Tag Archives: poetry books

Bill Manhire talks to Poetry Box about building huts

I don’t think Bill Manhire has ever written a book of poems for children, but he is one of my favourite New Zealand poets. Some poets who only ever really write for adults manage to write poems that readers love no matter how old they are.

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Bill has a knack of writing poems that make music. I love music so when I read a poem that has that musical touch it fills me with a good feeling. Bill’s rhymes are magnificent. Sometimes they are easy (my cat/ fancy that) and sometimes they are tricky (scooter/ euchre or xylophone/knucklebones) and sometimes his rhymes slip and slide all over the lines. However he is not afraid to rhyme at the end of the line either (this can make a poem great, but it can make a poem bad in the wrong hands).

Bill also poured his dreams, hard work and generosity into starting a programme for writers at Victoria University. With the help of a wealthy patron from America his dream turned into The International Institute of Modern Letters where many of our most celebrated writers have studied creative writing. Bill retired at the end of last year so will have lots of time for writing now.

One of the many good things that have come out of this programme is the annual poetry competition and workshops for secondary school students (it has had various names over the years).

Last year Victoria University Press published Bill’s Selected Poems. It contains lots of my favourite poems.

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Bill kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Box:

1. What did you like to write when you were young?

I wrote my first poem when I was 7, and I still know it by heart. I don’t think I’ll quote it, though!  I didn’t write another poem till I was at high school.

At primary school I mostly used to write copies of the books that I really enjoyed reading.  So when I was 10 and 11 I wrote copies of the Tarzan story, and of Biggles. I also wrote a science fiction serial, which involved robbers who travelled through time. The other day I found a home-made book called Tony and the Magic Wishing Glove, which I must have made when I was 5 or 6.  Well, I found the cover ­– all the pages are missing.

2. What else did you like to do in your spare time?

I used to like building huts, but I realise now I would have been a terrible carpenter.  But in some ways putting a poem together is a bit like building a hut. You have to make sure all the bits of timber fit together, and that the hut’s big enough to get into and maybe stay in overnight.

3. Do you have a children’s poetry book you can recommend? Or a favourite children’s poem?

I’m a big fan of the poems of Charles Causley. One of my favourites is “I Saw a Jolly Hunter“, which has a serious point but is full of fun – including fun with words.  And I’ve always loved his “Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience“, which like all the best children’s poems is also for grown-ups. In fact it’s about the fact that we all have to grow up.  It’s written in ballad form. There’s a musical version of it by Natalie Merchant:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=depk09Jqsaw

Charles Causley also put together some great poetry anthologies – one of my favourites is The Puffin Book of Magic Verse.

4. Do you have three top tips for young writers (5 to 12 year olds)?

Well, maybe instead of tips, three writing ideas. You could try them as prose if they don’t work out as poems.

1. Try imagining what it’s like to be something else, and write as if you are that something else. Maybe you could be an elephant that’s sick of being in the circus. Or an iceberg that’s melting. Or an asteroid that’s about to hit the earth. Or maybe you could write a conversation (or a love poem!) between a stalagmite and a stalactite.

2. Write a brand new nursery rhyme, and put your best friend in it.

3. Write a poem where every line begins with the words “I remember”, but every memory is made-up.

5. You are really good at list poems. I love your 1950s poem and love reading it aloud. ‘Hotel Emergencies’ is one of my favourite poems of all time (particularly when I hear you read it). What do you like about writing poems like this?

I think what I especially like about list poems is that you can mix up serious things and silly things, loud things and quiet things, sadness and happiness. You can change tone and direction, but keep coming back to a strong structure which holds everything together.  The “I remember” idea I’ve suggested might be good for producing a wild mixture of things.

Thanks Bill!

Here is the first verse of Bill’s terrific list poem ‘1950s’:

My cricket bat. My football boots.

My fishing rod. My hula hoop.

My cowby chaps. My scooter.

Draughts. Happy families. Euchre.

Ludo. Snap. My Davy Crockett hat.

My bicycle. My bow and arrow.

My puncture kit. My cat.

The straight and narow. Fancy that.

