Michael Rosen posted a link on Twitter about how exams ruin poetry. I can attest to this. Both the men in my life claim to hate poetry and yet….one of them has a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘IF’ on his office door and the other wrote a poem about how much he hated poetry – it had passion, conviction, direction and form. Oh yes, he understood the form. Form, is actually quite maths-ey don’t you know. He poured out his anger, he wrote a powerful poem. This person that hates poetry.
Am not going to mess up the formalities this week. I’ve been reading up on etiquette, how to address an Ardagh, what to do in the event of one of your poet guests being eaten by a lioness – that sort of thing.
I’m babbling, sorry, it’s nerves. They’ll be here any minute. Must remember: Don’t touch the beard, don’t touch the beard…. oh my gosh, that’s the door.
Rebecca and Lesley! Thank goodness you got here first, come in quick, we can practise the curtsey just like we did on The FunEverse . Aaargh, there’s the Bentley…
‘Mr Ardagh sir, do come in, oh… Dotty?’ Dotty Hendrix, Mr Ardagh’s trusty secretary, is jabbing a thumb behind her.
‘He’s making Leonard and Toto carry him in on a sedan chair, ridiculous man. He says the ground’s too hard for his feet.’
‘I fear that’s my fault Dotty, I forgot to lay butterfly scales on the path. Can you check my curtsey before he gets here? Is it sweeping enough do you think?’
‘I think you worry too much dear. ’
‘Upright Ricketts! Upright. Oh put me down. Just put me down.’
‘Mr Ardagh! You’re here! Thank you so much for attending my small salon. These are my friends from the FunEverse: Rebecca Colby, she used to work for a Russian comedian, and Lesley Moss , she used to be a clown – well I say used to be… anyway they’re both poets. Like you sir.’’
‘Lesley, Rebecca, this is Mr Philip Ardagh, poet, writer of the wonderful Eddie Dickens series , Grubtown Tales and the hilarious The Grunts amongst other things. DON’T TOUCH THE BEARD REBECCA. Sorry, Mr Ardagh sir, so sorry, it’s because she used to have a job inspecting tights, she can’t help herself. Please, come in, as you requested, the chocolate hobnobs have been coated in silver leaf and the champagne is on ice chipped from the foothills of the Himalayas. Now if you’d just sit next to the radiator and slip on these elegant bracelets? Hush now. No objections, it’s for your own good. Shall we start? So….
What is your earliest poetic memory?
Philip: I had a wonderful full-colour illustrated poetry book (in picture-book format) and there was a poem about someone opening a door to a knock and there being no-one there but, in the picture, there was a tiny man — an elf? a tree-sprite? — dressed in green, hiding in the tree roots. It’s stuck in my mind to this day. It’s also a reminder that what you choose to leave out of a poem is as important as what you put in. Let the poem live beyond the page. Let the reader/listener do some of the work.
I love that, I actually do.
Rebecca: Mine is ‘The Lorax’ by Dr Seuss. I hid that book under my bed as a child so I wouldn’t have to return it to the library.
Lesley: The Hums Of Pooh. Tiddleypom.
And your favourite method of coming up with rhyme?
Philip: For me, poetry and rhyme aren’t synonymous. Words just happen. Rhymes simply form… or don’t. It’s organic.
I’m beginning to see that you are not just a pretty bearded face.
Rebecca: My favourite method would be sitting down at my laptop and letting the words in my head flow fully-formed from my fingertips onto the page. But as that never happens, my tried and tested manner is to stare at a blank page while plucking out strands of hair. At least I’m guaranteed to get something out of my head and onto the page that way—even if it’s only grey hairs.
Lesley: Trying very hard NOT to rhyme works quite well: advice like ‘never write a rhyming picture book’ only spurs me on.
You two are quite bonkers do you know that? Do you sometimes annoy people by speaking in verse when you really shouldn’t?
Lesley: Of course – especially when half the rhymes are made-up nonsense words ..
Philip: No, I annoy them by stealing things from their purse or handbag when their back is turned.
