WHY I CHOOSE POETRY…written for National Poetry Day, 2021

I CHOOSE POETRY

because 

a pink wind ruffles the rose by my back door

and

tree-circling grackles squeak a thousand rusty whistles 

and because

the beach where I grew up was clamshell-crunchy 

and because

balloons flew wild at my sixth birthday party

and because

two snails stretch polished-fat on wet stones

and because 

the sky spills it’s blue into the sea every summer

and because

clouds sometimes decide to sleep on my window

and because

lavender smells as big as purple sun

and because

my sweet-talking dog Clementine died last year

and because 

and because 

all I want to do is 

tell someone about this

and 

because 

I need the best words I can find

I choose poetry

and 

in writing these things down

I’m surprised

because 

I can’t help but imagine

poetry has chosen me

because

poetry is like that

poetry is personal

©Zaro Weil

 

New Article by me in Books for Keeps

This article is featured in BfK 249 July 2021
This article is in the and Categories

The Best New Poetry for Children: CLiPPA 2021 Shortlist

Author: Zaro WeilThe shortlist for the CLiPPA, CLPE Children’s Poetry Award has been announced.  The UK’s only prize for published poetry for children, the CLiPPA celebrates the best new poetry of the year and, through its popular Shadowing Scheme, prompts hundreds of schools to explore the collections on the shortlist and stage poetry performances by their pupils. This year’s shortlist, chosen from books published in 2020, demonstrates the vital resilience of poets and publishers. It celebrates exceptional poetry for children by brand new voices and the UK’s best-known and best-loved children’s poet.

Judge, poet Zaro Weil who won the CLiPPA 2020 with her collection Cherry Moon, introduces the shortlist.

‘Thanks to the strength, unwavering high standards, and brilliant long reach of CLPE and the CliPPA year after year, the publishing world has rewarded children with a bounty of beautiful poetry books for 2021.

As judges this year our choices were unparalleled in the quality, power and sheer wonderfulness of so many fine submissions.

Reading each book was electrifying. There was so much to learn from every author; so much imaginative fervor, mesmerizing language and richly conveyed emotions.

Many of the books were also visually stunning, which can immeasurably enrich the poetry experience for any child.

But perhaps most importantly, there were a remarkable variety of themes which resonated perfectly with these very particular times.

But the CLiPPA is not just about selecting a shortlist and a single winner. It is more than that. The prestige of the CLiPPA signals to anyone involved with education, the arts or child development and parenting, that poetry is important. That imagination, words, and emotions matter.

For it is the particular verve of poetry, with its heightened sensory impressions, musical and compelling language, and visionary understandings which offers the child the possibility for both self-awareness and self-expression.

Because at its heart, sharing poetry helps create new thoughts, images and feelings, magically offering children that bit of extra fire-power. Extra life-power. Not to mention added joy — because they have discovered not just new worlds, but new parts of themselves through poetry.

The five books on the shortlist are:

Slam! You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, chosen by Nikita Gill, Macmillan
Nikita Gill brings together exciting new poets, all well known to poetry audiences but many making their first appearance in print; this as a book to excite young people about all the potential of poetry, curated with skill and passion.

Bright Bursts of Colour, Matt Goodfellow, illustrated by Aleksei Bitskoff, Bloomsbury Education
The poems in Matt Goodfellow’s collection range from the silly to the sensitive, and all will resonate with children aged 7 – 11. We all admired the child’s eye view, the dynamic representations of real-life experiences, and the book’s understanding of a child’s sensibilities.

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann, Penguin
Compelling, powerful, and authentic, Mann’s verse novel speaks directly to its YA audience. We loved the fresh voice and how an old form is made new.

Big Green Crocodile Rhymes to Say and Play, by Jane Newberry, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, Otter-Barry Books
A collection of new nursery rhymes, this is a book for parents and adults to share with the very youngest to spark a lifelong love of poetry. In fact, it’s a perfect post-lockdown book, allowing adults and small children to connect and share poems. It’s also beautifully presented and perfectly illustrated.

