My poetry presentation for IBBY International Congress 2016





To celebrate National Poetry Day I am posting this. It was an interactive presentation and we made up a beach poem that had us all laughing. Joy Cowley said it filled her with a warm kind of glow. Maybe we should be making up poems together on Poetry Day to head off into the day with warm inner glows (especially as the forecast is for rain).

H a p p y  P o e t r y   D a y !





Josephine likes lyric poetry


Josephine likes the way a poet will pull in a bird or

a ladder or an old coat and the bird and the ladder and

the old coat will tremble and shiver and ebb and flow

just like the sea so you will fall upon the fullness of each

and it will make you shift on your chair and almost stop



This poem is from my new collection, New York Pock Pocket, a book that is as much about my travels in poetry as it is NYC. Poetry is music. It is encyclopedic. It is telling stories. It is leaving gaps. It is home, it is not home. It is pulling at the moon and digging dirt channels. Poetry is counting buttons, making patterns, feeling cold, letting the kite go free. There are no rules. There are no rules that cannot be broken. Poetry is the squelchy, shiny, rough edged, smooth piped, whizzwhirl, slow curve, exhilarating playground.

Children love it.

I love it.

I am the little girl on the stair reciting AA Milne to her siblings

Begin with the ear. Begin by listening because poetry is music. Each word a musical note that strikes so sweetly in its melody along the line. A poem, a book, an audience, and the poet begins with the ear to pull the listener in closer. Ask a child what a poem is and they will always say rhyme. A poem is rhyme and that rhyme is a source of both comfort and delight.  Rhyme makes your body move. It might be Dr Seuss rhyme where the goat in the boat can’t float because she wears an extra coat.

Or near-miss rhyme where the goat in the boat can’t hope to float because her chauffer and swimming coach are making cheese toasties.


The poet lays down rhyme on the end of the line like a plummeting waterfall, spray flying, or hides rhyme, salt and pepper style, throughout the poem.


Which Jack?


A Jack in the box

a Jack in his socks

a Jack in the moon

a Jack in tune

a Jack on the grass

a Jack’s gone past

a Jack on a camel

a Jack and his flannel

a Jack climbing rocks

a Jack in a box.


What happens when the rhyme is outside the poem and the children have to go hunting with their ears?




Where the Mild Things Are!


Last night I heard the wind in the meadows

talking to the lion in the willows

about Captain Holeypants

and the Lord of the Rungs.

The wind said he had found

a chamber of sea crates,

a very hungry cat

the caterpillar in the hat

and Georgia’s marbley medicine.

The lion said she had found

elastic Mr. Fox, an iron

an itch and a bathrobe,

and a series of fortunate events

over the pea and under bones.




I am fond of the word moon. I am fond of moon poems. The poet is always looking for an electrical connection when she places this word next to that word. Poems don’t have to rhyme. We know that. The aural spark is like a sizzle, a cackle, a whisper, a crackle, a wind bent pine in the ear. If I am with an audience of children, we are going to make poems on the spot so that the child becomes poet and itches to pick up a book or a pen and make words sing.


Find me a word that sparks with moon.      ___________ moon

Find me two words that spark with moon.


We are making chords and the musical note is the word and the word as sound makes your ankles twitch and your back wriggle and soon we will all be shuffling in time to the moon.



Poets like to repeat themselves. The comfort of repetition is a way of laying down anchors, a way of remembering, a way of building and then switching like a dart to make a change. Children love this. The way you can surprise yourself when you repeat your self.


When I Am Cold


When I am cold

I get goose bumps.


When I am very cold

I get tiger bumps.


When I am very very cold

I get rhinoceros bumps.


When I am very very very cold

I get elephant bumps.


When I am very very very very cold

I get whale bumps.


When I am very very very very very cold

I drink hot chocolate and wear thick socks.



Poets like taking walks when they write and sometimes the rhythm is di da di da di da di da di da di da but there are no rules and we don’t need to adhere to iambic pentameter because when we walk we might stop and stare or race to get to the oak tree or leap over the mud puddle or drop our sunglasses in the long spindly grass. When I am walking or running on the beach in the morning I sometimes stop and gaze at the Tasman sea. I might see a sleek black seal or a white cap sneezing.


Children start playing with syllables and the rhythm of the line dances and cavorts.


Think of the wind. Find one syllable words to go with the wind.

Think of the wind again but use words with longer syllables


Think of the wind for one last time and mix up one syllable words with longer words.


If I am mixing up rhyme and rhythm and repetition, I also like mixing up things. The ear always goes hand in hand with the eye.


The Bonnet Macaque: An Omnivore


What does the bonnet macaque

keep in her cheek pocket?