Yes well I don’t think you need Rebecca’s bus pass, so if you’d just, thank you. Now then, what’s your favourite subject to rhyme about?
Philip: I quite enjoy tortuous rhymes.
Why does that not surprise me?
Philip(smiling blissfully): I once began a (published) limerick:
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Said, “Cor blimey! What a terrible smell!”
I had complaints about scanning or metre, or both.
Lesley: Magic, monsters, mice and malarkey. And cheese: rhymes with squeeze, please, seize, wheeze ..
Mmm, cheese, excuse me while I pop to the fridge…
Rebecca: Did you know there are almost 1000 words that rhyme with ‘me’? Seriously though, I don’t have a favourite subject. I’ve written poems on subjects as diverse as dandruff and not washing one’s clothes, and they have absolutely nothing to do with me. Honestly. I mean it. You know me, right?
We do, that’s why I sat you in that cardboard box well away from the furniture.
Now I wonder what you can do with this little trickster: What rhymes with orange?
Philip: The answer lies within the covers of Philip Ardagh’s Book of Absolutely Useless lists for Absolutely Every Day of The Year (Macmillan,2007). Rush out and buy several copies.
Ah ha ha! I knew that I KNEW it. Because I already looked it up and even Roger Stevens didn’t get it last week and his answer was pretty cool. And I’m not giving it away either – do you two know?
Rebecca: Come on now. You’re a poet. You don’t need my help with that one. Everyone knows it rhymes with strange.
Crikey, that’s even more tortuous than Philip’s limerick.
Lesley: What rhymes with Orange? Let’s eat it and see ..
Well there is absolutely no arguing with that. Who’s your favourite poet?
It varies with mood and time. My absolute favourite performance poet is Shane Koyczan who is, I think, one of the world’s finest living poets. Many of his poems are unsuitable for children, but check this out:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsq68qRexFc (He is also a VERY nice man.)
Can you not rattle against the radiator quite so much Philip? You’re chipping the paint.
Philip: I do need to go now.
Well I haven’t quite finished and I think we all know you’re going no where without the key. So….Do you ever have really weird dreams – this is an important research question.
Philip: My biggest problem, as I grow older, is separating my ideas from reality. Don’t believe me? Ask Sheila, my talking rubberplant.
Rebecca: I didn’t realise you had that much storage space on your blog. I’m in the process of uploading the daily dream diary I’ve been keeping since 1995 to your site. It should be ready to read soon.
Lesley: I’d love to dream a best selling novel plot, like some authors do!
Ah ha ha, I was only kidding, I just wanted to see if you were genuinely bonkers.
Rebecca: Hmph! Thanks! If I was bonkers, would I have moved to a country where it rains all the time and given my second child a middle name based on the aforementioned weather condition. Really! We poets are so misunderstood!
I am very, very serious and sensible. Obviously.
Philip, please stop fidgeting, it’s the last question. If you could ask yourself one deeply searching thing, what would it be?
Philip: Last question? Right, well, it’s more of a statement which comes in the form of my poem, ‘God Only Knows’:
GOD ONLY KNOWS
God only knows Why lovers Turn to poetry And not To prose.
Thank you. Great questions. Now will you unchain me from this radiator, please? There are beards to be combed and poems to let take shape.
Thank YOU. You marvellous poets. Rebecca and Lesley will you go and see if the She Lion has sicked up George yet? Thanks. And Philip, before I unlock you, can I just take a tiny snip of your beard. For some fans on ebay. You’d be amazed how much this stuff goes for. Stop making such a fuss and HOLD STILL.
A huge thank you to all my guests, no one was actually harmed in the making of this interview. You can find all sorts of interesting things about Philip Ardagh here: http://www.philipardagh.co.uk/
Before I start, I have to let you know I’ve had some complaints. Honestly, poets, so demanding. Anyway, a certain bearded gentleman who has a way with stuffed stoats and will be appearing on this blog in the very near future, has suggested I should introduce my guests in case you don’t know who they are. So I am delighted to introduce: Roger Stevens, creator of the award winning http://www.poetryzone.co.uk and mastermind behind too many books to mention notably ‘Why Otters Don’t Wear Socks’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pants’. Maureen Lynas, winner of the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition and the brains behind http://www.thefuneverse.com and George Kirk, who is not a boy but is a hugely talented story teller and poet who you can also visit in The FunEverse. Can I let them in now Philip, because is raining quite heavily?