On the Move, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Walker Books
On the Move is both personal and universal, with messages of home, identity and family. The judges found it full of emotion, delivered with a perfect sense of understatement; they praised the way words and illustrations provide pauses, allowing readers space to think.

Zaro’s fellow judges are poet Amina Jama, who features in the Rising Stars collection published by Otter-Barry Books; Julie Blake, co-founder and Director of Poetry By Heart; and Charlotte Hacking, Learning Programmes Leader at CLPE. Allie Esiri, whose poetry anthologies include A Poem for Every Day of the Year and regularly top the bestseller lists, is chair of the CLiPPA 2021 judging panel.

The winner of the CLiPPA 2021 will be revealed at the The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, on Monday 11 October, in a Poetry Show introduced by CLiPPA judges, Zaro Weil and Allie Esiri, and featuring performances by the shortlisted poets. Schools across the UK and beyond will be able to watch the show on The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival platform and access poetry CPD sessions created by CLPE.

The free Shadowing Scheme to involve schools in CLiPPA 2021 will launch alongside the announcement of the winner but schools are invited to register now.

Zaro Weil’s newest collections from Troika, Polka Dot Poems…100 Weird and Wonderful Nature Haiku, with illustrations by Lucy Wynne is out now, and When Poems Fall from the Sky, illustrated by Junli Song in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, will be published October 2021.

 

TEACH PRIMARY ARTICLE

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Meet the

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Zaro Weil on the energising double act of poetry and nature

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hat child doesn’t want to wake up and feel free as the breeze?

Magical transformations Children perceive and experience the world of nature with a closeness, excitement and clarity of vision we adults lack or have forgotten. The
child will not just point to a worm wriggling in the ground. He reaches down to get closer; to see it; maybe to pick it up. Nature encourages imagination. A whipped-up ocean may trigger the possibility of unfettered ideas.
A beautiful
meadow
could offer
a chance to
dream big.
The quietness
of a dark
sky may allow us to feel at
ease with our own silence.
For if we look or listen to something long enough and hard enough the object in view magically transforms. Rocks become figures; shadows grow real; a single leaf rustle can tell a whole story.

Nature looms large with children’s emotions as well. Biting cold wind; gentle snow falling; a hot sun; a swirling river; the glimmer of moonlight on rooftops – these things we experience on the outside

can shape inner experience and emotions to a high degree for a child.

How does poetry fit in with this

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RECOMMENDED

And to conjure up all the magic, mystery, curiosity and wildness they can at the same time. That’s a happy child – something we all want for those kids in our charge. And what is it that creates that whistle and hum? It’s nature: the ever-present universe of creatures, plants and atmosphere here on earth. Pure
and simple.

Now, let’s you and I take a walk outdoors. What do we see? Hear? Maybe there is sun. Or wind. A bird flies by. Leaves rustle. Of course, there are many other things going on. The problem is, most of us don’t always catch the comings and goings of the natural world: the scuttling

of bugs; the intricacy of veins on an oak leaf; the shape and colours of ever-shifting clouds; the candied scent of rotting leaves.

Now ask a child when they
are outside. It doesn’t matter
if they are in a park, on some patch of rough ground in the city or walking through a wild forest.
They are in their `outdoor’ world.
A world of play; of running hard; looking hard; tangling with nature. Whether nature is a weed popping out of asphalt, a patch of smooth lawn or a leaf-covered woodland floor, it doesn’t matter. For wherever outdoor lies, the child is inordinately serious about it all.

RESOURCES

To go through the day on a whistle and hum?

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Plazoom’s Spelling
Workouts collection
of resources is the
perfect solution for ensuring children’s spelling stays on track, wherever they are. Covering

all CEW, SSW and spelling patterns from Y1-6, the worksheets are bright and appealing, with opportunities for pupils to understand,explain, practise and contextualise with ease.

