Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Brian Moses

Brian MosesBrian Moses is an English poet. He mainly writes for children, has over 200 published works and is a well known as a children's poet. His poetry books and anthologies for Macmillan have sold in excess of 1 million copies.

What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry touches every emotion. It can make you smile, laugh, shiver, think, wonder. It can make you sad and it can comfort you. It can say a lot in little, but what it does say can be so powerful that it remains with you through your life.

Why is poetry important for children?

It teaches children how to communicate through economy of language, and how not everything that's written needs to be story length to put across a message. It teaches rhythm and how powerfully rhythmical a poem can be.

When did you start writing poetry for children?

I started as a teacher, writing poems to use in the classroom when I couldn't find one already written. I didn't always tell the children that what they were reading was written by me, but when I did, they began to say good things about them and gave me the impetus to carry on writing.

What part did poetry play in your own childhood?

Very little. I can only remember writing a couple of poems at primary school, and I still have one of them in an exercise book that my mother kept. It was about my tortoise but the only comment from my teacher was 'Make your writing neater.' At secondary school we were taught great literature at an inappropriate age, and quite badly too. It turned me away from traditional poetry for many years.

Which poets or poems do you most admire and why? Or which have been most influential in your own development as a poet?

Bob Dylan was the first 'poet' I admired. I read his lyrics on the backs of his vinyl album covers and his words fired my imagination. At 17 I discovered 'Penguin Modern Poets: The Mersey Sound' featuring three Liverpool poets, Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. This book changed my life. The poems were accessible, written colloquially and were about things that were important in my teenage life. I was hooked. These days I read a lot of poets, particularly those who write for young people. Charles Causley is a favourite and often neglected in schools. Other writers whose work I admire are Kit Wright, John Agard, Wes Magee and Gareth Owen.

Do you follow a regular process in creating your poetry? Do you draft your poems?

 A lot of my poems start on dog walks. Walking is a rhythmical activity plus it allows me to get away from the telephone and emails, to be alone and out of touch. I always have my dictaphone with me so I can record any ideas straightaway. Then back home I transfer these to my notebook and then the computer. Other ideas are scribbled on any old piece of paper, quite often the backs of old envelopes.

Do you read your poems aloud?

It is essential to read poems aloud as they are being composed. I need to know how the words chime together and how the rhythm is developing. Many of my poems are written for a percussion backing and quite often I'm tapping out the beat on my desk as I write.

Which are your favourite poetic forms and why? Are there any you would still like to try?

I'm not attracted to strict poetic forms, although I do sometimes count syllables.

 When you write poems, do you have a target audience in mind?

My target audience is children, and the child inside the adult. I like to think that my poems appeal to all ages. Adults have been children and will remember what it was like. I like to think that many of my poems are reminders of the lives we used to lead.

Which topics influence your poetry?

I'm happy writing about most things. As a poet I'm an ideas detective and anything that comes along and interests me is fair game. I've written a lot about my childhood, school life, teachers, space, sport and recently war.

How would you describe your poetry?

I hope that my poems are well crafted. Each book is a mixture of rhyming and non-rhyming poems, and include both comic and serious poetry.

How do you see the role of illustration in poetry books for children?

A good illustration should complement a poem. It may be a way into a poem for a reluctant reader. Chris Garbutt, who illustrated my recent Macmillan collections, is the perfect illustrator for me. His illustrations are edgy, quirky and in an unique style.

What do you think children get from your poems?

I like to think that my poems help get children interested in poetry, whereas previously they may have been indifferent to it. I think a poet performing his own work can bring poetry to life as he alone knows how it should be presented. I perform an hour long poetry and percussion show in schools, using instruments to underpin the rhythms of a piece and also to add atmospherics. A lot of children will then go away and try this approach themselves. (see this in action -

How do you stop writer's block?

The thing about writer's block is to learn to recognise when it is coming on and to avoid it. Whenever I start getting stuck I do something totally different. I take my dog for a long walk, or clean out my chicken house, or wash the car, anything as long as it is totally divorced from writing. I then find, on many occasions, that while I have been away from writing, whatever was stopping me has vanished.

Of all the poems you have written, which is your favourite?

I really can't say. It changes from day to day. My collection, 'Behind the Staffroom Door' is my 'best of' and has my 50 favourite poems.

In this digital age, do you think technology in creating and/or promoting poetry for children?

Absolutely no point in switching off from the new technology. It is here to stay and we must embrace it. For many children now, it is the way they read, and what is important is that they read.

What advice can you give to aspiring poets?

If you want to be a writer, write! Don't just talk about doing it, do it. And keep a writer's notebook. This becomes a treasure chest of ideas to dip in and out of. Write down things people say, jokes, adverts, signs - anything that could prove a stimulus to a poem.

Brian Moses was intereviewed by Brenda Marshall and Nicky Potter.

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