A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
I am a little bit of a poetry junkie. In fact I have been known to trap people in the kids section reading them one after the other after the other after the other… until they either cry or threaten physical violence. It’s honestly not my fault. My mother did exactly the same to me. I have so many poems stored in my brain that I can keep people entertained (or on the edge of hysteria) for hours. Rosy will recall a wonderful visit to Julia Donaldson’s kitchen where Julia and I sat reciting A.A. Milne… and it wasn’t Rosy who cried!
So, I thought, Poetry Week is an excellent opportunity to share my favourite poem with you. But which one?!? This one… that one… but no, it has to be this one… but what about…
I therefore apologise in advance for this utter mish-mash of poems that I love, that mean something to me, that make me laugh, that make me cry or that are just downright, bloody brilliant. Oh, and there is tons of space at the end for you to add your own. Let’s share!
(These are in no particular order at all… I love them all!)
Best known for Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne also wrote some stonkingly good children’s poetry. When We Were Very Young was published in 1924 and Now We Are Six in 1927. I can recite both books, in their entirety, off by heart. If I was forced, at gunpoint, to choose favourites mine would include, from When We Were Very Young:
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
She’s crying with all her might and main,
And she won’t eat her dinner – rice pudding again –
What is the matter with Mary Jane?
The King’s Breakfast
The King asked
The Queen, and
The Queen asked
“Could we have some butter for
The Royal slice of bread?”
The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
I’ll go and tell the cow
Before she goes to bed.”
And from Now We Are Six:
King John’s Christmas
King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
There were Two Little Bears who lived in a Wood,
And one of them was Bad and the other was Good.
Good Bear learnt his Twice Times One –
But Bad Bear left all his buttons undone.
… I always wanted to be Bad Bear!
Next up, as a child I had a beautifully illustrated hardback of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson which was illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. Oh how I loved that book. I would read and re-read every one over and over until I knew every line. Particular favourites include The Lamplighter, From a Railway Carriage and of course, The Land of Counterpane.
If I’ve reminded you about this wonderful book and you want to have a look at all the poems you’ll find them here at Poetry Lovers Page.
Okay, those are the books… now I’m going to share a couple of favourite poems. First of all, I should say I took elocution lessons for over ten years. Every session I had to choose a poem and prepare it for recital at my twice yearly exams. A lot of the poems I love because of this. It may be because I chose poems I loved to prepare (better doing 20 weeks prep on something you actually liked) but I also think I grew to love those poems through examining them and looking so closely at the way they fitted together and their meaning and rhythm.
You can watch a recitation of this wonderful poem above which was actually written for this documentary in 1936. I’m not entirely sure this can be counted as a kids poem… but I studied it when I was twelve. So that’s kid enough for me. It is an incredible poem mostly, I think, because of the rhythm. It so captures the motion of a steam train on its journey and takes you along with it. I still say Night Mail to myself every time I get on a train – sad but true.
My children hate this poem but I love it. It’s super scary and begins…
They should not have left him there alone,
Alone that is except for the cat.
He was only nine, not old enough
To be left alone in a basement flat,
Alone, that is, except for the cat.
When you recite this, it really comes to life; all snarly and dark and dreadful. The way the boy turns from cruel to terrified to… well we’ll never know. I urge you to read it aloud, preferably not next to anyone too young.
And just lastly… ‘cos I just cannot stop myself once I start…
I had a record when I was little (yes, I am THAT old) and it was called Badjelly the Witch and other stories. I still have it somewhere. On it Spike Milligan read the story of Badjelly the Witch on one side and on the other he recited a whole host of, what can only be termed… demented poetry. I listened to that album over and over and over… well, there was no YouTube in those days! The poems included things like On the Ning Nang Nong, where the cows go bong and the monkey’s all say boo. Or The ABC or My Sister Laura or Granny. In Spike’s own voice these were just totally nutty verses which reached out to me as a child and let me be incredibly silly. I’m damn glad there was no YouTube!
Gosh… this has been a very long post by me! Sorry if I got a little carried away, but poetry does tend to do that to me. There are hundreds of poems that deserve a place on this page but I may induce tears if I go on any longer.
So, over to you… tell me what poetry inspired you as a child. I would love to hear them.