© Bill Manhire from ‘1950s’ in The Victims of Lightning Victoria University Press 2010

The Baker’s Thumbprint in a Box

Box of bakers

My publisher, Helen Rickerby at Seraph Press, got copies of my new poetry collection, The Baker’s Thumbprint yesterday afternoon. She took the photo with her phone and tweeted it!

It is not children’s poetry but I just wanted to let you know as it always very special when you have a new book about to enter the world.  Nerves and excitement and gratitude all mix together!

It will be launched during the Auckland Writer’s Festival and everyone is welcome. I will post details again early May but it is at QTheatre 305 Queen Street on Saturday May 18th from 1.15  to 2.15 pm.

Margaret Mahy’s The Word Witch and a mini challenge

Margaret Mahy (1936 – 2012) is one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors. She wrote over two hundred titles from dazzling picture books for the very young to award-winning novels for teenagers. She wrote poems, novels, non-fiction, picture books and countless school readers. Margaret was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Medal which is an enormous, international honour.

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I met Margaret several times and I loved many things about her. I loved her generosity with words — not just on the paper where they wove spectacular (and quiet) magic but with other people. She always wanted to listen to others, to read the books of others, to delight in the lives of others — and she devoted much attention to children. To me she was an exceptional role model for authors.

Once she asked me to recite one of my poems. I was surprised and shocked she would ask me but my poem Blind as a Beetroot came into my head and I recited that. I was quaking in my jandals but she roared with laughter and slapped her knees when I finished. That was such kindness on her part.

Today I am going to tell you what I love about her poetry collection The Word Witch and talk about a poem of hers that HarperCollins has so kindly given me permission to post. Tessa Duder went on a fabulous hunting expedition to gather the poems togther for the book. Before I talk about the book though, I am going to give you a mini challenge. Write and tell me which Margaret Mahy poem you love and why.

You have until 5pm Saturday 23rd March. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com with your name, age, class year, name of school, teacher’s name and email and I will post the winner on Monday 25th March.

Word Witch (With CD)   Word Witch (With CD)

Margaret’s poems never sit still. It is as though she sat on a rocky beach hunting for marvellous words with patience and daring and a knowing eye and ear. Each word is like a little rock or shell or pebble and Margaret could see what made that pebble word special. She knew how to make a pebble chain (of words) that gleamed and glistened and sparked.

Some of her poems are long and are terrific read aloud — I love ‘Down the Back of the Chair,’  ‘A Summery Saturday Morning’ and ‘Bubble Trouble.’ These poems have infectious rhythms that get your body moving, but they also have dazzling alliteration (‘calculated catchwork’) and rhymes that duck and weave and chime. Margaret is our Rhyme Queen.

Three salutes because Margaret was never afraid of big words (nefarious, cacophony, gallant). Perhaps like me the dictionary was one of her favourite books as a child. It is a bit harder now with spell check and computer dictionaries to snuggle up and hunt for words.

I love the made-up words that find their way into Margaret’s poems: flingamango, sandified, fandandical.

I love too those poems that tell a story; the rhyme and the rhythm and Margaret’s spectacular imagination sweep you along the curves of the story (‘Bubble Trouble’ is a great example).

I am posting ‘Baby is falling Asleep‘ thanks to HarperCollins (see credit at the end of the poem).

This poem has it all. It starts with a very ordinary, everyday thing. The baby manages to fall asleep amidst the clutter and racket in a household full of cats, dogs, mother, father, sisters, brother and bagpipes! Margaret makes that racket boom and burst on the page and in your ear. Say her words out loud and listen to her sounds: ‘grousing and grumbling’ and ‘pinging and popping and piping and clattering.’ Marvellous. Her rhyme is slipping and sliding and making music magic. She is not afraid to put in ‘cacophony.’ Say that word out loud and hear how good it is.

I like the way she plays with the last lines so that they are nearly the same but not quite. Try it!

Altogether this is a poem that reading once is just not good enough. You need to read it again and again. Perhaps you will be like me and the poem will make you want to get writing too.

I have felt a bit sad writing this post knowing that Margaret is no longer with us and we no longer have the joy of her presence, but I am full of such gladness that we have the richness and joy of her words.


