If you have visited my website (http://www.melissalawrence.co.uk)
you will know that one of the things I write is poetry for children. I've had some of my poems published in anthologies by publishers such as MacMillan and Oxford University Press and I've also been placed in competitions.
Unfortunately, the anthology work seems to have dried up, probably because mainstream publishers are wary of publishing poetry for children because it gets such a raw deal on the National Curriculum and also because, when faced with budget cuts, poetry seems to be the first thing to go.
I've been touting There's A Gorilla In My Pyjamas, my collection of poetry for younger children, round various publishers with no success, although it was a pretty near miss with Meadowside Children's Publishers (http://www.meadowsidebooks.com) I've also been trying to get someone interested in my collection of poems for older children called I Wandered Lonely As A Snog but I'm beginning to think that self-publishing is the best chance of getting a first poetry collection into print.
This leads me to the point of this post as I am currently working on an entry for the Poem for Children category of the 2011 Plough Poetry Prize (http://www.theploughprize.co.uk) It's a fairly prestigious competition (this year's judge in the main categories is Andrew Motion) and is also one of the few competitions that has a category for poems for children.
I've entered it for the last couple of years but was disappointed last year to not even make the long list (it is a very long long list!) so I decided to do a bit more research on the way the competition is organised before I sent in my entry.
I discovered that for the Poems for Children category, a panel of adults draws up the long list. From this long list, fourteen poems are chosen which are illustrated, then printed in a booklet which is distributed among primary school children who vote for the eventual winner.
My dilemma here is do I write a poem for children that appeals to adults in order to try and get through the first stage of judging or do I write a poem that appeals to children and hope that the adults judge the poem from a child's point of view? (And do I submit a poem that will lend itself to illustration and is short enough to fit into the booklet or do I just write what I feel like? I can't help wondering whether the writer of last year's winning poem which was four lines about a cross-eyed cat had this in mind.)
Of course, this brings into focus the wider issue of whether there is such a thing as a 'Poem for Children' or whether a really good poem should be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Do children need a certain type of poetry or as poets, should we be writing for "the child within" anyway?
The Plough competition organisers have clearly given this some thought as they begin their supplementary notes with this quote from Ted Hughes: ''Writing for children is a curious occupation and the most curious thing about it is that we think children need a special kind of poetry."
The other question of course is one that applies to all forms of writing for children, not just poetry. Who actually buys children's books? I know from talking to staff in bookshops that it is overwhelmingly adults who make the initial purchase, even though the book may be bought for a child. And this brings me back to the question of self-publishing my collections. If I were to publish them as E-books for instance, who would buy them? Adults or their intended audience, children?
Anyway, if you want to put in an entry for the Plough Poetry Prize you have until 30th November 2011 and there are short and open categories as well as Poems for Children. Critiques (tick box) are available for an additional £6.00.
Meanwhile, here is one of my poems for children (or is it for adults?) that I won't be entering for the competition.
Mum and Dad took me to a conversation area.
It was very green.
We talked a lot.
I saved a snail.
Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2011