Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Wes Magee

wes mageeWes Magee is an award-winning author for children and for adults.  He has published 6 poetry collections for adults, and more than 100 books for young readers – fiction, poetry, plays, picture books, and anthologies.  He regularly makes author visits to schools, libraries, and festivals where he performs his 'Poetry Show' and gives writing workshops.  He also gives talks at education conferences, tutors writing courses for adults, and leads training days for teachers.

What does poetry mean to you?

It’s a way of talking (communicating) to people about aspects of life that wouldn’t be usually written down as stories (fiction). It’s a distillation of experiences..... shared or known experiences that the reader recognises.

Why is poetry important for children?

It goes into the memory bank – and can be brought to mind at anytime in life. The actual words and their order, helped by rhythm and rhyme mean poems can be memorised (even if unintentionally) whereas stories are not. The outline of stories remain in the mind, but not the actual words.

When did you start writing poetry for children?

When I was a primary school teacher in Swindon. I wrote poems alongside the children when we were doing creative writing in class.

What part did poetry play in your own childhood?

Very little, apart from playground rhymes & games chants.  Poetry didn’t feature at all (as far as I remember) at primary school.  At the secondary level it was only the late greats – for syllabus exams!

Which poets/poems do you admire & why?

Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’.
Alfred Noyes’ ‘The Highwayman’.
Walter de la Mare’s ‘The Listeners’.
T.E.Hulme’s short, brief ‘image verses’.

In these, & many other poems, the authors make the poems memorable by the treatment of their subject matter, the poems’ forms & structures, and their rhythm and (in some cases) use of rhyme.

Do you draft your poems? describe the process of creating poetry?

I start with only the vaguest idea/notion, or a single, tiny thought.  Thereafter it goes through many (could be as many as 20+) drafts before the true/proper/ finished poem emerges. The final product can often be totally different from how it started!

Do you read your poems aloud?

No. Always silently to myself (an internal listening). The poems do get read aloud, eventually, at events.... author visits to schools, festivals, etc.

Which are your favourite poetic forms & why?

I always try to create a brand new form (or structure) for each new poem. I try to make them ‘new’ & not copy (or re-visit) forms from the past. I think it was W.H. Auden who said, “make it new.....”.

When do you write? Who is your target audience?

Early in the morning is when I write. I’m exhausted by midday! I used to write at night, but no longer. I’m in bed asleep by then! Poems for adults are just that: no target audience. I’m really writing them for myself. Writing for children is quite different. 4 year olds... are not 7 year olds... are not 11 year olds.

Therefore one must have the reading audience in mind when composing for children. Once poems are completed, however, they can often cross ‘age boundaries’.

What topics influence your poetry?

For adults: death, sex, childhood memories and experiences, war.
For children: subject matter can be anything.... and everything.
For example, I have published poems for children about graveyards and giants; fallow deer and my father; seashore, spooks, the sun, and summer; and poltergeists, parrots, and parents.

How would you describe your poetry?

Diverse..... rhythmic.... often rhyming.....painterly.....and always seeking the best possible use of language.

Is ilustration inecessary in poetry books for children?

Essential. But it does need to be in ‘tune’ with the words.  Sometimes this doesn’t happen. When it does work well the result can make for an A++++ book.

What do children get from your poems?

Enjoyment; something memorable; humour; a joining-up with the individual’s feelings.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block?

It’s never bothered me! There are just so, so many ideas, thoughts and moments about which one can write.  In fact, subject matter is, well, boundless.

Which are your favourites of the poems you’ve written?

‘Tracey’s Tree’ (bereavement).
‘What is.... the Sun?’ (imagery).
‘The Green Girl’ (extended narrative).
‘Big Aunt Flo’ (humour).
‘The Howler of the Purple Planet’ (mystery).
‘A British Garden’ (description and observation).
‘The Boneyard Rap’ (rhythm and rhyme).

What is technology’s part in poetry for children?

Life moves on: nothing stays the same. It’s important that authors move with the times and embrace the new hi-tech ways of composing and communicating. The rewards for writing poetry for adults and for children are the same: it’s the personal sense of achievement at having created something that didn’t exist on planet Earth before. Financial rewards – when it comes to poetry for both adults and for children – are minimal. I don’t write because I’m seeking riches or wealth!

What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

1. Observe.
2. Remember..... use your memory ‘bank’ to recall moments and
3. Read plenty of published poetry (that’s the way to learn about
how poems are made).
4. Always go for the best possible word usage.
5. Get to know when a poem is fully finished, and not just ‘half written’.

            Be diligent!
            Be dedicated!
            Be daring!
            Be different!
            And..... if you hope to have poems published..... be lucky!

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