Hello. I’m delighted and honoured to have poet Brian Moses visiting on National Poetry Day!
Brian has a long list of accolades to his name, such as having written over 200 books with different publishers, and book sales of over 1 million. He’s given over 2500 performances of his poetry, and his name is well known by oodles of school children and teachers. Welcome, Brian!
This is the first time I’ve had a chance to interview a poet, so I was brimming with questions, so I am grateful to Brian for taking the time and trouble to answer them all.
First I asked Brian about Dreamer which came out this August.
Brian, what inspired you to write ‘Dreamer‘?
I wrote half of ‘Dreamer‘ about 25 years ago. I used to use some of the couplets as inspiration for children’s own writing. Then I discovered it had been published on an ‘Arab Observers’ website
http://arabobsmisc.blogspot.co.uk/2006/04/ and I began to think that the poem might have wider appeal.
I was showing possible picture book scripts to an agent for illustrators – Frances McKay and she liked ‘Dreamer‘. She asked Bee Willey to do a few roughs and showed the idea to publishers.
Luckily it was accepted for publication by Janetta Otter-Barry as one of the first books on her new list.
I think the inspiration came from visiting some beautiful places, both in this country and in America. It’s such a fragile balance and something can easily happen to spoil it.
I was thinking too of the poem ‘Inversnaid’ by Gerald Manley Hopkins:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
When did you start writing poems? And at what point did you realise you were good at it?
I started writing poems when I was 16. Poems and song lyrics, while I tried and failed to play guitar. I wrote through College and University, and again when I was teaching.
It was then that I started writing poems that seemed more for children, although I always say that I write my poems for young people and for the young person inside every adult.
Quite often I’d use my poems with the classes I taught and they were kind enough to tell me that they liked them.
I invited writers to the schools where I taught – Kit Wright, John Agard – who were both encouraging. I worked with Pie Corbett too and we’d bounce ideas off each other and criticise the poems we wrote.
I think it’s only now, when I see my hundred favourite poems assembled in ‘Lost Magic’ that I begin to think that maybe they’re not too bad and that I will be leaving some sort of legacy behind.
What do you enjoy about writing poetry for children?
I love writing poems for children. I love the challenge of teasing out those things to write about that are that little bit different. There are very few new subjects to write about but there are always new ways to look at an old subject. As an anthologist I cringe when I see another ‘My teacher is a vampire’ poem unless it has that different twist to it. I also enjoy the way children respond to poems. You know immediately if they like a poem, there’s no half way line.
How do you go about writing your poems? Is it a response that comes to you quite subconsciously? Or do you pick a subject and craft it?
I always thought that I could never write poems to order but in the last few years that’s what I’ve done in the 3 books I’ve written with Roger Stevens and the two with James Carter. Writing 30 poems in six months on a subject is a real challenge but one that I’ve managed to complete on 5 occasions now. Roger and I are just completing another book, this time a book of dog poems. I think I’m beginning to realise that if I have to write poems for a deadline then inspiration comes, often prompted by desperation! If I’m not writing to order then I can quite easily be lazy, mess about for a day, spend too much time on twitter etc.
When I’m not writing to order the ideas still seem to come along and I write them down in notebooks, sometimes working on them there and then but often revisiting them at a later date.
I still think maybe the best poems arrive in a bit of a splurge and it’s a rush to get the words down. That’s exciting.
Which poets most inspire you?
I’m inspired by a lot of poets. Bob Dylan was my first inspiration. Is he a poet? I don’t know. But his words affected me as a teenager. Then I discovered Penguin Modern Poets 10 That book changed my life. I read and read and read that book all one summer because the poems were accessible, they were written colloquially and they were about things that I was interested in. They were about falling in love, about rebellion. They contained daft ideas, crazy things. That book was a ‘Road to Damascus’ experience for me.
As a teacher I read my classes Rosen, McGough, Gareth Owen, Charles Causley, Wes Magee, all poets whose work I’ve enjoyed immensely.
I went back to the traditional poets I’d rejected in school, to Yeats, Robert Frost, Christina Rossetti and found enjoyment there.
Today I like to read the American poets Billy Collins & Judith Viorst. There are new poets too whose work I admire and who I’ve published in anthologies – Joshua Seigal, Matt Goodfellow, Debra Bertulis -the future looks good for children’s poetry.
How did you feel when you saw all those poems of yours in ‘Lost Magic‘? Do you have a favourite?
It was Brian Patten who once said that he couldn’t say which was his favourite poem because the other poems might get jealous. I subscribe to that view too. There are the ones that children always ask for ‘Walking with My Iguana’, ‘The Ssssnake Hotel’ and ‘Shopping Trolley’ but I’m drawn more towards the gentler ones, ‘A Feather from an Angel’, ‘Lost Magic’, ‘Playing with Stars’. ‘Space Dog’, ‘Days’. But it did feel good to see them all in the one hardback volume, nestling side by side. And with such a stunning cover by Ed Boxall.
Which aspect of your working life as a poet do you enjoy the most?
I think the aspect of my working life as a poet that I enjoy the most is the feeling that for the last 28 years I haven’t really done a proper job! It’s been tiring on the road going from place to place to do performances, but the moment I arrive, set up and start to present my poems to a hall full of children, it just becomes the most amazing thing to do. I never grow tired of it and I know many other children’s poets feel the same as I do.
The other thing, of course, is getting that first copy of a new book & then feeling that all the effort that went into creating it was worthwhile.
What advice can you give us aspiring poets?
I don’t really think I can offer much advice. It really is a question of following your own muse to see where it takes you. The advice I offer children is threefold:
- a) If you want to be a writer, write. Don’t just talk about it as many people do. If there’s a book in you, sit down and write it.
- b) Keep a writer’s notebook, fill it with funny things you hear people say, jokes, strange signs, anything – it becomes a treasure chest of ideas to go back to.
- c) Read. Be someone who can’t live without books in your life.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Fortunately lots of highlights.
The first book I wrote with Pie Corbett and which was accepted by OUP, the first publisher we sent it to.
Getting taken on by Macmillan and working with my editor and poetry enthusiast Gaby Morgan for the past 23 years.
Running a couple of day long sessions for managers of Waitrose on how to look at things in a different way, oh yes, and a yurt came into it somewhere!
Being invited by CBBC to write a poem for the Queen on her 80th birthday which they sent to her. (I like to think it’s hanging up in one of the lesser bathrooms in Buckingham Palace, or round behind the dog kennels!)
Writing my childhood autobiography ‘Keeping Clear of Paradise Street: A Seaside Childhood in the 1950s‘.
Unwrapping the first copy of my best of ‘Lost Magic‘.
Being asked to write answers to all these questions by Pippa Wilson……
Many thanks to Brian for visiting, and bringing kids (big and small!) so much joy with his poetry. Do go and visit his blogspot. It’s an absolute treasure trove: loads of inspiration with beautiful language, and insights into the life of a busy writer!
6th October 2016