Baby is Falling Asleep


The happy home rumbles with racket and rumpus

and Mother and Father both jiggle and jump as

the fracas flows in from each point of the compass . . .

yet baby is falling asleep.


Kate’s in the kitchen. She’s grousing and grumbling

at Sam on his skates. He is sliding and stumbling

upsetting the saucepans. Ka-BOOM! They go tumbling!

But baby is falling asleep.


Florrie and Fern are commencing a flounce-about!

Two of the cats start a passionate pounce-about,

dogs begin barking, embroiled in a bounce-about.

Baby is drifting to sleep.


Mervyn makes music no ceiling can soften. He

blows on his bagpipes. Amazing how often he

hits a wrong note, and produces cacophony!

Baby has fallen asleep.


Sleep, little darling, through family clattering,

blaring and banging and booming and battering,

pinging and popping and piping and pattering!

Sink into whispering sleep!


© The Word Witch

By Margaret Mahy, edited by Tessa Duder, illustrations by David Elliot

Published by HarperCollins New Zealand


Joy Cowley’s Elephant Rhymes (Scholastic)

Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand’s most beloved children’s authors. She has written hundreds of books for children of all ages. I really love Snake and Lizard with illustrations by Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press). It is a beautiful book to hold, the stories are little gems and the pictures are splendid. It made me want to start writing little tiny stories myself. I love the way snake and lizard are always squabbling but are the best of friends.

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Elephant Rhymes is a book of poems with illustrations by Brent Putzee. It was published in 1997 but you can still get it in libraries if not bookshops.

Each poem sparkles and crackles with word delight. Most of the poems tell a story about an elephant character (some poets like all their poems to tell a story!) and all of the poems have fun with words. Joy has a great imagination so her poems stretch out to all kinds of places and situations.

Somebody wants an elephant but her mum thinks a puppy or a kitten would be better round the house.

Somebody else has an elephant under their bed and ends up riding on the elephant in their bed in their pyjamas. This poem is hilarious.

I love the elephant that keeps saying ‘Trumpetty trump!’ And I love the elephant that does the Broadway elephant rap. That elephant gets to go to New York City. The poem has deliciously made-up words like ‘elephong’ and ‘elephand,’ ‘elephied’ and ‘elephap.’

One of my favourite elephant characters is the one in the poem called The Bookshop Elephant. Joy has given me permission to share the poem with you. I love bookshops and I love reading so this my kind of elephant. I also love the way Joy uses repetition. The trunk and the ears are always going to be large and grey. Marvelous! I also like the end of the verses that are in italics. Joy shows you can make a pattern and then you can change it just an inzy winzy bit and make it more interesting.

The Bookshop Elephant

An elephant lives in our bookshop,

beside the paperback shelf.

Any time of the day you will see her,

reading silently to herself.


If you try to interrupt her,

she’ll raise her large grey trunk,

flap her large grey ears and go:

booketty, booketty, hump!


She reads adventure and mystery

but what she likes the most

is a very scary yarn about

a haunted house and a ghost.


If you yell, ‘Boo!’ behind her,

she’ll raise her large grey trunk,

flap her large grey ears and go:

Booketty, booketty, jump!


She’s read a whole section on ballet,

and she thinks she knows how to dance.

She’s even bought a pink tutu

should someone give her the chance.


If you ask her to dance for you,

she’ll raise her large grey trunk,

flap her large grey ears and go:

Booketty, booketty, bump!


She’s studied from Ants to Zebras.

She knows the history of art.

Give her a look at a poetry book

and she learns all the rhymes by heart.


If she’s asked to leave the shop,

she’ll raise her large grey trunk,

flap her large grey ears and go:

Booketty, booketty, grump!

Flamingo Bendalingo (Auckland University Press)

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.

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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.

