Thursday, 5 July 2018
I ANSWER SOME STUDENTS' QUESTIONS
I was privilege the other day to visit the fantastic Dussindale Primary School, in Norwich. During school visits I usually allow some time for the students to ask me some questions. During my visit to Dussindale, several students gave me some questions on little post-it notes. I am delighted to be able to answer two of their questions, live on my blog! Hopefully lots of people will find these questions (and answers) interesting.
What made you want to do poetry? (Layla)
This sounds like such a simple question, but actually it is quite difficult to answer. I'm tempted to say that I kind of 'fell into it', but I know that this answer is not nearly detailed or informative enough. I have always loved words and wordplay, and poetry is the best way that I know of, of playing and having fun with words. When I was at primary school I enjoyed writing rhymes and stories, but I didn't truly become interested in devoting much time to poetry until I was about seventeen, in Sixth Form. We studied a poet called Philip Larkin, and I really got the sense that the emotions being conveyed were deeply in tune with my own. (I was quite a depressed, isolated, angry teenager!). My first attempts at poetry were really embarrassing, and I kind of cringe when I think about them, but I always say that if you want to be a good poet, or good at anything really, you have to be comfortable with being bad at it for a long time, before you hopefully start to get good. I carried on writing poetry at university, and a friend of mine told me about a place in Covent Garden called the Poetry Cafe. Every Tuesday evening they had something called an 'open mic', where anyone can pay a small sum of money to get up and read their work to an audience. This experience is what really got me hooked on poetry. It was when I realised that poetry and words live in the body and the voice, as well as on the page, that I started to think that this is where I belong. I left it for a while after university, but I came back to it in my mid-twenties, and here I am today!
A slightly different question, although one that is closely related, is why did I want to become a children's poet? and the answer is: I didn't. There was never a moment when I sat down and thought to myself 'I really want to write for children'. What happened instead was that I wrote the kind of stuff I wanted to write, that I enjoyed writing, and only then did I think that kids might like it too. I thought back to a time when I was in Year 4, when Michael Rosen came to visit my school, and I recalled the time I saw John Hegley playing live, and I thought that maybe I could do something similar. I also realised that the kind of stuff I enjoyed writing, and reading, wasn't really the kind of stuff that you read in most 'adult' poetry books. I found this kind of writing often quite pretentious, and frequently incomprehensible. I didn't want to write the kind of stuff that only very clever people with PhDs would read. So I wrote what I wanted to write, in a way that I wanted to write it, and it turned out that children enjoy it! My sister is a primary school teacher, and she invited me in to her class to share some of my rhymes with them. And I have never looked back.
Being a poet is not the most highly paid job. I am self-employed, which means I don't have a boss, and I get to go somewhere different every day. I really like this aspect of being a poet, and I think it is one of the reasons I wouldn't want to be a teacher: I wouldn't want to go to the same place ever day!
How many books have you got? (Oliver)
I think that Oliver means 'how many books have I written?', and the answer to this is eight. My first two were self-published, which means that I wrote, designed and paid for them to be printed, all by myself. I then got 'snapped up' by a fancy company called Bloomsbury, who published three more of my books. I also have other books published by Troika and Flying Eye. Hopefully I will write more in the future.
Oliver could also mean 'how many books do I own', and the answer is probably around 500. My wife is an English teacher, so she probably has about 500 too. But my books are better.