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.
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
Three words at least one verb
Three words at least one verb
Four words at least one thing
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?’
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.