M13 is a vibrant class of 8 and 9 year olds at Island Bay School. We love writing, singing, Philosophy for Children, Art, and thinking for ourselves. One of the things that visitors love to see when they come to our class is our Literature Circles: we run our own book groups and hold discussions, asking questions and thinking deeply about the ideas in the texts we read. We also love poetry, whether it’s our own, written in our writers’ notebooks, or others’. Earlier on this year we even held our own Poetry Slam: we dressed as Beat Poets and performed poetry for each other. Check out our class blog to discover more about our awesome class: http://m13-ibs.blogspot.co.nz/
Anna Jackson lives in Island Bay, Wellington, with Simon Edmonds and their grown-up children Johnny (20) and Elvira (17), two cats and three chickens (one of which is sitting on fertilised eggs so there may be more chickens soon). She lectures in English at Victoria University of Wellington and has published several academic books on children’s literature, the Gothic, and New Zealand literature, as well as five books of poetry. Her sixth book of poetry, I Clodia, will be published in November.
- What’s your favourite part of your poem ‘Tuatara’ (It is in A Treasury of Poems for Children)?
I think what I like is the way most of it is one long sentence all about the rest of the world moving, then when you get to the tuatara again, the sentence stops. Then there is just one still sentence at the end, a sentence the same as one before. This seems like a good way of capturing the stillness of the tuatara, compared to the rest of the world.
- When you were writing it, what was the first image that popped in to your mind?
I think the back of the tuatara looking like mountains.
- What inspired you to write about a tuatara? Why did you write the ‘Tuatara’ poem?
I was writing about New Zealand animals and birds. I have poems about moa, kokako, huia and takahe as well. I think I like the takahe one best of the bird poems.
- Were you observing hills when you wrote ‘Tuatara’?
No, I just thought about them.
- What do you think is the best word you used in ‘Tuatara’?
I don’t think any of the words are very special, apart from the word tuatara! It isn’t about the words, the words are just doing word-work, making us think about the things they refer to.
- How long does it take to write one poem?
It depends a lot. Sometimes just a little while, ten minutes maybe? But often a lot longer, because I keep working away at it and changing the words. Sometimes I will come back to a bit of poem I started months ago, and turn it into a new poem.
- What’s the most recent poem you’ve written?
It was one about Susan Sontag, who is an essayist I saw a film about. She was very frightened of dying and so I wrote about that fear and all the ways we have to not be frightened. And I thought about my hens and how good they are at just being happy every day and not thinking ahead, so I wrote about them in the poem as well.
- How long have you been a poet for?
Since I bought a typewriter when I was twenty-something, so more than twenty years!
- Are your poems/stories sometimes sad?
Yes, sometimes they are sad and sometimes they are about being sad. One is about being so sad, when the person tries to talk an ocean pours out of her mouth – like crying from your mouth. One poem I wrote made me cry when I wrote it. It can be consoling to write a poem when you are sad though. You might still be sad, but you can still be happy about having written a poem.
- What is the first image that you can think up in your mind?
I can always think of my hens! But do you mean a metaphor, or something imagined? I can imagine the construction cranes I see out of my window nodding their heads up and down and walking across the harbour.
- When did you start writing? What age were you when you started poetry?
I think when I was at primary school I mostly wrote stories. But they were short, so you could call them poems. Some of the poems I write now are like little short stories.
- Where do you get ideas from? What sort of things inspire your writing?
From talking to people. I think of things to say, and then some of the things I say in a conversation I turn into a poem. A lot of people say really clever, funny things all the time, but they don’t write them down to make poems out of them. Sometimes they turn them into facebook posts instead.
- Do you edit your work? How many times?
Sometimes a poem comes out right the first time, but sometimes I edit it over and over.
- Where do you live? (I heard that your next-door neighbour is Lucinda!)
We live in Jackson street Island Bay and we are very lucky because we have Isaac and Lucinda for neighbours. We have an orchard that we share and Lucinda helped plant the trees. In the weekends when I sit out in the garden, the hens come running up to be with me, and so do Lucinda’s cats, Storm and Cedric. Then there is a lot of drama, because the cats love chasing the hens, and the hens hate being chased, but they keep coming back because they hope I will feed them, and the cats keep hanging round because they like to be stroked.
- What do you usually write about: animals, plants and land?
I more often write about people and the things people say. One poem is about being an envelope and wondering where I’ll be sent. One is about walking past a dog and the dog’s sleeping owner, and thinking about how the dog won’t be able to tell the owner about me when I’ve gone. Some are about going to films, some are about having parties.
- What is your strategy to write such nice and easy poems?
I think anyone can write a nice and easy poem! One poet I like is Frank O’Hara. He used to write about things he saw in his lunch breaks. People said it was too easy so why did he bother? But his poems are so sweet and funny, all the things he saw and what he thought about them.
- What makes you happy?
Playing with Lucinda’s cats and finding bugs for my hens. Having dinner with my family – my son Johnny is twenty and was living in Auckland but now he has come home and lives with us. That makes me happy.
- Do you like writing for children or adults?
I like it when children like the poems I wrote for adults. I was pleased when I heard about children reading the Pastoral Kitchen book, which is one with a lot of animal poems in. And I wrote a book called “Catullus for Children” which adults and children read. It is about primary-school age children. I don’t write many poems just for children.
- Do you do anything other than write poems? Are you just a poet or do you have another job?
I do have another job. I work at the university, writing about books and giving lectures about books.
- Do you think you will always be a poet?
What a wonderful interview Anna and