Tiger Georgia

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:

fox pg

Poetry Box Challenge #2 Small Poems

WELCOME to the third week of the New Zealand Poetry Box for children. Thanks to everyone who has viewed it (well over two thousand views) and from all over the world (including New Zealand, Australia, USA, Britain, Jamaica, Mexico, India and Germany). Thanks too for the emails, the comments and the poems that are arriving in my physical Post Box for the Fabulous Poetry Competition for Children. If you scroll down the right bar you can follow me to get an email every time I post something. A special thumbs up to Christchurch. I am getting a huge response from you!

This week is Animal week. On Monday I will set you a poetry challenge, on Tuesday I will give you a poetry tip that might help you with the challenge, on Wednesday I will tell you all about my first book for children, Flamingo Bendalingo and post some poems from it, on Thursday I will tell you about a book of poems by the fabulous Joy Cowley and on Friday I will post the winner of Monday’s challenge. (BTW I took these photos at Auckland Zoo in January.)

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Let’s go Poetry!

Poetry Challenge #2 A Short Poem

I love little poems. Some of my favourite poets have written great short poems that are like eating little chocolates or sucking on a sweet strawberry. You bite, you swallow, then the flavour lingers for ages.

When you write a short poem every word has to be just right and every word has to be in the perfect place. Short poems might have two lines but they might have six lines.

I challenge you to write an animal poem using no more than fifteen words (ok you might get away with sixteen but twenty is too many!).

Send your entry to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, class, age, name of school, teacher’s name and email address (home schoolers/correspondence students your parent’s name and email adress please). The winner will get a copy of my book Flamingo Bendalingo (thanks to Auckland University Press).

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Roydvale Primary Interview

Congratulations to Room 11 at Roydvale Primary School in Christchurch. I picked your questions to answer.  A copy of my chapter book The Terrible Night (Random House) will be on its way to you soon.

I had fun answering your questions.

Room 11 is a Year 2 and 3 class taught by Libby Watherston. They like all sorts of things from ‘horses to karate to brownies to judo to fishing to ballet to soccer to music to drawing to pukeko.’ Thank you for telling me a bit about you too!

1.     Do you have any children?

I have two daughters; one goes to university and one is in Year 12. When they were little I used to tell them stories, one of which turned into my picture book Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina (Random House).


2.   What type of house do you live in and where do you live?

I live in the country near Te Henga/ Bethells Beach on the West Coast of Auckland. We have lots of bush but our house is in a clearing. It is a little house with big windows so we get big beautiful views of the sky and the tail end of the Waitakere Ranges. There are lots of birds here. I love the tui and the kereru and I have written poems abut them. I love to go for walks on the beach and swim in the sea. We have two dogs and three cats. I have posted a picture of Molly and Nonu (our dogs) and one of our views (the bush and the Waitakere Ranges). The other photo is Te Henga.

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3.   How did you learn to write poems and how long have you been writing them?

I learned to write poems by writing and trying and playing and writing and reading and sharing and teaching and writing and listening and reading and writing and writing. In Year 8 my teacher was a poet so that was pretty marvelous. It was one of my favourite years at school because he encouraged me to go exploring as a writer.

So I have been writing poems since I was at primary school. I went to Petone Central Primary (in Wellington) then Horahora Primary and Whangarei Intermediate (in Whangarei).

4.   What is your favourite food and TV programme?

I love food and I love cooking. I am getting to be a better gardener so I love picking fresh fruit and vegetables. This year I can’t believe we have eggplants and peppers and cucumbers, passion fruit and feijoas growing. I love Italian, Indian, Thai, Malaysian, Spanish, Mexican, French and Pacific food. Oh, and I LOVE chocolate. I posted a photo of my favourite breakfast: juicy mango and sweet strawberries! The other one is of my veggie garden.

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I also like watching TV. I love Australian Masterchef and really liked the Junior one. I also like watching Campbell Live. I am looking forward to watching a new Sherlock Holmes programme called Elementary (definitely for adults). One of my all time favourite adult programmes was called Treme. It was about Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and it was full of the most fabulous music. It also made me think hard about what happens when a disaster hits a place, not so much at the time but in the years to follow. It reminds me of Christchurch. I like programmes that make me think or laugh or cry or just sit back and relax.

