Tag Archives: Poetry

GUEST POST: Poetry and privacy with A.F Harrold

A.F.Harrold is an award-winning poet and author, most recently shortlisted for the CLiPPA 2020 for Midnight Feasts: Tasty poems chosen by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Katy Riddell. The judges, including 2019 CLiPPA winner poet Steven Camden (aka Spoken Word artist Polarbear) described Ashley’s book as ‘a delicious and quirky collection of poems old and new, skilfully curated and perfectly paced.’

I’ve been privileged to see Ashley performing poetry and running school workshops with children aged 7 and 8 – you’d be hard-pressed to say who enjoyed it more – the children or the adults in the room! His energy, humour and love for poetry is contagious. Read an extract from Midnight Poems:

I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Ashley to the blog today with a guest post about poetry and privacy and how we can use poetry to help deal with the things that trouble us. Welcome to the blog Ashley!

Poetry and Privacy – A.F. Harrold

“What I love, and have always loved, about poetry (and about all art, really) is that it’s none of your business.

What I mean is, when I read a book or a poem or listen to a piece of music or hear a joke, I am under no obligation to share it. I don’t have to tell anyone about it. Not about what I thought of it, or how it made me feel, or what it reminded me of, or what connections I traced from it to other pieces of art I’ve consumed before. I can keep all of that to myself.

Art is private, and one’s responses to art are private.

Sure, you might be the sort of person who loves sharing, in which case share away.

But for those of us who aren’t sharers, who don’t much care for the outside world, that feeling of ‘This-is-mine-ness’ of a book or a poem or a story overheard… that thing that happens in the solitary heart and the reader, the listener, is special. It’s a treasure, it’s something that belongs to us, a gem sparkling in the head of the toad of ourselves.

No one has the right to ask you what you think about this or that book or poem (or rather they have the right, but you have no duty to answer them). Keep it safe, keep it secret, if you want.

(You may not have much that belongs to you. You might have to share your toys, your bedroom, your bathwater. But this one thing, this treasure in your head, no one can take that away.)

And the same should go for making art.

You should feel free, whether you’re 8 or 80, to make poems, to do drawings, to write stories, to keep a diary, and to choose to keep them to yourself or share them with the world as you see fit.

Think of making poems as diary keeping.

Use them to find shapes for your thoughts and your fears, for the things that are happening in your life and in your family, with your friends or with strangers you saw in the shops… and sometimes just writing it down will be enough to still the fear, sometimes putting it away and looking back in a month or in six months and seeing how you’ve grown or changed or stayed the same as you-from-the-past might be helpful.

Writing something and knowing that no one else will see it, read it (until or unless you choose to share it), is a way of talking to yourself, to the future you, of checking in and taking stock. It has been essential to me, at times, and if you’re shy or solitary, like I am, then it might be something you should try.

But even if you don’t write, remember to read, that too is a good way to learn about yourself.”

Find out more about A.F Harrold at www.afharroldkids.com and the CLiPPA 2020 at www.clpe.org.uk

GUEST POST: Every day is a Poetry Day with Joshua Seigal

Today is National Poetry Day, the annual mass celebration that encourages everyone to enjoy, discover and share poetry. This year’s theme is Vision and with activities centred on encouraging young and old to See it Like a Poet and #ShareAPoem, there’s bound to be a plethora of creativity and imagination coming to life everywhere!

Today, award-winning children’s poet Joshua Seigal, who can often be found visiting and performing in schools, libraries and theatres around the country sharing his poetry shows, joins us on the blog with a guest post about why every day can be a poetry day!

Welcome to the blog Joshua!

Every Day Is Poetry Day – Joshua Seigal

“It is great that we are given a day every year to celebrate the joys of poetry, but it is important not to forget that every day can be a poetry day!

Poetry is a wonderful opportunity for people of all ages to express themselves and get creative, and it can be embedded right across the curriculum in all kinds of interesting ways. For geography, why not write a poem from the perspective of a river or volcano? And in maths, you could try describing yourself using numbers, shapes or mathematical equations. Try to add a little bit of poetry to everything you do, a bit like adding spice to your cooking.

