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!

A bad week for children’s poetry…

September 29th, 2013 | News, Poems for children

It hasn’t been a good week for children’s poetry.

On Monday morning I discovered that Learning Media Ltd., which publishes New Zealand School Journal, is winding down, and that NZ School Journal is no longer accepting submissions.

Upon further enquiry, I discovered that Learning Media Ltd. is being privatised by the New Zealand government.

It is possible that NZ School Journal will continue to be published, but it will no longer be available free of charge to all schools. Presumably, if this is so, it will be most easily accessed by the schools that need it least.

NZ School Journal has been an important part of my own journey as a children’s poet. They have published two of my poems, including one – “The Dinosaur Climbers’ Kit” – that has not been published elsewhere. They also published my most successful poem – “Dad Meets the Martians” – and then turned it into a song, with my permission, and recorded it on CD.

Fortunately, a campaign has been mounted to try to save NZ School Journal. A petition can now be signed online. Not only did I sign it myself, but I also asked a number of my friends to do so. I am pleased to say that over twenty of them responded positively, which gives the petition some more momentum to move towards the 5,000 signatures that are being sought. I am sure the campaigners will be heartened also to learn they have plenty of support on the other side of the Tasman Sea.

The bad news did not stop there, however. The following day I discovered that the Australian Bush Laureate Awards have dropped the category of “Children’s Poem of the Year” for next year’s awards, due to low numbers of entries in recent years.

I find this very frustrating, because I do not think the Bush Laureate Awards have made much effort to publicise or promote this category. The unfortunate reality is that very few members of the bush poetry community write for children.

However, many children’s writers write rhyming verse, much of which is published in the form of picture books. I am sure many of these are set in the bush, or at least in a sufficiently Australian setting to earn the approval of the Bush Laureate judges. I feel confident that, if the Bush Laureate Awards were publicised through the children’ writing community (SCBWI, PIO, Buzz Words, etc.), many high quality entries would have been received.

I have passed on my concerns to the relevant authorities. Hopefully they will re-introduce the category of “Children’s Poem of the Year” next year.

In the meantime, I can only concur with the sentiments of Jackie Hosking, who wrote “Thank goodness for Walker Books!”.

To which I would add “…and NSW School Magazine!”