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TEACH READING & WRITING

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romp in nature? With words, meaning and imagination. Poetry is created through a particular and unexpected musical placement of words which encourage the reader to see and `get’ things in a new – almost tickling – way. Just imagine for a moment the adult `you’ steps outside and sees a dandelion. Most of us see, well, a dandelion. “What is that dandelion doing?” someone

asks. “It is waving in the breeze,” you might reply. Then ask a child what
that dandelion is up to. They might say without blinking twice, “It’s tickling
the sky” or “It’s telling the sky a secret.” This personalisation of the environment is the beginning of metaphor; the first sparks of poetry. How does the fog come? It comes on little cat feet, says Carl Sandburg in his poem Fog.

My point is that a child’s first response to nature is poetic. They endow nature with a special quality. The dandelion is like something else.
It is like them because the dandelion sees the sky like a person would.
Nature gives children the freedom to see, question and imagine anything
they want. Trees become figures. Those clouds are battling dragons. The
wind is telling me a secret.
Nature is personal. Things

are like something else. And at once we have metaphor, the heart and soul of poetry.

Powerful poems

This world of imagination and poetic play is also the world of language. Stories and poetry are the way information has been shared and passed down through generations. Interaction with language is vital for exercising the imagination. When we hear a powerful poem we visualise it, feel it, even become it a little. And not only that – we learn to ‘super’ listen; to hear both the words and the silence between them; to see both the trees and the spaces between them.

Our experience is enriched until
we are magically transformed. And the more exacting and exciting the language, the further and deeper our visions can travel.

William Wordsworth didn’t just see or describe the daffodils dancing outside. He got inside and became them; tangled with them. He danced with daffodils in his poems. He understood nature from the inside out. A child gathers in the world
and learns through their senses and through play.

And what better place to harness senses

than that great provider, nature?

Because when these senses are fed, nurtured and developed they become a storehouse of sense memories;
a great learning-pad and enabler
of understanding, perception and problem-solving.

Children are poised at the beginning of a long quest for definition and self-identity. And what better way to fill in the mystery of who you are
on the inside than by looking at and becoming part of the mystery that is nature, outside. Not only does poetry allow us to be who we are, it gives us the opportunity to be many of the things we cannot imagine ourselves
to be. Listening to, writing or sharing
a poem, hearing and feeling the swing and sway of the words, seeing them

in our mind’s eye, grips us. It’s a magical, evocative, interactive

learning process.
As educators, parents,

and poets, our challenge is to keep young minds not just listening but involved,

curious and open. And what finer way to enable our kids

to live and learn free as a breeze with a whistle and hum

than through that wonderful energising double act of nature and

poetry? TP

@zaroweil zaroweil.com

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FREE DOWNLOAD

Download a free PDF featuring three nature poetry writing activities from Zaro Weil to use with your pupils. Visit teachwire.net/teaching- resources/poem-templates

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“A child’s first response to nature is poetic. They endow nature with a special quality”

Zaro Weil
is author
of CLiPPA award-winning book Cherry Moon (£14, Troika).

www.teachwire.net | 53

HOW MY EARLY YEARS IN METRO THEATER CIRCUS SHAPED MY WRITING LIFE

  • What do you enjoy about writing poetry?

I love writing, especially poetry. Perhaps because it is important to me to understand how I feel about certain things in the world. What they mean.

Constructing a poem is like making up your very own mind puzzle and then trying to figure out the answer. What you choose to write about and how is determined by what you are thinking about and how you are feeling at any one time. Until you start writing you often don’t have a clue what is really churning away inside your head and heart.

Of course, we all have lots of thoughts about this or that every day and night. But to get beyond the surface, to explore one’s secret and hidden misty moonlight ideas and to open yourself to connect somehow to the bigger universe in some unknown way…that is something I am drawn to.

Plus (and this is a big plus) I love words. Particularly the way certain words just sound so wonderful together. Like they were made for one another. I love that certain groups of words, metaphors for example, hold secret meanings, and that you have to root around in your head to capture those hidden ideas, those unusual comparisons.

Because I grew up in a world alive with music and dance of all kinds, with all the accompanying rhymes, rhythms and lyrics one could imagine (broadways tunes, rock and roll, religious chants, television ad jingles, etc), restating these rhythmic pulses in writing feels completely natural for me. 