Does she store the rocky shore

a dining-room table and the horse’s stable

comic books and clucking chooks

basket balls and outlandish fools

DVDs and TVs

snowboards and Aunt Maude

lollipops and circus flops

snorkelling gear and a grizzly bear

sharp scooters and football hooters?


There’s no couch in her cheek pouch

for in her larder for a starter

she hoards a one stop shop —

luscious food for every mood.



Poets have an inbuilt telescope, microscope, set of binoculars because they are looking through windows and doors, real or imagined, stretching necks to reach tree tops or slithering chins along dusty tracks to see how ants move. Something catches the eye and we are off. Something catches the child’s eye and he or she is off. I can tell the story of my dog that needs swimming lessons every time we go to the beach and the way she can swim like a fish. Her black tail flicking. Her little paws gliding. Every morning she is the churning chunking concrete mixer.  Until she gets that swimming lesson. The child can picture my dog and laugh.

Your eye catches something and it can lead anywhere. It makes you feel something, think, discover, recognise. When you write from that physical detail, it is as though you hold a stethoscope to the world. You hear the heartbeat of the leaf or the balloon or the dripping ice cream and you just need to write. Like when I stood in from of a pair of boots at the immigration Centre on Ellis Island in New York.



The little boots


To see the little brown boots

—scuffed at the toes

from kicking stones

and falling over,

with soft red lining

and laces left long ago

goodness knows where,

oh dear empty boots—

is to fall into the hollow

your child’s head once left

on the pillow

as she dreamt of

secret things, and to fall

yet again, deeper still

into the mysterious hollow

of her adolescence,

with the moon overhead.



Your eye catches something and your imagination goes sailing. Children love that. Your eye catches something and it feels very ordinary like the red tractor in the yellow field with black birds squawking. Or the cold blue sea rushing through your toes. Children love that. The physical detail pulls you into what is comfortable and familiar and loved and when you put it in a poem it seems shiny and new. Then again the physical detail lets you leapfrog into daydream so that the cold blue sea curls like ivy up your cold blue legs. The cold blue sea writes a letter to the cold blue moon in the wet sand. Or the red tractor is so hungry it eats a mountain of nails and a river of tin cans and a glacier of cooking oil.

This could be story, poems love story, but I am saying it is a poem.

After rhyme children love similes and they are the kings and queens of finding good ones. A good simile is like a little flare in a poem— a bright light that gives the poem life. It flips the shoe so you see it in all its orange beauty. It somersaults the sun in all its raging heat. It skyrockets the cat in its breathtaking leap.




A Slow Sky Tonight


The clouds are moving

across the sky like tiny snails,

the trees whisper tiny secrets

that nobody can hear

and a pink light lights up

the faraway hills.

Dinner is nearly ready.



Let’s have a go. Let’s make up a poem on the spot.

Let’s say we are at the beach. Let’s say we are standing on the sand dunes looking at the beach. What will we see? Excuse the pun.


Three words at least one thing

Five words at least two things

Four words at least two things

Two words

Three words at least one verb

Three words at least one verb

Four words at least one thing

Three words



A last poem.


The Statue of Liberty

She pauses and lets her imagination go

because she is standing under the Statue of Liberty

next to a leaf that flutters.


Is it a religious experience, to pause

with your imagination drifting and count

your freedoms and notfreedoms?

The freedom to work and the notfreedom

to work, the freedom to love and

the notfreedom to love.


There, the little leaf is on the boy’s shoe.

He doesn’t move an inch, even when his

mother calls and calls. ‘Dance little leaf

dance,’ he whispers.


Two sisters stand in different poses smile

and wait for their photograph to be taken.



‘What if I were that person in the bright green suit

or this person slumped in the shade

of that person talking like a megaphone?’

Josephine whispers.



The poems are all mine and either from my NY book, or  The Letterbox Cat or the anthology I edited A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children.



Inside the Wild

Te Henga, December 2013



You see the grey clouds kiss and the ocean

go flying, the grey-cloud eiderdown and the metallic wild.

The old man bends forty-five degrees


into the west-coast wind, his golden Labrador

falling behind. A dotterel puffs out

to block your path. It stamps and trembles.


Then there is the abandoned umbrella splayed

liked piano fingers. The washed–up crate from Moana Fisheries.

Broken bottles. Even that. The black sand glint


and the cotton frocks that shimmy. A mad tui tries to devour a sparrow.

Kishawk. Kishawk. You are dazzled by the gull’s slow landing

and the knee-high foam. This is morning.


The grey ocean twists and the southerly slaps, and amidst

the rockaby collisions, you fall upon a blissful quiet.


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