Come in, come in, so glad you could make it. Sorry about the wait. And the smell. Roger if you move the chicken off that chair, he doesn’t peck, and George and Maureen if you squish up on the chaise lounge? Perfect. Help yourselves to chilled champagne. My neighbour makes the chocolate truffles , so there are plenty more ( I bet you’re sorry your computer blew up now aren’t you Roger Mcgough?) Ahem…. So, first question:
If 17 cats and half a fish met 14 lemons in an alley way who wins the fight?
George: The fish would kick up such a stink it would beat them all.
Maureen: No it would obviously be the lemons. They would squirt the cats’ eyes, sacrifice one lemon to marinade the fish, sell the fish, which would obviously be lemon sole, and then they’d all have a soak in a bath of gin that they would have bought with the proceeds.
Roger, looking thoughtful: That’s impossible to answer. Does the alley slope? It would depend on who was at the top and which way the wind was blowing.
Alright, that was a bit of a trick question, here’s a real one: What is your earliest poetic memory?
Roger: I remember enjoying the poems in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That was a big influence generally on my writing and my reading.
George: When I was about 5 or 6 I made up alternative lyrics to my favourite theme tune on the telly, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I love writing parodies. At high school we had a school song, it was really really bad and stuck in the front everyone’s hymn books. I wrote a new version and stuck it in the back of me. Unfortunately I lost the hymn book and it was found by my form tutor who read the ‘remix’ I thought I was in BIG trouble but instead he had it printed in the school magazine.
Maureen: I remember two from primary school which have stuck with me. The Lion and Albert, by Marriott Edgar which I just loved for the unexpectedness of it. I hadn’t come across this mix of comedy and tragedy before and I still find it hilarious. The other was Cargoes by John Masefield, I learned it off by heart because of the rhythms and the unusual words, which were never explained to me – it was like speaking a foreign language just to enjoy the sounds.
What’s your favourite method of coming up with rhyme?
George: Okay, I know some people are a bit snobby about this, but I just whip though the alphabet trying different beginnings on the sound I want to rhyme, It’s fun, and sometimes helps me come up with some great nonsense words.
Maureen: Toilet rolls. I have them hanging up all over my office like streamers. There are the really basic Aldi rolls with rhymes like lie and lies and liar – They’re nearest to the desk. They are used a lot, I recycle. But then there’s the premier Andrex rolls with rhymes like fibber. When they fail me I usewww.rhymezone.com.
Roger: Visiting our local poetry supermarket. There are two aisles of rhyme. I usually visit the chill section too, where you can find some good ideas.
Really? Do you think there’s one near me? (Roger gives me a withering look). Ok, moving on then- do you ever annoy people by speaking in verse when you really shouldn’t?
Roger: Well, who wouldn’t?
Of course, some couldn’t.
Maureen: Never, I’m very sensible. I’m also not that quick to be able to drop them into conversation. I do that ‘Oh, I wish I’d said that instead of that’ thing after people walk away. I’m more likely to rhyme on the internet to entertain/annoy people.
George: I don’t do it much in ‘grown up, sensible company’ but at the moment I teach a class of 5 and 6 year olds and there I rhyme all the time, when I begin the kids join in ‘cos it’s so much fun, once we’ve begun.
And it’s great; the ability to rhyme underpins so much of children’s literacy skills. Children who rhyme early become better spellers and writes, not to mention how much fun they discover can be have with words. Publishers take note! Teachers LOVE LOVE LOVE rhyming texts.
What rhymes with orange?
George: Sporange- it’s a very rare type of sporran worn by Scotsman with no eyebrows and only when the moon has a polka dot hue.
