interviews, poetry

Amber Moffat and writing poems about animals

Amber Moffat is a writer and visual artist from New Zealand but currently based in Western Australia. She is a maker of work for both adults and children. Amber’s first picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon, was published in 2019. Her poetry has been published in The School Magazine, and in a 2022 poetry anthology Roar, Squeak, Purr. Today we’re chatting to Amber about writing poetry for this fabulous anthology.

From the publisher:

This exuberant treasury brings together over 200 animal poems by New Zealand’s best writers, and includes poems written by children. The poems were selected and edited by champion poet Paula Green, winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry [New Zealand] and creator of the popular Poetry Box blog, and teamed with Jenny Cooper’s cheeky, whimsical and adorable illustrations.
Roar Squeak Purr is destined to be a family treasure – and to inspire a new generation of poets.

You have five poems in Roar, Squeak, Purr – how did you go about writing poems for this anthology? (Did you already have these poems sitting in a drawer?)

I had one poem already and wrote the other four poems specifically for this anthology. The editor of the collection (the amazing poet Paula Green), asked me if I’d like to submit some animal poems as she knew my writing from my picture book, I Would Dangle the Moon. The poem I had already written was a poem about being cuddled up to a cat. I don’t have a cat anymore as I have two big dogs that are not cat-friendly, but when I was a kid I had several beautiful cats. That cat poem was written about that feeling when you are lazing about with a cat on your lap.

I had a couple of months to write the poems, and I wasn’t sure how many I’d write. I ended up writing one about black swans, one about a sheep-dog, one about two lions that escaped from a circus, and a riddle poem about a creature I won’t reveal here in case people want to try to work that one out themselves.

The swan and sheep-dog poems were based on memories of growing up in New Zealand. I loved to watch how both swans and sheep-dogs moved and both those poems are about trying to capture the unique ways those animals move. The poem about the lions was based on a true story that has fascinated me since I was a child. The lions were unfortunately shot after they escaped, and they are now in the Otago Museum in my hometown of Dunedin. I used to visit the lions at the museum and always imagined what they would be like running free instead of stuffed and still within a glass case. So that poem is very much about movement too actually. I really enjoyed writing from the lions’ point of view in that one, and that’s something I’d like to try again.

For me, all writing springs from something I am interested in and can’t let go of. If an idea keeps coming back to my mind then I know I have to write about it.

Do you prefer to write rhyming poems or free verse?

I definitely prefer to write in free verse and it feels more natural to me. All my poems in Roar, Squeak, Purr are in free verse. Writing in rhyme limits your options for word choice and you have to express your idea within a tight structure. I feel kind of like the lions in the circus when I’m writing in that way, and I end up wanting to escape!

If you’re writing a poem (or editing it) how do you know when your poem is finished?

It can be very hard to know when a poem is finished. Sometimes I think something is finished but if I put it aside for a few weeks and come back to it, I realise it still needs work. I’m very lucky to have some great writing friends and sometimes I show them my poems to them and get their feedback. That is a very helpful process and has made me better at editing my work. My poems usually go through about three edits to get them right. A lot of that is “tightening up” the writing, making sure every word that remains is working hard to convey the meaning of the poem.

Do you have a tip for kids who would like to write poetry?

Be bold and risk-taking when you are writing your first draft! All ideas are good ideas in the first draft. I try to write without thinking when I first jot down words for a poem. This helps me to avoid getting into a critical mode and lets the ideas flow freely. Then you need to be brave and ruthless when you are editing. You will probably need to change lots of things and that’s normal.

If you don’t like the feeling of cutting out parts of your poems then it might help you to have a system for saving all your different drafts, then you know you can always come back to earlier versions of the poem.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m writing a novel for teenagers at the moment. It will be about 70,000 words when it’s finished so it’s a very different writing process to writing poetry! I’m still using the technique of writing without judgement to get the ideas down though. I hope to finish the first draft in a couple of months and then I will start the first round of editing.

Roar, Squeak, Purr is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or your local library.


Take a sneak peek inside the book (see if you can solve Amber Moffat’s riddle poem!)

Download some Poem Starters from the publisher’s website and write your own animal poems!

Visit Amber Moffat’s website for more about her and her work.

The editor of this anthology, Paula Green, chose all the poems in it. Visit her website: Poetry Box

1 thought on “Amber Moffat and writing poems about animals”

  1. Amber’s work is beautiful and as a year 4 teacher I highly recommend her work to other teachers, particularly for the reasons in this article – writing with rhyme can feel less natural and limit possibilities. I find my students connect deeply with poetry when they write in free verse. Especially my reluctant writers!

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