Mention the word poetry to many adults and the response may well be indifference, but for children it can have a universal appeal, which is fortunate because rhymed poetry and verse are important for their language development. We are born into a world of rhythm, from the heartbeat of the womb to the pulses of the seasons. Research frequently suggests that poetry plays a vital role in promoting early reading success. As a child I loved nursery rhymes, and if you want your child to learn to read quickly and develop early fluency, then read and sing lots of them during those early years. The sooner the parent introduces poetry the sooner the child can utilize it, for it will be seen as part of the whole world, not something dry or separate. Young minds are open to poetry, to that irrepressible charge of language, where words collide, they can sense its fizzing power, the magic that it can unleash, and it is adults who are responsible for making them think it is difficult or dull.
An ostrich buried its head in the sand and fell asleep.
He couldn’t remember where he’d buried it.
I am a firm believer that all children are poets before they go to school. By that, I mean the way that children see the world around them and try to put it into words. I remember one of my sons running in from the garden, crying, ‘Daddy, one of the flowers has bit me’ when in fact, it was a thorn from a rose bush. If we’re not careful, as parents and teachers we find ourselves saying ‘Don’t be silly, flowers can’t bite,’ or ‘Candles don’t cry’ or ‘That’s not a cloud factory, it’s a power station.’ Without meaning to, we squash the imagination by replacing it with information, moving from creativity to something that can be constantly measured and compared. In some parts of the world, music, painting, poetry and dance are one and the same art, and in young children they still are, until poetry becomes something to be read in reverential silence.
A 13 amp slug you are likely to find
In the garden under a rock
Be careful how you pick it up,
You might get a nasty shock.
I began writing my first poems during my late teens at Hull University and although I tried to be as serious as our esteemed librarian, Philip Larkin, I couldn’t stop myself finding humour almost everywhere. A light versifier? Oh dear. And then I found my audience. Me, of course, but the young schoolboy who liked playing with the plasticene of language, juggling with words, making jokes and silly puns. I have continued throughout my life to publish books of poetry for adults inspired by relationships, politics, the environment, war, ageing etc, but I have always found the need to swerve off the path and dive into that rich and playful jungle of language. To carefully craft nonsense and surrealism for children. To imagine menageries of weird and wonderful animals for instance, and bring them to life on the page.
To amuse emus
on warm summer nights
Kiwis do wiwis
from spectacular heights.
An Imaginary Menagerie is a collection of poetry published by Otter Barry Books and is available from 7.7.22