Hello Paul, and welcome to The Poetry Zone Interview. First question. Did you always want to be a poet?
No. At school I wanted to be a footballer
or a pop star. I still follow the progress of Everton (or their lack of it ) today.
SLADE! Still are. Noddy
Holder is one of the greatest singers ever! I still like all the 70's stuff as well - Sweet, Mud, Rubettes, Showaddywaddy
- great fun!
All sorts - lately I've been playing CDs by U2, Beautiful South, Ian McNabb, R.E.M., Neil Young, Embrace … I could go on for hours ! Magazine, The Stranglers, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Cosmic Rough Riders …
Turn That Racket Down
Turn that racket down! Are you going
Turn that racket down! I can't hear
I need to get this done!
Switch that music off right now!
Roger McGough, John Cooper
Clarke, Brian Patten … there were a couple of small books by Steve Turner and Simon Jenkins which made me want
to do my own little book.
When I was 18 I made a
little pamphlet-type of thing called Growing Older Soon which I sold to friends for 50p. Shortly after that
I did a couple of books with a schoolmate - Cliff Woodcock, who did some fantastic artwork.
I actually read thousands
of poems by loads of different poets - especially when I'm editing books - but my current favourite poets are the
ones listed above plus Gareth Owen, Val Bloom, David Harmer, Ian McMillan, Lindsay MacRae, Mike Harding and Roger
Stevens, of course …
Yes. My favourite novel
must be Stephen King's The Stand, which is absolutely fantastic, and I've just finished the fourth book
in his series - The Dark Tower - and they were just outstanding. I can't wait for the next one. I also like
PG Wodehouse, Terry Pratchett, Carl Hiassen, the Just William series. Of course, Harry Potter is wonderful,
and I've just been reading some of the Redwall series with my son. They are by Brian Jaques and they are
great fun - heartily recommended ! Also, the Philip Pullman trilogy - Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The
Amber Spyglass - are terrific. Eva Ibbotson is wonderful, an absolute genius - Monster Mission, The Secret
Of Platform 13 and Journey To The River Sea are all superb. I could go on for hours …
I trained and worked as
a full time teacher for five years - although I've always written poems - and then in 1989, I decided to go part
time and work as a poet in schools. Now I visit 3 or 4 schools every week although I still teach on Wednesdays.
If I'm not in schools I may spend time at home writing. Usually, I write in trains, hotel rooms, staff rooms - here, there and everywhere, often in short bursts, adding to ideas over a period of time. Once I've drafted them and tried them out a few times with kids to get the feel of the poem I'll type them up and test drive them in performances, sometimes changing bits here and there.
Mum Used Prittstick
Mum used Prittstick
Two days passed
Thousands - but not all
of them good! Some are not that special when you look back. Often I'm writing poems "to order" to fit
someone's anthology so I might be writing about a certain subject - it's like doing your poetry homework, and like
homework, as the deadline approaches you don't always do your best work. Consequently, some poems aren't as thought
out as they should be. What does happen though is that the good ones do filter through and have a life of their
I'd had a few poems accepted
by David Orme for his first football book - 'Ere We Go ! - and then for his monster anthology - Dracula's
Auntie Ruthless - and thought that I must be doing something right. So I came up with a few ideas for anthologies
and sent them to David - he sent them back and suggested that I send them to Macmillan. I did just that and eventually
had one accepted … then another … and a few others. Now, I probably do at least 3 or 4 titles a year for them.
Also, I've just done a couple for Red Fox books and Lion Books have just published a solo collection. It's just
snowballed this last four or five years … and long may it continue to do so !
Paul's solo collection for Lion Books.
Tell us about the process of editing an anthology.
First of all once I've
got the idea or theme accepted I send a request letter out to lots of poets (I have about 200 names and addresses)
asking them to submit poems about the subject and send them to me by a certain date. It's a bit like setting poetry
homework! Once all the poems are in I have to read through them all and select the poems for the book. It's strange
in that it's not just the best poems that get in, it's got to be a balanced selection - short, long, rhyming, non-rhyming,
funny, thoughtful, male and female poets, male and female voices - all these aspects can play a part. Next I work
with my editor at the publishers and we finalise the selection then it's a case of writing to the poets to ask
their permission and offer them a fee for their work. After that, I hand it over to the publisher who then commissions
artwork etc. and finally wait for it all to come together.
