poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Time for a poem: The Electric Fence

The Electric Fence

by Veronica Hester


Imagine the tragedy that
Had befallen me
The boomerang flung through the air
No, it didn’t hit me
I walked through the long grass
No, a snake didn’t bite me
The sunset was blooming
The boys were on their gleaming motorbikes
No, they didn’t run me over
But the noise should’ve killed me.

I took it all in
Smiling, breathing
And leaned on the fence
Right in front of me
I, of course, had forgotten
That I was on a farm
And when fences are silver
You don’t lean on them.

And that’s why I don’t lean on fences.

This poem was the winner of our 2014 poetry competition. For more writing competitions for kids, check out our Comps for Kids page.

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What does a commissioning editor do?

Dianne (Di) Bates has published 120+ books mostly for young readers. Some of her books have won children’s choice book awards. Di is a former teacher, schools’ performer and newspaper editor, and has worked as an editor on three children’s magazines. In 2008, Di was awarded The Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s Literature. Di lives near Wollongong, NSW, Australia, with her prize-winning YA author husband, Bill Condon.

Di Bates and Bill Condon
Di Bates and Bill Condon

Di is visiting Alphabet Soup today to tell us about a new anthology of children’s poetry coming out in 2016!

You are the commissioning editor for a poetry anthology for children coming out with Walker Books. What was your role in the book?
I spent many hours finding poems which were written by Australians and which would suit the themes I’d decided on for the anthology (such as sport, families, being a kid). I had to record the source of each poem (if it was in a single poet collection, an anthology, a magazine or if it was unpublished). I also tracked down contact addresses of the poets, gave the anthology a title (Our Home is Dirt by Sea) and then had to find a publisher for the whole anthology. This all sounds easy, but it took me several years.

Note: A poetry collection is written by a single poet; an anthology contains poems by numerous poets.

There are a lot of poems in an anthology. Do all the poets get paid if they have a poem published in an anthology?
Yes, poets are paid. As the editor, I get paid, as well. Unfortunately the publisher couldn’t include all the poems I wanted, because of financial limitations.

Does an editor ever change the words in a poem once it’s accepted for an anthology? Does the poet have a say in any changes?
I would never change the words — or the punctuation — in a poem without approval from the poet. I didn’t change any of the poems in my anthology.

Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming anthology?
Titled Our Home is Dirt by Sea, the anthology consists of 60 poems in the following categories: Australia, Mostly Me, Families, People, Animals, Sport, School, and Special Times. A few of the poems are lyrical, some make children think and some are humorous, but all are child-friendly and relatively short. The style of poems ranges from rhyming verse to free verse. I aimed for poems which make the reader feel some emotion when reading them, and for children to ‘see’ themselves or the world around them. Some of the poets are well-known such as Steven Herrick, Elizabeth Honey, Doug McLeod and Max Fatchen, but others are lesser known (to children) such as Robert Adamson, Kyle Seeburg, Andrew Leggett and Rodney Hall.

I have also compiled two other children’s poetry anthologies, but they are so far unpublished. And I’ve published a book of mad verse for children titled Erky Perky Silly Stuff (Five Senses Education).

erky perky silly stuff

Do you write poetry yourself? (Does that help when you are selecting poems for an anthology?)
Yes, I do write poems, but I don’t consider myself a very good poet. There are none of my poems in Our Home is Dirt by Sea, though there are a few by my husband, Bill Condon (who has published three collections). I know a lot about poetry from having a life-long love of poetry, teaching verse speaking, performing poetry and reading extensively. I’ve also run children’s poetry competitions and have a blog, Australian Children’s Poetry which showcases Australian children’s poets.

Keep an eye out for Our Home is Dirt by Sea in 2016! And you can find out more about Di Bates on her website: www.enterprisingwords.com.au.

Interview with Di Bates © November 2014 Di Bates & Rebecca Newman
Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Giveaway: Poems to Perform

We’re nearing the end of our 2014 poetry festival. Before you start feeling despondent, here’s something to cheer you up.

WIN a book of fabulous poems — specifically, this one:

Poems to perform

This poetry anthology was compiled by Julia Donaldson when she was the UK Children’s Laureate (2011–2013). The poems were selected because they are fantastic to read aloud by more than one voice — from two voices, up to a whole class! This is a book that you are guaranteed to want to share with a friend … or two … or three …

Scattered throughout the book are striking black-and-white lino-cut illustrations by Clare Melinksy.

Julia Donaldson has included a section called ‘Suggestions for performance’ at the back of the book. (If you are new to performing poetry in public, you’ll find this section very handy.)

This giveaway has now closed. The winner is Ernie Donato. 

poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Time for a poem: The Way Through the Woods

The Way Through the Woods

by Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

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Chat with a poet: Lorraine Marwood

We’re very pleased to have Lorraine Marwood visiting us at Alphabet Soup today. Lorraine writes verse novels and poetry collections for children and she has a new poetry collection coming out in 2015. Here’s the cover in all its glory!