Maureen: Plorange – but I didn’t make that word up. Catherine Rayner did. And I love it. Just say it. Plllllorange.
Roger: There was a young poet called Gorringe
Who was after a rhyme for orange
With a tinge of regret
Said, I’ve not found one yet
As he sucked on a peppermint lozenge
Ah ha ha – Roger wins! Serious face: Who’s your favourite poet?
George: Not fair! I don’t have a favourite poet, but I have lots of favourite poems and how do I pick? My first favourite poem I read when I was about 8. My Mum had bought me a lovely anthology of silly verse and I learned many of them by heart, If Pigs Could Fly by James Reeves was my favourite – I just loved the way it sounded.
Maureen: Anyone writing funny narratives especially Dhal. I love narrative poems they fit in with the polarity of comedy and tragedy/horror.mentioned earlier.
Roger: I have lots. My two favourites are probably Roger McGough and Billy Collins.
Did I tell you I asked Roger Mcgough to be interviewed? I’m still enjoying his reply even though he couldn’t do it due to terrible circumstances. I’ll tell you about it one day.. I’m still waiting for Pam Ayres people to get back to me. Right, back to it.
Do you ever have really weird dreams – this is an important research question.
Maureen: No. Never. Ever.
George: Let’s just if you could see my dreams it would be something like watching a Terry Gilliam animation.
Roger: I was reading some poems in a school from the stage, and when I glanced down I noticed that the legs of the stool were on fire.
Ha ha – I was only kidding, I just wanted to see if you were genuinely bonkers.
Maureen: I lied
I thought so. Now: If you could ask yourself one deeply searching question, what would it be?
Roger: What do I need to do to write a mega-bestselling novel? (And how can I make myself do it)
Maureen drifts into thoughtful silence.
Phone Rings Can you answer that for me, I need to make some tea.
Roger: It was the gardener on the phone. He says the lower field is flooded and the helipad is damaged. Milk – no sugar. Thanks.
George: One sugar and a biscuit please.
Maureen wakes up: Why am I writing? Why can’t I stop? Do I have WOCD?
For the money! Piles and piles of money!
Gold and silver will all come to me,
I shall drink margaritas and live by the sea
Er, no. Maybe not.
For the fame!
I shall be on the telly, this is my chance,
But I might be on Strictly and I cannot dance!
So, no. Definitely no.
For the message!
I have a profound message to say to the masses,
They’ll study my stuff and even run classes
Er, no, no, no, no, no.
For the laughter of kids.
I sit in my loft, day after day,
What shall I write?
What shall I say?
Will that brighten a face?
Will that lighten their day?
Will that get a guffaw
Or a laugh or a giggle?
Will they roll on the floor?
Or just give a wiggle?
Would I love to be part of that moment of joy?
Can I give them all something that they will enjoy?
That’s your answer.
Oh I loved that Maureen. Thank you. Thank you all, now I better go and drag the pump down to the bottom field. We never should have had Pagham harbor diverted to the bottom of the garden, it’s been nothing but trouble. There’s smoked salmon in the fridge if one of you wouldn’t mind popping out to the shed and feeding it to the lioness?
I got an email from Maureen Lynas. Could I get to work on my author page for the brand new funEverse blog? (funEverse is a group of SCBWI children’s poets who critique each other’s work in private and are very soon about to go PUBLIC – aaaargh)
Could I? Could I ? I HAD to – clearly the world of silly poems was conspiring to get me back to work. Oh! What fun – unbridled mucking about with words. And the funny thing is, that’s what made me want to write in the first place. Mucking about with words.
I can not wait to introduce you to the happy band of lunatics that inhabit the FunEverse – watch this space next Friday!
After three years of writing a book
At another I just couldn’t look
I’d had quite enough
Of high hopes and stuff
Not one look at a book could I took.
That’s silly, it doesn’t even make any sense!
I know! Isn’t it fun 🙂 Next time you’re struggling for words, take a bite size nibble at some verse.