended a children’s writers workshop years ago and got to work with her. Earlier this year I had a leveled reader published where she was the editor of the series. She continues to inspire me and her stories help me teach children to learn to love reading and books. She is the best!!!


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