The Treasury Interviews: Amy interviews James Brown

About Amy Fippard
I was born in 2006 and live in Te Awanga.  I have younger brother called Ben and a dog called Sally.  I like playing with Sally and grooming her.  I like swimming. I am in Year 3, aged 8, and go to Haumoana School.

 

James Brown

James Brown

James Brown was born in 1966 and grew up in Palmerston North.  He now lives in Wellington.  He has been a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 3 times. He has written a number of books of poetry.

 

What are the most important ingredients for you in a poem?
It’s more about what I don’t like – eg poems that are too obvious and soppy. I’m always listening to a poem’s words to hear its music. And I have a soft spot for list poems – poems that are just lists of interesting things. But I also like poems that tell little  stories!
What poetry did you read as a child?
I read Winnie the Pooh, which had a lot of poetry in it. Plus Edward Lear – ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’, ‘The Jumblies.’ My own early poems had regular rhymes and rhythms, which was good for learning about rhyme and rhythm. But free verse – no regular rhyme or rhythm – is subtler.

 James has a poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘The Bicycle.’ How big was your bike?
Well, the person in the poem isn’t me, and the bike is imaginary too. But I do have a red mountain bike that I bike everywhere on, and I did have a red bike when I was a kid.
Where did you get your bike?
A bike shop. But the bike in the poem is imagined. Red seemed the flashest colour.
What colour was your basket?
I’ve never had a bike with a basket. The bike in the poem needed a basket for the deliveries. My mum had a cane basket on her bike, though.
Why were you always lucky?
Again, the person in the poem isn’t me. I was actually trying to be a bit clever by having the kid think they were lucky when maybe their parents had just given them a bike so they could deliver things. There are two published versions of the poem: one says ‘the deliveries’ and the other says ‘his deliveries’. The ‘his’ means the father’s deliveries, which means the kid might not really be so lucky, even though they think they are and really do love the bicycle. I changed it to ‘the deliveries’ because I had to think how the kid would say it, and I thought they’d more likely just say ‘the deliveries’.
What did you deliver in your basket?
I did have a milk round when I was at high school, and I had to get up at 4.30am and bike to where it began. If the weather was bad the night before, I would lie in bed knowing I’d be delivering milk in it the next morning. But I delivered the milk from a trolly I pushed. I never used my bike to deliver anything. I never had a paper run. I imagined the kid in the poem was delivering groceries so they would have to bike all the way to someone’s house. That’s different from a milk round or paper run where you stop at each letterbox.

 

Thanks James and Amy for a fascinating interview. Really interesting how poems make up their own truth.

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