Perhaps you have studied poetry for exams, and have decided that it is not for you. It is important to remember that poetry is not supposed merely to be analysed, like we do in exams; it provides us with a chance to engage with ourselves and society, as well as the joys of language, in a way that is meaningful to us. To write poetry is to play with words, and we can use those words in incredibly powerful ways.

So how might one go about doing this? I always offer the following piece of advice when I visit schools: write about something you are interested in, that means something to you. If you’re interested in football, write about football. If you’re interested in butterflies, write about them. That way your poem will have heart and soul. It might also be a good idea to write in the style that you normally speak. That way your poem will come from deep inside, from the place that truly belongs to you.

Also, try to seek out poems on topics and in styles that speak to you. Simply saying “I don’t like poetry” is, when you think about it, as senseless as saying that you don’t like music or movies. A lot of people do say that they don’t like poetry; I even called my first book I Don’t Like Poetry! But remember that, just like songs or movies, poetry comes in all kinds of styles, and you can pick something you like! Nowadays you don’t even have to read poetry, if you don’t want to; you can watch it on Youtube.

Poetry is for life, not just National Poetry Day! There is no right or wrong way to write it, and there is no right or wrong way to consume it. There are as many different poems out there as there are people. Try to find something you connect with, and have fun!”

Find out more about Joshua on his website www.joshuaseigal.co.uk. and visit National Poetry Day to see how you can get involved in celebrations!

New review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X has been on my TBR shelf for some time – I should have read it straightaway.  In a word it is brilliant. The author Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit. With over twelve years of performance experience, she has delivered talks, won multiple poetry slam awards and featured in many international publications.  This is her debut novel and it will have you holding your breath, crying and cheering all at the same time. A really moving and uplifting read.

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The Poet X By Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has secrets – her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.

Xiomara Batista has not had the easiest childhood. Born late to Catholic parents who thought they couldn’t have children, she and her twin brother are seen as gifts from God and as such her mother remains fervently thankful to this day.  Attending daily mass, regular confession and preparing for confirmation are all part of the norm for Xiomara. As an attractive young woman, Xiomara receives a lot of unwanted attention and her mother, Mami, persistently reminds her of the sin this can lead to.  Xiomara’s father is not around and when he is, he doesn’t have much to say. Whilst her very intelligent brother attends a private school, Xiomara goes to the local Harlem high school, where drug abuse and gang culture are standard. She takes refuge in words – she may fight with her fists but the real battles with herself, her uncertainties about her faith, her parents and her feelings about a forbidden romance take place on the pages of her precious notebook.  With her twin struggling with his own secrets and her best friend too devoutly religious to help, Xiomara finally sees her words for the way out they truly are – especially when a new English teacher invites her to a Spoken Word Poetry Club.

The 357 pages of this book flew by and short of life’s necessities interrupting I read it in one go. Written entirely in verse, I found myself clutching it and rushing for my train so I could hurry up and get back into Xiomara’s world.  She is one of the most absorbing characters I’ve ever read – her voice is loud and clear and her words thought-provoking, powerful, tender, true.  A coming-of-age story like no other, you are completely drawn into Xiomara’s thoughts; you can feel her pain, her fears, her hopes, her joy at discovering and recognising the pangs of first love. With each passing day, Xiomara’s relationships with those around her become more complicated. Poetry enables her to truly express herself and find the determination to explore who she really is whilst dealing with the oppression of those who are supposed to love her the most, but show it the least. I would have quite happily screamed at her mother for being so ridiculously lacking in love, so blinded is she by her faith.  This story is not without complexity but it touches on so many things a teenager trying to find their identity might feel (in fact so many things we all sometimes feel) and each verse generates real emotion. Acceptance, kindness, home, laughter, friendship, faith, teaching, discipline, passion, self-belief; love has many faces and this story powerfully explores them all. The Poet X is absolutely one of the best YA books I’ve read – an empowering story, it’s no surprise it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone should read it.

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Find out more at www.acevedowrites.com.

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review.

Bookchat: A.F Harrold, poet and author

banner newThe last time I saw A F Harrold, he was performing poetry to a classroom full of utterly enraptured children at the Bookchat Roadshow.  It was absolutely brilliant to see how much the children enjoyed the poems and the performer!  I’m delighted he is joining us today to talk about his new book, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space (review available here, illustrated by Joe Todd Stanton) and all things writing. Thank you for participating Mr Harrold!

