Reaching the Next Generation with Poetry

Edwin in the RainI never thought of myself as a children’s poet.

Yet it was thanks to Dr. Seuss that I began to delight in language itself, and I believe this early contact was crucial to my subsequent love affair with poetry. The tradition continues today, with excellent children’s poetry books coming out in print like In the Land of the Giants by George Szirtes (Salt, 2012). Yet I wonder if reaching children where we increasingly find them — affixed to the glow of a touch-screen device, with the whole of the Internet just a tap away — can be just as effective to instil a love of words and sounds.

As I explained at the award ceremony for our film-poem “Buttons”, this was part of the impetus for the film’s creation. Video has taken on a new life online. The next generation is growing up on YouTube in the same way that we grew up on radio and television.

Our film-poem was a labour of love — both in its conception as a collaboration between my pianist wife Valerie and me, and in its dedication to our young nephew in Australia. The response that night in the Purcell room, and the following day during an interview and screening of this and other children’s film-poems at the Southbank Centre, as well as the reverberations throughout social media as parent-friends pulled their children close to watch it together — has been heartening indeed.

Continuing in this spirit, I have decided to make a storybook version of the poem available to download for free on both iOS and Android devices. My hope is that parents will be able to read the poem and watch the film with their children in the same way that I turned the dog-eared pages of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish with my own mum so long ago.

You can download the book and watch the film right here.

Download for iOS/MacDownload for Android



Simple LEGO® Christmas Ornaments

Simple Lego® Christmas OrnamentsMuch of my adult life is spent improving productivity — both as a knowledge worker and as a poet. However play — inherently non-productive activity — is also incredibly important to me to remain fresh and creative. Plus, it’s fun.

For as long as I can remember LEGO® bricks have been one of my favourite playthings. Being near to Christmas time, I thought it would be fun to make some ornaments for our tree. I found some excellent, but complicated, examples on Chris McVeigh’s website. Like so many spherical structures made with lego, it involves layering cuboids to achieve a rounded effect.

So I started playing on my own, and re-discovered something I that must have first learned very early on about LEGO® bricks — that if you join them corner-to-corner, they can rotate a bit. I began to explore the possibilities in this, and soon landed on rounded ornaments based on hexagonal, instead of square, structures.

This “thinking outside the brick” approach happens most often when I am in an inquisitive frame of mind, and one of the best ways to create that mindset is to give myself permission to not have to produce an outcome, but instead just play.

For those interested, what follows are pictures and step-by-step instructions to make these ornaments.
Continue reading…


Learning the Letters (Film-Poem)

Learning the Letters
Britton, South Dakota, 1939

“F” is for future, bright as a lens,
bubbles in the scrubbing basin,
thin as the skin on aunt Agnes’s hand,
the breakable surface of a pollywog egg.
It’s no shame to be poor, but a shame
to be dirty, since soap is cheap
and water is free
, and hats last a lifetime
for those who can’t afford the ribbons and pomade.
One day you will be gee-whiz gone,
just like “T”, like “that”, the last
Cracker Jack in the box, the last farrier
in a town full of town cars — the touchdown
you scored, the gloves, plaques, and blue ribbons
boxed up for safekeeping, which is never quite
safe enough. Outside, it is bright. It is “B”
and you are abuzz at the start of things,
though you “H” and mother says he who “hesitates”
is “L”, which you were once, at the fair,
“lost” in a petrified forest of trousers and skirts,
and will be again job-seeking in Des Moines
or Detroit, the hot, big “D” of Dallas, looking
to make a name that will make the town paper.
There is always a way, when you square up
straight, “F” is for facing the music, the camera,
looking up eye-to-eye as your portrait
gets taken, showing yes, you were “S”
you were somebody, looking, direct and uncertain
down the long barrel of whatever is ahead.

Credits

Children of Britton, South Dakota
Filmed by Ivan Besse in 1938
Courtesy Prelinger Archives

8mm projector sound courtesy nemoDaedalus

Music by Valerie Kampmeier

Poem by Robert Peake