So in putting together understanding, words, movement, sounds, rhythm, feelings, art, secret meanings, pretty soon…VOILÀ…I arrived at the door of poetry. 

I believe the act of writing is always and forever magic. Like a rabbit popping out of a hat: the rabbit is a poem and the hat is my head. All very magical in the end. And totally exciting.

  • How did your most recent book Polka Dot Poems evolve and what do you find particularly engaging about haiku?

Like most of us, I have always loved birthdays and celebrations and special moments. And when I first started reading Haiku, this very special Japanese form of words and lines evoked those special moments I loved. 

I came to consider haiku as poignant little picture-perfect word gatherings with feelings attached. 

Then one day, out of the blue, I decided to play a game with my mind and try to write 100 HAPPY HAIKU. I think I just liked the way those three words sounded together (and I love to think in titles). Since I adore animals and nature, and since haiku are generally about natural things, my book began. 

At the same time, I have a rather silly penchant for polka dots. So I slyly thought it might be fun to illustrate the book with lots of polka dots. In other words, to deconstruct the art scenes into polka dotted scenes.

Next, for the actual writing, it was a serious challenge to me thinking up how to describe a bubble in just 17 syllables, which is one of the haiku conventions, and how to give the poem a nice pop! at the end. Because that is what a haiku is meant to do, to give you a little surprise at the finish. So I set off to write some very small poems that would capture the essence of some very big things… wind… sand… stars…sun….lions…and more. A challenge to be sure.

At some early point my genius friend Judith Elliott (who was my first British publisher back in 1991) suggested that it might be fascinating to include some creatures kids probably didn’t know anything about…a superb lyrebird…a wombat…a platypus…. So I began researching every weird and curious creature I could find.

When we came close to the end, I changed the title from 100 Happy Haiku to POLKA DOT POEMS because our brilliant illustrator, Lucy Wynne, was practically channeling polka dots and making sure that trees and rivers and everything else was really and truly made up of crazy polka dots! So the book just HAD to be called POLKA DOT POEMS. Fortunately my fantastic co-publisher, Roy Johnson of Troika Books, loved how that sounded.

  • What is your writing process like (if you have any photos of your desk or papers that would be wonderful)?

Most humans yearn to be inspired and moved by things in the natural world. But that inspiration does not come with a timer. The way I get the ideas flowing is that when I get to my computer every morning and start writing, I begin by redoing what I wrote the day before.

We used to do this ages ago in Metro during rehearsals. We would go over and over each scene each day, trying always to summon up more understanding so as to make the piece more precise and clear. Our goal was to challenge our words and feet and bodies to be ever more articulate.

  • What do you like about working with illustrators?

I think one of my favourite things in the world is working with designers, illustrators and artists. I suppose it is because I learn so much from them. When I am working with an illustrator on a book we discuss concepts and meaning and feelings and ideas. It is SUCH a full-on experience. Seeing my original concept, a single idea, through the lens of others who work in other art forms, is something I learned all those years ago in Metro. Because THAT is what we did every day. We synthesised language, movement, art, design and music. THAT is how we created our season’s offering each year.

  • How have your years of theater informed your writing?

I write with the child well-secured inside of me. But it is not caught in amber: in my case that universal child is alive and well and kicking way down deep. Because with every moment of every piece we performed over the 10 years that I was with METRO, we NEVER forgot the child. We metaphorically became the child. And that was while performing two to four shows a day from end September to end May almost EVERY DAY.

Every time we were in front of an audience, we KNEW if we had gotten it right or not. It was simple. If our work didn’t totally engage the child, if it didn’t 100% capture their imaginations we were off.  We understood that if the audience wiggled or chatted or stared out the windows, something was wrong with the piece. Not the child. 

SO, we worked very hard to discover the particular ENERGY and CLARITY needed to engage every child every moment of the performance. That is something I learned so thoroughly in Metro that it is now something I am lucky enough to be able to apply page by page in my poetry.

