(Published in February’s Red House catalogue.)
I was thirteen years old when my Dad gave me an anthology by Arnold Silcock called Verse and Worse. It was full of parodies, jokes, limericks and all sorts of oddities - and I loved it. From spoofs of such classics as Browning’s How I Bought the Good News From Aix to Ghent (or Vice Versa) by the authors of 1066 and All That to nursery rhymes such as
Doctor Bell fell down the well
and broke his collar bone.
Doctors should attend the sick
and leave the well alone.
I found them all clever and fascinating. I recently bought a copy from a second-hand bookshop (Hurrah that there are still some left) to replace my copy, which, nearly fifty years later, is falling apart. I was thrilled to find it because it was Verse and Worse that inspired me to start my life-long poetry-writing career.
At school I had a brilliant English teacher called Mr Nichols. He helped me unlock the mysteries of Chaucer, Wordsworth and Shakespeare. Reading again The Rime of the Ancient Mariner still makes the hairs (those that are left) on the back of my neck stand up and try to run.
But my next big poetry adventure was the Mersey Poets, in particular Roger McGough. They were the English equivalent of the Beat Poets, riding in on the wave of Beatlemania, and bringing a rush of fresh air to English poetry. Roger McGough is probably still my favourite poet, writing as he does so brilliantly for both children and adults. He does funny; he does sad; he does wise; he does puns. And I do like puns - as much as I don’t like "getting a potato clock." (What a great poem that is.)
And today there are so many brilliant poets around. The amazing Billy Collins, so easy to read, so clever, so subtle; Simon Armitage; Carol Anne Duffy, and so many good children’s poets too, among the best being Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate.
No time to read? Then why not keep a couple of poetry books by your bed to read before you turn out the light. Poems are short, packed with good things, they’ll make you think, they’ll make you laugh and they’re good for you. Children love them, even boys who prefer football to reading will often happily sit and read a good book of poems. If I’m preaching to the converted – great. If not buy yourself a few poetry books and find out what you’ve been missing.