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A F Harrold performing poetry

Congratulations on the publication of Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space! It’s fun, full of quirky characters and a great mix of sci-fi and sleuthing . Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it? Hi Victoria. Greta comes from a combination of things I typed and things I mistyped. Back in the first Fizzlebert Stump book one of the books Fizz borrows from the library was called The Great Zargo of somewhere or other. It sounded a good sort of science fictiony sort of thing Fizz might enjoy, and when I came, a few years later, to start thinking about a new series the name popped back into my mind. I type quite quickly, but because of the ways in which my fingers move there are a few words I’m forever typing wrong and having to go back and correct… one of these is ‘great’, which, if I’m typing at a gallop, always comes out ‘greta’. And so Greta was born, inside the spelling mistake that appears inside the book!

I’ve always read science fiction, and always loved science fiction, but I’d never really written any (The Song From Somewhere Else probably counts, but that’s about it), and this seemed a bit odd. So I wanted to write some. And I wanted it to be funny. Because funny books are a Good Thing. And so, after a lot of sitting around and staring into the air, several baths, and quite a few biscuits, Greta Zargo and the Death Robots from Outer Space was born.

Throughout the story there are footnotes (or more appropriately sidenotes) adding interesting anecdotes to the narrative which I loved; why did you decide to include these?  Who doesn’t love footnotes? They’re a way of having ‘a bit more’ without getting in the way of the story. They’re especially useful for (a) comedy (because you add in extra jokes) or (b) academic articles about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden (because you can cite your sources). Fortunately, as far as I can see, no one has mistaken Greta Zargo for an academic article about herring pickling in 18th century Sweden.

There are some wonderful and quirky characters in the story. I particularly loved Greta’s eccentric Aunt. Where do you draw inspiration from for your characters? And I have to say, how do you decide on the fantastic names you’ve given them?! Characters just walk into scenes as I type and if they’re at all interesting then they stay. There are occasionally very boring ones who turn up, but I’m ruthless in deleting them at the first opportunity, unless they’re boring in a funny way. That might sound a bit odd, but it’s true, the best characters walk in and surprise me. I don’t know what they’re going to say to Greta when she questions them and I listen to their answers as I type them. This is the most exciting bit about writing these books, I think, is finding out about the inhabitants of Upper Lowerbridge at the same time as the reader.

Where do their names come from? I blame the parents.

Being married to huge fan of cake, I can very well imagine the consternation if cake was stolen from my household. Can you tell us- 1) do you eat cake? 2) if so, what is your favourite? 3) if not, why not? (And what do you have with tea if not cake?!) (1) Yes, I eat cake if the opportunity arises. (2) I’m going to say Battenberg, because it has just the right amount of marzipan. (3) I said I do, so I don’t have to answer this one.

The sci-fi elements in the story are great and often times, very amusing – even with the inevitable destruction of planets going on – the Bar-Tarry-Tuffians spring to mind! Did this involve any scientific research – I’m thinking of the impressive references to hyper spatial physics, measuring of light years and so on?! I don’t remember doing any particular research before writing any of the outer space chapters, other than a lifetime of reading and watching sci-fi and sci-fact books and programmes.

That lifetime of experience has been composting inside my head for long enough that some of it made sense when mixed up and spilt onto the page. It’s fascinating to look back and remember when I was a kid we knew of no other planets outside our solar system, and now there are thousands of exo-planets known. And as our techniques and our instruments become better we’re finder smaller and more Earth-like planets out there, even around nearby stars. I don’t doubt that on some of these worlds life has arisen, and maybe even what we would call ‘intelligent’ life.

The gaps between the stars are so immense though, that it would take many lifetimes for people to travel between and so one of the ways it has been suggested we explore the galaxy is by making self-replicating robots, like the ones in the book. Because these robots don’t grow old like we do, they could spend the centuries travelling between planets without dying or going mad. And when they get there, if they have the ability to make more copies of themselves they can then send those out to other star systems.

These self-replicating machines are called Von Neumann probes, and I don’t remember where I first heard about them. But they’re not my idea, just something that made its way into the book because it made sense. The lesson of this is – those useless bits of information you once learnt might turn out to be useful after all, so never turn them away… let them live in your head – one day they might become a book.