The Works, published by Macmillan's Children's Books, has sold more than any of the others.
Which is your favourite book or anthology of your own?
Usually the one that's
just come out. My favourite collection of my own poems would have to be Father's Hands, because the poems are much
more personal. Macmillan's The Very Best Of … is also up there, for obvious reasons.
Again, too many to mention.
There are about 25 poems that I regularly perform in primary schools and the same again for secondary schools and
because many of those have stood the test of time, then they are favourites. Then again, I come back to old poems
after a while and it's like discovering an old friend, or new poems come along and jostle for attention. Also it
depends what sort of mood I'm in ! Mum Used Prittstick, Captain Concorde, The Toilet Seat has Teeth ! The Salmon
With a Hat On, Father's Hands … are all firm favourites that I'll always perform.
David Harmer's Mr. Moore
- great chorus, very simple but superbly effective. Henry Normal's Drinker's Prayer, John Cooper Clarke's Beezley
Street, and Haiku … mind you I have adopted them and regularly perform the first two. Also I have written a poem
of my own that has the same rhythm and repetitive pattern as Beezley Street called The School That Time Forgot.
Every time I read a new poem that I like there's part of me that thinks I wish I'd thought of that!
Let No One Steal Your Dreams
Let no one steal your dreams
Let no one steal your dreams
Set your sights and keep them fixed
Set your sights and keep them fixed
I started writing poetry
for adults, I still write a lot of poems that are more adult - in that they are about things that happened to me
when I was growing up so that the reference points are more appropriate to people of my own age. In fact I have
at least two collections of adult work that has been consistently rejected (18 times so far). The working title
for one of them is THE GLAM ROCK FOOTBALL LOVE POEMS - all about slade, football, growing up etc. I've also had
a couple of ideas for novels, one for kids and one for adults. I've got as far as working out the plots and that's
about it, although I have done a couple of chapters in rough for the children's one.
I'd like the time to develop
all the ideas I have. I never get chance to explore fully all the ideas I'd like to so I suppose my wish would
be to get a large advance of money which would mean that I could have the time and security to write.
Yes. My mum said "Get off you'll break it !" Actually, I did a programme for schools called Middle English, where I had to write a poem about an elephant at London Zoo. Also, I work with a poet called David Harmer in a poetry double act called SPILL THE BEANS and we wrote and performed in a BBC children's programme called WHAM BAM STRAWBERRY JAM! a couple of years ago.
Spill The Beans began 10
years ago when Dave Harmer and myself got together. We perform poems as a duo with the dynamics of two voices,
two characters etc. There's lots of audience participation and fun - it's more like a poetry pantomime in atmosphere
than a poetry reading. It's great fun.
I don't get recognised
in the street. I don't feel famous because I've visited schools for the last 12 or so years so I've always done
that, but now that the books are becoming more popular it seems strange to be getting requests from all over the
place to do stuff where more people have obviously seen the books. I've just been invited to go to Singapore for
a week in 2002 - the last person they had was Brian Patten, so that's pretty good company. A kid in Doncaster once
asked for my autograph and then said "Thanks. I'll put that up on my wall next to my picture of Fred Dibnah"
(old Lancastrian steam engine enthusiast ) - which was bizarre.
What spare time ? I fill in questionnaires like this ! Play 5 a side football, read, listen to cds - but not all at the same time!
Poetry So Ordinary You Do Not Need a Dictionary
Some people say that real poetry
I want to write poetry that captures
the here and now
Poetry that puts its finger on
Poetry that tells you jokes and trivia
Here's a few I like … Poetry
that Racket Down is from Turn that Racket Down, Pop-tastic Poetry chosen
by Paul Cookson (Red Fox)
This interview's a bit old now. But you can get right up to date by going to Paul's website.