Celebrating Australia

Your earlier poetry collections have themes (‘notes’ and ‘animals’). Does your upcoming collection have a theme?

Yes my new book does have a theme — ‘Celebrations!’ And the title reflects this. Celebrating Australia: a year in poetry.

When you were writing poems for this collection , did you set out to write to a particular theme? Or did a theme emerge?

Yes the theme began the collection and I began to research those celebrations that I had little first hand knowledge about — the journey was fascinating.

How long did it take you to finish this book?

About 18 months, some poems had to be re-written completely to suit the overall nature of the collection.

How do you choose which poems to include (and which poems to leave out) for a collection?

Ah, a good question. I wrote in batches — for example I researched ideas and words for the Valentine’s day poem and after the initial draft my editor suggested it needed to be more grounded in what kids might do — this is where a refrain came in to make the poem flow:  ‘cutie pie, cutie pie, my high five, be mine forever.’ It was hard trying to make something like Bastille day or United Nations day poetic. My editor suggested significant milestone celebrations in the Australian calendar and I chose some myself like ‘International dot day’ and ‘Talk like a pirate day.’

I tried to make a variety of formats for the poems, including some with refrains, even one that rhymes, some humourous, some grounded in image and emotion.

Do you have a tip for young writers who want to try writing in free verse?

I think a good way to begin is to think of using images. Here’s an example. Let’s liken the sky to:

a crinkle of aluminum foil or a smudge of vanilla yoghurt.

It can be set out like this:

the sky is like a crinkle of aluminum foil

Have a go! Look at the sky right now and think of an object or a colour in your fridge or kitchen and liken the sky to that — it will make the sky more visual, more sensory, more striking for the reader and that’s what we want, to be different and move away from cliché. Sometimes rhyming leads us into cliché.

Lorraine Marwood
Lorraine Marwood, reading Guinea Pig Town to some of her grandchildren.

Is there anything else you can tell us about Celebrating Australia: a year in poetry?

I loved the hard work put into my collection by my editor and the final finishing touches by graphic designer Amy Daoud. For me each poem was a mini story in itself — with its own research, own format, own rhythm and own beginning and end. I learnt so much about other culture’s celebrations and embraced the whole multi-cultural feel of Australia right now.

I am planning for a launch with the Bendigo, Goldfields library in February, can’t wait!

To find out more about Lorraine Marwood and her poetry and books, visit her website. And check out our other interviews with Lorraine here and here.

Interview with Lorraine Marwood © November 2014 Lorraine Marwood & Rebecca Newman


poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Time for a poem: A Day in Bed

A Day in Bed

by Katherine Mansfield

I wish I had not got a cold,
The wind is big and wild,
I wish that I was very old,
Not just a little child.

Somehow the day is very long
Just keeping here, alone;
I do not like the big wind’s song,
He’s growling for a bone.

He’s like an awful dog we had
Who used to creep around
And snatch at things — he was so bad,
With just that horrid sound.

I’m sitting up and nurse has made
Me wear a woolly shawl;
I wish I was not so afraid;
It’s horrid to be small.

It really feels quite like a day
Since I have had my tea;
P’r’aps everybody’s gone away
And just forgotten me.

And oh! I cannot go to sleep
Although I am in bed.
The wind keeps going creepy-creep
And waiting to be fed.


We’re sharing this poem as part of Alphabet Soup’s Poetry Festival. Do you think you could write your own poem about feeling scared? Sure you could! And then enter it in our 2014 kids’ writing comp — entries close 25 November 2014.

Book reviews by Joseph, Book reviews by kids, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Book review: The Billy That Died With Its Boots On

The Billy That Died With Its Boots On by Stephen Whiteside, ill. Lauren Merrick, ISBN 9781922077431, Walker Books Australia

The Billy that died with its boots on (cover)


Joseph is reviewing his own copy of this book.

This is a book where the poems are all by an Australian poet, written in Australian bush style. But not everything is about Australia — like the poem called ‘The Poles’ (as in the north and south) and there’s a dinosaur section.

Some of the poems remind me of me (especially the poem about cleaning your room). As I do with poem books, I picked out the extra interesting looking ones first and then later I went back and read the others. Some of the ones that looked interesting at first were ‘The Sash’, ‘The Saucing of the Pies’ and ‘The Icecream that Hurt’. They were all very good poems.

My favourite poems in this collection are: ‘The Poles’ and ‘The Comforts of Home’. I like the ideas behind them and the rhythms, and they’re good to say out loud as well as to read to yourself in your head.

There aren’t many pictures in this book. The illustrations are black and white and they stand out well.

Children aged 6 and above will love this book — even adults, because the style of the poems suits children and adults. My number one tip is to read the poems out loud or get someone to read them out loud to you. I’d like to read more poems by Stephen Whiteside. I like these so much I might choose one of these poems for my next school Oracy exam.

