World Poetry Day!

March 20th, 2016 | Poems for children, Reflections

It is tough getting poetry published. It has been that way for a long time, and I don’t see any signs that it is going to change.

Rejection is inevitable, and it is never easy. The greatest asset that a poet can possess (apart, from talent, I suppose – whatever that is!), is persistence – persistence and patience.

Don’t be surprised if you end up submitting 20 or 30 poems before you get one accepted for publication. Mind you, there are limits. If you find you have submitted 100 poems without any luck, it might be time to at least ask yourself if you might possibly be in the wrong game, or perhaps approaching it in the wrong way.

Part of the key is to be prolific. Write heaps. Don’t worry if they are not all masterpieces, and don’t spend hours trying to convert an excellent poem into a “perfect” poem (whatever that is!). Don’t hang all your hopes on a small number of poems. Make sure you have a swathe of them, so that when the first batch is rejected (as it almost certainly will be), the next lot is ready to be submitted right away. Again, remember – don’t take rejections personally. Everyone gets rejections. The editor is not rejecting you, just your poem!

The landscape has changed a lot since I first started writing poetry for children back in 1990. Then, in addition to the excellent NSW School Magazine, we had the Pearson magazines in Victoria (Comet, Pursuit, Explore, etc.) and New Zealand School Journal. Since then, the Victorian and New Zealand magazines have fallen by the wayside, and only School Magazine endures.

Yes I know, the whole world of online publishing has opened up since then, but I don’t feel there is any substitute for seeing your poem published in a magazine or book. Besides, you don’t get paid for online publishing. Nor is there the same sense of achievement. It seems pretty well anything will be accepted – or at least, that the bar is set a lot lower. And who reads these poems, apart from the poets themselves?

I feel very privileged to have had a collection published. (My collection of rhyming verse for children, “’The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”, was published by Walker Books in 2014.)

I also feel very honoured that the book won a Golden Gumleaf for “Book of the Year” at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2015. Indeed, this was the last year the Bush Laureate Awards were held. They were deferred this year – possibly indefinitely.

I would love to have a second collection published. I had the book very much in mind when I began writing for children in 1990, so it took 24 years to become a reality. I just hope my second book does not take another 24 years…

I do feel that I am not writing as well for children now as I once did. There are several explanations for this. There is no doubt that my own children were an inspiration, and they are now grown up. Also, of course, I am older now. Is that a valid reason, or just an excuse? I’m not sure. I do find that I am not in the right frame of mind to write for children as often now as used to be the case. I still do occasionally manage to turn out a poem I am very happy with, but it happens less often than it used to, and I also now turn out more poems that I am not really very happy with! Still, I’ll keep plugging away, because I enjoy it so much when it all goes well. Besides, it is such a big part of my life now, I would not want to stop.

Having said all that, though, it is important to maintain a balance in all things. You don’t want to become obsessed with anything. I have many other fields of writing endeavour other than writing poetry for children, and I have many further fields of endeavour that do not involve writing at all. That, surely, is how it should be!

So, go to it, all you writers of poetry for children! May you dazzle, amaze, thrill, amuse, and generally downright fill with awe at the glory of life many generations of children yet to come. And may you have one hell of time yourselves in the process!