I spent a long time at university studying Italian and other things and when I finished all my degrees in 1996 I wanted to do something really different. Students often ask me where I get my ideas from and that is a tricky question. Sometimes I see or hear or experience or read or remember something and I know I want to start writing a poem. I never know how the poem will turn out but I have a launch pad.
I got the idea that I wanted to write a book of poetry for children with a snap as I was crossing Symonds Street and I instantly knew that I wanted children to write half the poems. This seemed like a big and scary idea as I wasn’t sure how I would pull it off (perhaps a bit like the idea to do this blog!). I decided to use Auckland Zoo as the launch pad for our poems. My daughters went to Swanson Primary School so I was over the moon when the lovely Principal, Kay Wight, invited me to do workshops and pick my poets.
I did workshops in every class from Year 1 to Year 8, designed a poetry trail and then set off with my 50 poets to the zoo to get writing. It took two years to make the book and my young poets were involved at all the stages (especially publicity!). I was hugely grateful to Elizabeth Caffin who was the Director of Auckland University Press then. Books are always made by a whole team of people (never just the author). The team helps edit and design and promote it. Katrina Duncan did the eye-catching design inside. Christine O’Brien helped promote it.
What makes the book special to me is the poetry the children wrote. I never give out words or lines but open poetry doorways, ask questions and get children playing with words.
The other special thing about this book is that my partner Michael Hight did the watercolour illustrations. His paintings remind me of Quentin Blake illustrations as they are both quirky and lively. When Michael was little he loved to draw and he made a book of invented animals. When I discovered that book I knew he was the right person for the job. Most of the time though he is busy painting exhibitions for his galleries in Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown and Dunedin. He often does beehive paintings but he has started doing much more mysterious paintings that are bit like poems.
This poem is by my daughter Georgia. She has always liked writing. I would love to show you poems by other children but I would have to clear copyright and I have no idea where they are now! Michael did the magnificent tiger.
When Auckland Zoo found out about the book they said we could have a launch party. I was able to invite 200 people free into the zoo. Christine got a big chocolate cake and some of the zoo keepers and the young poets read poems. It was such fun and I felt really proud.
Here is my fox poem with Michael’s painting: