To celebrate the past year on Poetry Box — an interview with Shirley Gawith — in 90s and full of wit, grace and verve

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A special day, a special author!

A highlight of my year was having lunch with Shirley Gawith and her family at their place in Mahana when I was on my Hot Spot Poetry Tour. She has a few poems in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children so I was keen to meet her.

Shirley published several collections of children’s poetry years ago that were illustrated by her daughter. I managed to interloan them from the library. Wonderful!

We had a wee conversation before lunch. It was such a lovely place to be. We ate delicious quiche and salad and then a sweet treat. I love Shirley’s sense of humour, the sparkle in her eye and her passion for writing. I got to read some of her poems too.

What did you do as a little girl?

I was a bit of a tomboy and an outdoors girl. I like to write and at school I often came top in writing class.

What did you like to read?

Imaginative stories like those of Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (this would have been in the 1920s!)

Where did you go to school?

I went to Stoke in Nelson. I was Dux of the School in 1935.

What were your favourite things at school?

Language and sport.

When did you first start writing poems?

As far back as I can remember — before my teens. I lived on D’Urville Island on a farm for thirty years and my children grew up there.  I look ed after everyone and the veggie garden and taught the children until secondary school. And I wrote poems! It wasn’t easy living on an island. Sometimes I was lonely with no other women. I loved reading. I have written hundreds of poems.

What kind of poems?

Mostly for children. Limericks. Fun, playful poems. Poems that make you laugh. I think I’ve got a reasonable imagination.

I think you’ve got a terrific imagination as your poems show! What other things have you liked doing?

Painting, writing, theatrical things. I loved being on stage and I put on concerts during the war. It was a big change to move to the wilderness and live on an island.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

It can be anywhere but I would get lots of thoughts before bed and a line would grab hold of me.

What did you read your children when they were little?

Nursery rhymes and stories like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The Little Golden Books. Fairy tales.

Your poetry books are a joy to read. What do you like writing about writing poems?

They just seem to come naturally. A word comes into my head and it starts me on a poem.

Your poems are full of zest, great sounds and a wonderful imagination as we both agreed. What do you think makes a good poem?

The sounds that the words make, and the rhythm of the poem.

I think Shirley’s poems always sound good and have a delicious, bouncing imagination. It was very special to read them. Here are a few that I read over lunch:

A Puzzle

An adder can’t add, which seems rather sad,

And a cricket has never played cricket,

A bat cannot bat, it is quite certain that

Neither creature has heard of a wicket.

Butterflies flutter, but do not like butter.

©Shirley Gawith

Rain Talk

Halfway to a dream last night

I heard a whispering rain

Telling secrets softly

Against my window pane.

Faster, faster fell the raindrops,

Whispers turned to prattle,

A noisy chattering that made

My bedroom rattle.

©Shirley Gawith

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