5.   How many books have you written?

I have had about eleven books published; some of these I have written and some I have edited. If you look under ‘My Books’ on this blog you will see I have written a bit about my children’s books. I have a new poetry book for adults coming out in May called The Baker’s Thumbprint published by Seraph Press. So I am excited about that.

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James Norcliffe’s Packing a Bag for Mars

Packing a Bag for Mars by James Norcliffe with illustrations by Jenny Cooper. Published by Clerestory Press, Christchurch. clerestory@xtra.co.nz  $27

The School for Young Writers in Christchurch commissioned James Norcliffe to write a book of poems for students. This book isn’t just a collection of poems though. It is like a packed suitcase that you can take on your own poetry adventures to the sea, the moon, the city, foreign countries, the zoo, the park, home or school. I think poets are like explorers and our bags are backed with all the books we have read and all the poetry techniques we have played with. So I think this the perfect title for a poetry book.

James has also included an interview where he answers questions about writing; questions about punctuation, new lines, redrafting, whether poems need to rhyme and much much more.

Each poem comes with a poetry-launch pad. James comes up with an idea for you to get started on your poem. They are so good, instead of writing this review I wanted to be writing a poem about what I might pack if I were to travel the length of the Nile in case strange and wonderful things happened to me.

At the end of the book there are notes on all the poems. James tells you where he got the idea for the poem from, what some of the words mean and reveals some of the poetry techniques he uses. It is like he opens a window for you to peek through and get a wider and more splendid view of his poem. Usually poems are places where we get to go exploring on our own (and this great too!)

e8ddac4442f962d4ffff8961ffffd524 9f60254a87ca85a9ffff800effffd523 Packing a Bag for Mars

What I love about James as a poet is that he is prepared to test out all kinds of things when he writes. His poems can make you think about things differently and feel things differently. He writes about all kinds of subjects from sports to celebrations to superstitions to dressing for peace.

James has written a book of poems that is full of challenges so it is a book that will inspire many of us to write more and to write in new ways. As a poet I always like to try things I haven’t done before. I like to set myself new and exciting challenges.

I see this book as a real gift for students from Year 5 or 6 right though to Year 13.

PS James has also written the award-winning The Loblolly Boy (I loved the imaginative stretch of this story published by Longacre Press!) and The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer (I am looking forward to reading this). The Enchanted Flute was published in 2012. The latter two were published by Random House NZ.

Poetry Box Challenge #1

Ata marie

Welcome to the second week of Poetry Box. Today I am going to post a challenge for you, on Tuesday I will post  a poetry tip, on Wednesday I will post a poem, on Thursday I will tell you all about James Norcliffe’s new book of poetry (it has a great title!) and on Friday I will post the winner of Monday’s challenge!

I had great fun at the weekend emailing all New Zealand primary schools about the blog and the Fabulous NZ Poetry Competition. I decided the names of our schools are like a gigantic poem.

POETRY BOX CHALLENGE #1 Think of 5 questions you would like to ask me about my books, my life as a writer, poetry or whatever interests you. Send to paulajoygreen@gmail by 5pm on Thursday 28th February.

Sometimes when I visit schools a student will ask me a question so surprising I will give them a copy of my book.

I will pick a winner, answer the 5 questions and post the interview on Friday. Please include your name, your age and year at school, the name of your school and the email address of your teacher or parent.

I will send the winner a copy of my chapter book The Terrible Night. I had such fun writing this book! It was published by Random House and illustrated by Chris Grosz.


WELCOME to the very first blog of the New Zealand Poetry Box for children.

The blog will be a meeting place for children, teachers, parents, writers and readers who love reading and writing poetry for children.

For the next two years I will dedicate myself to poetry for children. I will be busy editing an anthology of poems for children, writing poems, visiting schools, organising events, sharing information.

I will post poems by children each week.

I will stage a competition once a month.

I will post poetry tips and poetry challenges each week.

I am happy to post children’s letters about poetry.

I am happy to be interviewed by children.

I will talk about children’s poetry books I love (old and new).

I will post some of my own poems for children.

I will post details of New Zealand poetry events for children.

I will interview authors who write poetry for children.

ps A big THANK YOU to Sarah Laing for designing the gorgeous header and to Random House.