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Children’s book blog: Ask the poet – James Carter

Rebecca Davies

James Carter 731x1024 Childrens book blog: Ask the poet – James Carter

This week, I’m delighted to welcome a poet onto the children’s book blog for the first time. The poet in question is James Carter, who has published no fewer than 10 volumes of poetry for children and recently took part in the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour.

James regularly visits schools up and down the UK, inspiring pupils and teachers alike with his unique blend of poetry and Beatles-influenced guitar music.

So what’s it like being a poet and exactly how does one become one? I asked James – and got a free poem into the bargain!

How did you become a poet?

Very slowly! I’ve always loved music and language. As a boy I read Tintin books and comics and information books. I couldn’t read enough of them!

I also loved listening to my little records – all my Beatles 45s – I played them non-stop. I bought my first guitar at the age of 15 and within hours I started writing songs – lyrics (lyrics and poems are actually very similar!) and music. I played guitar and wrote songs in bands for years. And to this day I still write and perform instrumental guitar music.

Later on, after university, I began writing poems. Quite quickly – and luckily! – I became published. Within five years, my first poetry collection, Cars Stars Electric Guitars (Walker Books) appeared.

What drew you towards writing poetry for children?

I was working with children as a teacher at the time I began writing. I had previously done two degrees at university, in Children’s Literature. Anyway, I much prefer writing for children as you can be more playful, and that’s fundamental to me, plus I find writing for children gives me greater freedom as a writer.

Writing itself is all about being playful, being creative, exploring the possibilities of words – playing with their sounds, their rhythms, repetitions, meanings and so on.

And being a parent has also helped me greatly as a poet. Watching my two daughters grow up has been such a fantastic experience for me and has given me so many ideas for poems.

Some of your poems, like WhatDidYouDoAtSchoolToday, are very funny. Others, like The Wolf Outside, are really quite scary. Do you think it’s important that children are introduced to the darker side of life through poetry?

I think all I’m trying to do is present children with a very wide range of poems, in a variety of tones, voices and forms. Some may be scary, some funny, some thoughtful, some reflective, some daft and some funny. To be honest, only a few are scary – and I have actually got a book of spooky poems (with my chum Brian Moses) coming out next year!

However, in all my books, from Cars Stars Electric Guitars to Time-Travelling Underpants to Journey To The Centre Of My Brain, I want to give the reader a range of reading experiences. I don’t want the reader to know from page to page what they are going to get next!

A poetry book should be full of surprises and variety. In my books you’ll find shape poems, calligrams, rhyming poems, free verse, haikus, acrostics, memory poems, little story poems, as many different things that I can come up with!

Do you have any top tips for children (and adults!) who want to give poetry writing a go?

Read lots of poems. Go to the library, take out all kinds of poetry books. A good poet is a good reader. I quickly realised when I began reading poems that I needed to read more poetry, so I started then and haven’t stopped! If you’re not keen on reading poems, then perhaps you’re better suited to writing stories or maybe non-fiction.

But a good poet will also need to read novels, picture books, information books – all kinds of books. Everything feeds in to your writing. I’m also inspired by films, music, and events and happenings in my life.

Aspiring poets should also try writing all kinds of poems – rhymes, free verse, syllabic verse, everything and anything. But also try writing short stories, little plays, autobiographical pieces – everything. Write something – just a little something – even just a word or two – every single day!

If you want something specific to read – adults could try the best poetry book ever, Billy Collins’ Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes (no it’s not rude, just a cheeky title!). As for children, my anthology Orange Silver Sausage (Walker Books) has a real range of poems from many well-known poets, and none of them rhyme!

And a tip for writing? Go to YouTube. Find ‘An Ascending’ by Brian Eno. It’s a gorgeous piece of instrumental music. Play it over and over again in the background. Take a pen and piece of paper and start writing.

What’s the best thing about being a poet?

Well, I love words. Poetry – for me anyway – is the most exciting thing I can do as a writer. And it’s my job – to write poems and poetry books, and to go out to schools, libraries and festivals and to play my guitar and read poems (I’m not a ‘performer’, I’m a very lively ‘reader’ – it’s a different thing!).

Poetry allows me to think to reflect, to make sense of things, to daydream. And that’s what I am – a professional daydreamer!

What’s the worst thing?

Nothing! I love being a poet. I even don’t mind having to get up at 4.30am to visit schools, where I encourage children and teachers to be creative too! Who could ask for more?

Any chance you could share an exclusive mini-poem with us?

Why of course:

MADults

You laugh when things aren’t funny

you cry when things aren’t sad

and yet if ever I did that

you’d think that I was MAD!

Copyright James Carter @ 2014


Rebecca Davies is a journalist and author and is currently working on a YA novel set in Hackney. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaDavies__

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