It’s Poetry Friday but I feel, for me, it’s been poetry week: which is a wonderful thing indeed.
On Monday night I spent a lovely couple of hours in Fremantle at Voicebox, a monthly open mic poetry night. I’ve been hearing about Voicebox for years and planning to get along, especially since I started working back in the city, but this was my first time actually getting there. Very glad I did. There were two guest poets who read from their works: Rajan Sharma, in Australia from the UK to perform at the Fringe festival, and Caitlin Maling, a West Aussie poet who I already very much admired, but who is always a pleasure to hear from. There were also 10 awesome volunteers for the open mic spots, so over the course of the night, we were treated to an incredible range of poets and poetic forms, and topics., as well as opportunities to just chat poetry, and life, with fellow attendees.
Listening to poets who are writing for adults, and chatting poetry was an excellent precursor to the event I spoke at on Wednesday night. My awesome poet friend Rebecca Newman had asked me to be part of an event at the amazing Paperbird Books, talking all things children’s poetry and reading from our work. The event on Monday night had taken my thoughts back to an a question I keep coming back to: what makes a poem ‘for children’ or ‘for adults’? I spent far too much time during my doctoral studies trying to nail down an answer, so I went back again this week to revisit what I ended up writing.
The conclusion I made then, as now, is that while the question can’t be easily answered, a poem is for children either because an adult (poet, publisher, teacher) decides it is, based on their concept of childhood OR it is for children if children engage with it. I like the latter idea better, because it gives the child agency. For myself, when I write poetry I try not to talk TO children , nor even OF children, but AS a child, because that is who I really am. After all, adults and children are one and the same – we are on a continuum. My favourite quote in trying to figure all this out is from Ted Hughes, who labelled writing children’s poetry “a curious occupation…the most curious thing being that we think children need a special kind of poetry”.
SO, Rebecca and I headed to Paperbird on Wednesday night, with a very enthusiastic, friendly audience, who listened to us talk about this curious occupation, and the experiences we have had both crafting poetry, and sharing it with children. We talked about the importance of letting children enjoy poetry – both the reading and the writing, and I suspect I used the word ‘pleasure’ at least a hundred times: pleasure is key when it comes to experiencing poetry. What else did we talk about? The importance of poetry in tough times, the joy of humorous poetry, rhyme, not rhyme… so much! Rebecca recorded our conversation, so we are hoping there might be some snippets to share at some point.
In the meantime, as we discussed our work, we touched on Poetry Tag, the blog we used to run (I guess we still own it – we just kind of faded out of posting). The idea was that we took turns setting the other a handful of words which then had to be incorporated into a poem. I went looking today for one of those poems, which I mentioned during Wednesday night’s chat. I remembered it as a really angry poem. When I found it today I realised it probably wasn’t angry enough, because there are still refugee children being mistreated, just as they were in 2014 when I wrote this poem. Anyway, here is, along with the words Rebecca gave me back then:
of a courageous tree
which struggles on
beside the sea
in spite of wind
betwixt ocean and land.
that battles on
though winter’s rains
are so long gone
in fragile shell.
he cannot tell.
have been defiled.
Who seeks new home
Yet languish now
in no-man-s place.
to tell the world you’re there.
to let you know I care.
And like that tree
and like that snail
I sing in hopes
you will prevail.
I sing for you
in hopes one day
you will be free.
(Copyright Sally Murphy 2014; 2020)
My conclusions from my week of poetry? We need angry poems. We need to write them and share them and act on them. We also need beautiful poems, hope-filled poems, sad poems, joyful poems, funny poems. Thanks Voicebox, Paper Bird and Rebecca for making this a poetry week for me and others. And thanks to the Poetry Friday community for letting me be part of spreading poetry and its many messages.
Speaking of Poetry Friday – head over to the roundup hosted this week by my fellow Aussie poet, Kat Apel, who is also, coincidentally, sharing a poem she wrote in 2014.
Hope your week is filled with poetry too!