The Treasury Interviews: Anna interviews Siobhan Harvey

Hi my name is Anna Praill and this is my autobiography. I was born in London 2003, December 4th, 5:59am. I lived there for 9 months in an apartment before we moved to New Zealand for good. I am now 10 years old and currently attend Khandallah School as a year 6 student. I live in Johnsonville, Wellington. I have a father named John, a mother named Esther and an 8 year old brother called Jacob. I have two cats and four gold fish. I have recently acted in a film but am considering writing as a career.


Siobhan Harvey photo


Biography of Siobhan Harvey

Siobhan Harvey is one of the coolest poets I have ever heard of. She is a prose writer, editor, reviewer, and teacher as well as a poet (that is a lot of jobs). She has taught in Manchester UK and at the University of Auckland NZ! She is the poetry editor of Takahe magazine, a NZSA mentor, an editor working for International Literary Quarterly and she has been the National Coordinator of National Poetry Day ever since 2009 (someone else took over this year I think, Paula). Her writing can be found in a lot of places around the world, it was even broadcasted on the radio. Siobhan lives in Auckland and recently published another book called Cloudboy this year (2014).

The Interview:

What mark would you like to leave in the world (a.k.a what would you like to have accomplished) by the time you pass away?

Having and raising a child is one of my proudest accomplishments. Beyond this, in relation to Question number 2, if my work has helped or in the future helps to change one person’s thinking about a Gifted and/or Autistic child that would be a mark I would be honoured to leave in the world.
I have heard that you have recently written a mature poetry book about your son, why?

The book is called Cloudboy and it was published by Otago University Press. It won the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award which is New Zealand’s richest poetry prize. It is about a boy who has Autism and is Gifted, and his mother, and their fraught journey through the boy’s first years at primary school. Lots of the poems in this book were inspired by my son, his Autism and his journey through his first primary school. I wrote these poems as a way of coping and analysing the difficult times he and I went through with his first primary school, the rejection and discrimination he faced. Cloudboy is about the wonderful imagination children like my son have, and wanted readers to realise that too often people, including teachers only see the difficult things a child with Autism has. Children like my son find school a really difficult journey; there are many, many great teachers and schools in New Zealand who understand and help these children and help to make their journeys good journeys. But I wanted to write the book to make it clear that there is still prejudice out there and to try, in a small way, to help change the opinions of those people who continue to hold such prejudice.

When you were a child what did you want to do when you grew up?

I wanted to be, have always and only ever wanted to be a writer. I don’t know why or where this need to write comes from. I know nothing of my ancestry on my father’s side of the family, and I imagine/ dream that, every time I write, I am reconnecting back to an unknown ancestor who wrote poetry, whoever he or she was.

What do you base your poetry on (nature, emotion etc.)?

I base my poetry on subjects I am interested in and are close to me because I have experienced or continue to experience them, such the way children engage with the world, how people who are different see and live in the world and so forth. Poetry is the type of writing closest to music and language, and in that my poetry is always based on the music of language, the rhythm of words which supports the meaning of those words. For me, in writing about the subjects I am most interested in and closest to, and in embracing the music of words, emotion becomes a natural part of my poetry, and so this – indirectly – becomes the base of my poetry also..

Has poetry always been your style of writing or have you ever focused on different types of writing (e.g narratives, reports etc.)?

I have always written all kinds of writing. I feel very fortunate to have had my poetry published in books, magazines and anthologies around the world. But I also write pieces of life writing and have been, fortunately, successful in that kind of writing, being runner up in New Zealand’s premier award for creative non-fiction writing, the Landfall Essay Competition in 2011 (and Highly Commended in the 2014 Competition), and to have had pieces of such work published in America. I also write short stories, and these have been published in magazines in America, New Zealand and England, and broadcast on radio in New Zealand.

You are also a teacher, what do you teach? Why do you enjoy teaching?

I teach Creative Writing (Poetry Fiction, Non Fiction) at BA and MA degree level for the Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology. I have also taught Creative Writing at The University of Auckland, Manchester Adult Education Centre (UK) and various Auckland schools and writing institutes. I also work as a Mentor for the New Zealand Society of Authors and have had many of my mentees who have gone on to publish their work as books. I love teaching because it helps to develop people’s writings and because I get to see students progress their work and their writings and sometime see their work become books which go out into the wider world and are enjoyed by readers. As a writer, helping others with their writings also helps me with my writings, because teaching takes me back to the basics of writing and I get to sit on the shoulder of students and see them work out problems in their writings which help me remember how to solve problems in my work.

Thanks for a great interview Anna and Siobhan. Siobhan has a poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Cloud’ and it is like a picture poem or concrete poetry. There is a version of it in her book Cloudboy.


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