By Zaro Weil, Winner of the 2020 Clippa Poetry Prize
Arriving at the windy Bologna Book Fair in March 2018, I stood smiling under the fluttering coloured banners. What a miracle to be part of this world. My second poetry book had just been published. Firecrackers. I was there to help my publisher, Troika, promote it.
Finding my way through the labyrinth of aisles filled with books, I thought that about how all those varied concepts, extraordinary art and miraculous visions enrich our lives. All these like-minded authors, artists and publishers wanting to brighten the minds and hearts of children.
After two days I turned to Roy Johnson of Troika. ‘I want to write a book called Cherry Moon; Little Poems Big Ideas. Mindful of Nature.’ The idea just popped out fully formed. Roy smiled big.
I know what prompted my outburst. It was the long-hidden memory of a twilight walk I had with my father in the woods when I was a little girl. Staring at the squirrels, birds, ruffling green trees, pink sky, and distant red moon, I felt a jolt. An electric sense of oneness with nature. I had become the animals and woods and sky. Free, wild and mysterious. And at the same time still the me I knew. Safe. Holding my father’s hand.
These thoughts and feelings stayed with me, asleep in the moon-lit quiet of my mind. Over the years, they grew deeper. So in fact that title hadn’t just popped out. It had been growing for a long time, unbeknownst to me, inside my heart. It took the overwhelming experience of the Fair to bring it to the surface.
That is how it is in the world. Our earliest thoughts and impressions thread quietly though our lives, influencing how we grow up and ultimately who we are
It also popped out because of words. And because we humans are a wordy species, words matter. Especially to children.
I grew up making lists of words in different notebooks and listening to all kinds of music with words. My friends and I laughed and danced and sang along. We memorised lyrics. We made up our own songs and stories. Even little plays and poems. We lived closely with words and imagination was the currency for this word-play. In this I was no different from most children.
It is clear that my vision for Cherry Moon came from the remembrance of that walk in the woods with my father, from my continuing interface with words and imagination, and from those Bologna aisles filled with wondrous visions.
I knew with Cherry Moon that I wanted young readers to experience nature in the same personal and profound way that I did. To do that I also knew I had to get right inside every leaf and bug and animal and cloud. I needed to call upon the energy and power of nature to talk directly to the child.
I also knew I had to play as hard and well as I could with words. To fill every phrase with as much energy, imagination and musicality that I could muster. That way young readers might come to understand and internalise the meaning behind all those rip-roaring words. I wanted them to feel excited and happy to be part of an enchanting poetry world.
Through poetry, an alignment of words and imagination with its own logic and the swapping of the everyday for the magical, meaning is revealed. That is the prize. A fresh understanding.
Alongside the playfulness and the magic, I wanted Cherry Moon to make clear the seriousness with which we must understand nature and protect it. For serious intent is as deeply felt and important to recognise in children as joyful laughter.
So when Valerie Bloom said those heart stopping words ‘And the winner of the 2020 CliPPA Poetry Award is … Cherry Moon,’ it was an extraordinary moment. Make that miraculous. In one on-screen moment my own little vision of a walk in the woods not only fluttered in the wind, it flashed through the air.
The Cherry Moon study guide notes prepared by Charlotte Hacking from CLPE are remarkable. They manage to get inside my poems in a variety of thoughtful and expressive ways. What more wonderful thing is there for a poet than to see their words used as a springboard for children to learn.
This is the joy of the wonderful CLPE school shadowing scheme. It is a game-changing opportunity for children to use words from poetry to reconsider, reimagine and reshape the world around them, and share them with a wide audience.
What better way could there be to make our early thoughts and impressions come alive and stay with us forever than through poetry?
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.