The benefits to children from reading and hearing poetry are well-documented but for me the most important is the way poetry can help readers process emotion. Just before I began social distancing in these uncertain times, I had a cuppa with children’s poet, Rebecca M Newman and here’s what she had to say…
NLK: As well as a poet, you’re the editor for Alphabet Soup. Can you tell us more about the magazine?
RMN: Originally Alphabet Soup was a print magazine for kids who love reading and creative writing. These days it’s a website www.alphabetsoup.net.au where we provide a forum for children’s writing and art and book reviews. And there’s a team of readers under the age of 13 (the Top Reads team) who give monthly reading recommendations during the school year. I also feature interviews with authors and illustrators from time to time. The website includes a competitions page where we list any Australian children’s writing and art competitions we hear about. It keeps me busy!
NLK: You were recently a Poet-In-Residence at Paper Bird Children’s Bookshop, can you tell us what that was like? What was the biggest challenge and biggest joy of your residency?
RMN: The Paper Bird Fellowship gave me the use of a fantastic writing space at Paper Bird in Fremantle for three months. The biggest challenge was not being over-ambitious about what could be achieved in three months. Three months seemed like an eternity when I first sat down at the desk, but it went by in a flash. The greatest joy? There were so many joys! Being in such a beautiful children’s bookshop (especially one with a good selection of children’s poetry books), meeting up with other creative writers and illustrators who work out of Paper Bird, and making a good dent in the children’s poetry collection I was finishing.
NLK: What is your favourite poem? Can you please share one of yours?
RMN: When I was ten, I remember wanting to cut a poem out of a book and carry it around with me. The poem was ‘Overheard on a Saltmarsh’ by Harold Monro. (I didn’t cut it out, I learnt it off by heart instead.) It’s still one of my favourites. I loved its moodiness, the setting, the magical elements, the imagery of green glass beads on a silver string – and it’s a sort of mini theatre piece really, you want to read it aloud. [You can read it here: https://allpoetry.com/Overheard-on-a-Saltmarsh.]
You can see I’ve sidestepped choosing one favourite poem. Ack – that’s too hard! I have bookshelves overflowing with poetry books for all ages and I have too many favourites.
Here’s one of my own poems for children. This poem was first published by The School Magazine in NSW in 2017.
Body beat by Rebecca M Newman
Can you feel the rhythm
With the stomp in your feet
With the clap in your hands
With the click in your fingers
And your thumb?
Can you feel the rhythm
With the tap on your knees
With the sss through your teeth
With the whistle through your lips
And a hum?
NLK: You have also written plays as well as poetry. Do the forms have any similarities?
RMN: Pacing and pauses are important for both. When I’m writing plays or poetry I like to read my drafts aloud. I’ve started writing more poetry-for-performance over the last few years – I think it’s because I began working with a children’s Choral Speaking Club and that’s influenced my poetry style. I like to keep the performers and the audience in mind while I write, and I do that when I’m writing a playscript, too.
NLK: Can you please tell us about your writing journey?
RMN: I always wanted to be a writer. When I finished high school I went on to study English Literature at university, and did a Graduate Certificate in Editing & Publishing. My first published poem appeared in an educational magazine called The School Magazine in 2014, and they’ve published more of my poetry and a playscript since then. I’ve also recently had a poem accepted for an upcoming poetry anthology with Bloomsbury Education.
In the last few years I’ve been writing picture book manuscripts and I’ve started work on a middle grade novel set in Western Australia. But I can’t escape the poetry. I run a children’s Choral Speaking Club (reciting poetry as an ensemble) at a local primary school and sometimes I write poetry for the club to perform. The kids give me great advice. We learn a lot from each other.
NLK: What is your artistic vision for your career in children’s literature?
RMN: More poetry! My artistic vision encompasses a sweeping change in attitudes to poetry (why have a small personal vision, when you could have a vision where you take over the world?). To that end, I want to:
- ramp up enthusiasm for poetry in schools, and in the community.
- build demand for books and zines of poetry for children (not just my poetry, all sorts of poetry) so that when you walk into a bookshop and ask, ‘where is your children’s poetry, please?’ there’s actually a whole shelf/section waiting for you.
- have my poetry collection (a book of my own poems) published.
- become the editor of a children’s poetry anthology (a book of poems by various poets). I’d love to select and work on poems for a fabulous anthology for upper primary students. It’s so important for children to read/hear poetry that reflects their own experiences, place, language, and idioms. There are some brilliant Australian poets writing for children today and it would be wonderful to get more of their work into the hands of young readers and writers. Over the last few years there’s been a gradual increase in the number of Australian poetry collections, verse novels and anthologies for children and that’s extremely encouraging.
Rebecca M Newman lives near the coast in Perth, Western Australia. Her poetry and a playscript have appeared in The School Magazine, and she has a poem included in an upcoming UK anthology. In 2019, Rebecca was the recipient of a three-month Paper Bird Fellowship (Poet-in-residence) in Fremantle, Western Australia. When she’s not writing, Rebecca dabbles in collage and Irish fiddle, and is the managing editor at Alphabet Soup – a website for children who love books and creative writing.
Connect with Rebecca