I think the drawing card of METRO, which celebrates the emotional intelligence of the child, is something each of us learned close up all those years ago. Kids get it. If you present things well, appropriately and with energy and rhythm and joy and compassion and clarity and, dare I say, LOVE, kids get it. 

Even if the kids do not pick up on everything all the time, they are nevertheless caught up in another world where they are in charge. Their imaginations are being fired up. Their own personal store of new images is being conjured up through the art of words or actions or sounds they read or hear or see. Those images belong to them. They are their own personal ideas which are given form and which live and develop in their minds and hearts, things that no one can ever take away. 

It is this creation of new thoughts and feelings which is the goal of any art form that is directed at kids. This imaginative development gives kids that bit of extra life-power. Extra fire-power. Not to mention added joy — because they have discovered new parts of themselves through art.

  • What is one of your favorite poems from Cherry Moon and why?

I am drawn to the silly and funny as well as the meaningful and poignant. I also love bumpy sound-good language and sometimes, when the lines cross, it makes me smile.

One of my favourite poems in Cherry Moon is Preposterous Penguins. It is just so silly. And preposterous. The idea of penguins having a poetry pageant and each trying to out-peep each other is… well…ridiculous…and tons of fun.

  • What is one of your earliest memories of poetry?

In grade 3 in Wildwood, NJ with Miss Barber. Writing this, which my father kept:

As wise as an owl 

That sits in a tree

As busy as a busy 

As a busy

As a bee

When the leaves go chuckle chuckle

Through the woods

The bees are very busy 

Making their goods.

(It goes on, but I will spare you the rest.)

I also loved, at age 8 and without anyone telling me to, to memorise poems I found in one of my parents’ books, “The World’s Best-Loved Poems.” I can still remember them. And even though I didn’t understand those poems very well, I loved how they felt on my tongue, and how they made me feel. As though I had engaged in another world, a world I never before knew existed. That was amazing.

  • How do stories or poetry comfort you?

We live stories. Everyone is really the writer, or certainly the interpreter, of their own story. Each one of us is, of course, different, yet we all somehow learn to deal with opportunity or  lack of opportunity, with relationships, with family, with friendship, with hopes, with fears, with the past, with the future and a big world more. 

Because we all have long stories, being able to write some things down helps me to understand who I am and how to get on in the world. Because reading or writing a story or poem is one of the ways we can relate, in a considered way, to all the things that happen to us so that other people can read/learn our story — and we can read theirs.

As children we are always looking for guidance about how to approach the world, whether from a theater experience, or art or poetry or books or film, or one’s parents or friends. One of the things about being human is that it has always been important to our species to communicate with one another. We do this by developing language and sharing our stories. This is the root of our unique culture as humans.

  • Tell us about one of your most memorable Metro Theater Company experiences that surprised you.

I was surprised all the time in Metro. And starry-eyed about everything we were doing. 

I experienced each day as an over-the-moon kind of day, even when things were tough to figure out and get right. 

I was surprised by how incredibly and heart-throbbingly wonderful and inventive and funny the actors/dancers were. So many moments stand out. 

But overall, no one can imagine the profound sense of connectedness we all felt at the end of a performance when the audience of so many extraordinary faces would explode in cheers and claps, and the teachers would smile.

These moments will forever be etched in my heart and mind, they were simply remarkable. We each felt electrified, not just by the connection we had with each other as performers, but with the connections we had with each and every child in the audience.

These heightened experiences, this formative and extraordinary time with Metro, shaped me as a person. At the same time it empowered and inspired my life as a writer.

 

PRE-PUB PRAISE FOR WHEN POEMS FALL FROM THE SKY

Huge thanks to everyone who has read the PDF of this book and taken the time to make a few kind comments.
This collection brims to overflowing with the vitality, colour and mischief of nature. An enticing garden in which to sit, to laugh and think differently about life.
Jonny Walker…Teacher…Poet…Author

 

This new collection of poetry from Zaro Weil is a real delight. Beautifully written poems that shout out to be read aloud and a perfect collection as we emerge from lockdown into a bright new spring. I loved it!  

Annie Everall OBE, Director Authors Aloud UK.