When you’re writing fiction, do words come more easily than when you’re writing poetry? Do you have a specific process for each form of writing? I try not to think too much about it, either sort of writing. I just try to get on with it, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t and it feels like your banging an empty head against a brick wall of blank paper, then that just means it’s time to go have another bath.

When we last met at the Bookchat Roadshow, you had some wonderful advice for the audience regards encouraging children’s creativity. You said that whatever their means of expression – writing, art, poetry, drama – we should encourage children to express themselves in the way that’s best for them.  Who has given you the greatest encouragement for your work and what motivates you to keep writing? What motivates me to keep writing? That’s an odd question. I don’t know what else to do. I think it’s as simple as that. I don’t write every day and I don’t write an awful lot, but if I go any length of time without making something (and the making is usually with words in one way or another) then I feel antsy and irritable and unfulfilled and awkward and sad. I would make things with words (poems, stories, songs…) even if no one wanted to read them, even if no one was paying me to do it. Maybe not the books I’m writing right now, but who knows? (After all, I spent many years writing things that no one paid me for, before I ever had a book published.)

As for who has encouraged me… there’s such a long list, but a few I would like to mention include my editors at Bloomsbury, Kate and Hannah and Zöe, who have helped make the books we’ve published better than they would have been if I’d been doing it on my own. Part of their job is to send me back to my desk when what I’ve given them hasn’t been good enough, or funny enough, or right enough. And the fact they think I can do better makes me try harder and make the books better. Also my partner, Iszi, who suggested I try writing stories for kids, instead of just poems, in the first place. And more abstractly, out there in the world of children’s writing, many authors whose books I read or who I meet at events – they inspire me, by making Good Things themselves and showing that it can be done.

And finally, two very special sets of people – the kids I meet when I visit schools… the fact that some of them have been reading my books and seem to enjoy them makes the effort that sometimes went into making the books seem worthwhile – and secondly, the illustrators who get given my words and who make the books look so beautiful (Sarah Horne, Emily Gravett, Levi Pinfold, Chris Riddell and, for Greta Joe Todd-Stanton)… seeing what they do, the magic they work… oh it makes me want to do good, for them. I don’t want them wasting their time on any old rubbish!

So lots of people encourage and inspire me and my work.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us and share the inspiration behind your work. 

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Read my review of Greta Zargo here.

Find out more at www.afharroldkids.com and www.joetoddstanton.com

With thanks to Bloomsbury Books for organising this interview.

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New review: Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Just in time for National Poetry Day, I’m delighted to be reviewing the fantastic book, Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex, author and illustrator of many picture books and novels.

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We all know nothing rhymes with orange. But how does that make Orange feel? Well, left out! When a parade of fruit gets together to sing a song about how wonderful they are – and the song happens to rhyme – Orange can’t help but feel like it’s impossible for him to ever fit in.   

As soon as I read about this book I knew I’d love it – and I do!  It’s a wonderful parable of how in order to fit in, we sometimes need a bit of help and for that to happen others need to make space and maybe adjust a little.

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It starts as an amusing poem celebrating the wonderful and varied fruit, but as Orange gets more downhearted and desperate to fit it, the rhymes get a little more ridiculous.  As Drew Daywalt said (author of The Day the Crayons Quit) “any picture book that can work in Friedrich Nietzsche and lycanthropic pears is a winner”.

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Even Orange can’t work out what’s going on, asking questions throughout, creating an emotional commentary alongside the fruit parade poem.  Finally, it’s a very intuitive Apple who realises certain fruit are “feeling rotten because they’ve been forgotten” and works out just how to help Orange fit in.  I won’t spoil it, but it’s genius in its childlike simplicity!

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The illustrations are a combination of photographs, text and drawing, bringing to life a vibrant cast of characters – the fruit we know and love. Young and old alike will enjoy this fruity tale, a good book to read aloud creating instant empathy. Original and with a great message celebrating difference, Nothing Rhymes with Orange is a wonderful book to help celebrate National Poetry Day!

Find out more at www.adamrex.com

With thanks to Abrams and Chronicle for sending me this book to review.