This book is best read while eating pies with sauce.

Read our earlier interview with the poet, Stephen Whiteside.

Joseph is one of our regular book reviewers. His most recent review (if you don’t count this one) was of The 52-Storey Treehouse. If YOU would like to send us a book review, check out our submission guidelines. Happy reading!

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Chat with a poet: Stephen Whiteside

Stephen Whiteside
Stephen Whiteside

Stephen Whiteside lives in Victoria and has been writing rhyming verse for over thirty years. He writes for adults and children and recently had his first book of poetry for children published — The Billy that Died with its Boots On. It’s full of poems great for reading aloud and performing. 

Stephen agreed to chat to Alphabet Soup about writing and reciting bush poetry.

What do you like about bush poetry in particular?

Perhaps I should begin by defining bush poetry.

The Australian Bush Poets’ Association (ABPA) defines it as follows:

“Australian bush poetry is metred and rhymed poetry about Australia, Australians and/or the Australian way of life.”

In other words (and this is very important) bush poetry does not have to be set in the bush! Many of Australia’s greatest bush poets — Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, CJ Dennis, etc., wrote poems that were set in the city as well as in the bush.

Which brings me to my next point. Today we might call Banjo Paterson a ‘bush poet’, but back when he was alive he was not called a ‘bush poet’, he was just a ‘poet’.

Bush poetry means different things to different people. Sometimes I worry it makes it sound inferior, like ‘bush lawyer’.

Everybody knows that bush poetry rhymes, but the rhyme is not the most important thing about it. As the ABPA definition implies, the metre is even more important than the rhyme.

So what is metre? Metre is rhythm. Bush poetry has a strong sense of rhythm — a bit like music without the notes. Can you tap your foot or slap your thigh to the rhythm of the poetry? That is the test. If you can, it is probably bush poetry.

So what is the difference between bush poetry and rap? Surprisingly little, really. Rap tends to be faster, louder, more urgent than bush poetry, but that’s probably just about it.

So, what do I like about bush poetry in particular? For me, it is the rhythm, the rhyme and the word play. Much bush poetry tells stories or jokes, and that is great fun too, of course.

How old were you when you wrote your first poem?

I think I would have been in middle or late primary school. I started writing poems for family members on their birthdays.

Who is your favourite bush poet?

My favourite bush poet is CJ Dennis, but I prefer to call him simply a ‘poet’, not a ‘bush poet’. Although he lived in the bush, he wrote mostly about the city. (Banjo Paterson lived in the city, but wrote mostly about the bush. It is all very confusing, really … )

I think of CJ Dennis as a chameleon. He could do anything. He could write realistic poetry (set in both the city and the bush), he could write fantasy and satire, and he could write excellent poetry for children. Who was the real CJ Dennis? I’m still not sure.

Do you ever recite/perform your poems to an audience? (Do you have any tips?)

Yes, I often recite to an audience. In fact, all of my poems are written to be recited or read aloud. The rhythm and rhyme becomes much more evident when the poems are read aloud.

The tradition of reading poetry aloud harks back to the days of old when there were no tablets, mobile phones, TVs or even radios — and certainly no Facebook. Bush workers often used to entertain themselves by taking it in turns to recite poems to each other at the end of the working day — often around a campfire. A campfire is a great place for telling stories!

A tip for reciting? Choose a poem that you really like, for whatever reason. If the audience can sense your love of the poem, they are much more likely to enjoy your performance. Read it over to yourself several times before you perform it. It is important to be familiar with the work. If you can learn it off by heart, even better! If you find you are feeling nervous, remember, the performance is not about you, it is about the poem!

Do you have a tip for young writers who want to write bush poetry?

As I said earlier, it all comes back to the rhythm, or metre. Too many poets worry about the rhyme, and ignore the metre. Poetry with rhyme but no metre does not sound good. Make sure you can tap your foot or slap your thigh to the words as you read them out. If you can’t, there is something wrong with the poem.

How long did it take you to put together The Billy That Died With Its Boots On?

I began planning the book in 1990, and it was published in 2014 (this year), so that is over twenty years. Why so long? Lots of reasons. I knew that the publisher would be most interested in publishing poems that had been published before in magazines and anthologies, and it takes a long time to have enough poems published that way to make a book.

It also took me a long time to find a publisher. I received many rejections. It is very difficult to make money publishing poetry. I am extremely grateful to Walker Books for taking a risk, and publishing my book!

The Billy that died with its boots on (cover)


Find out more about Stephen Whiteside and his poetry! Visit his website, and check out some of his poems here.

Interview with Stephen Whiteside © November 2014 Stephen Whiteside & Alphabet Soup Publishing


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Kathryn Apel and her verse novel

bully on the bus
Bully on the Bus — a verse novel.

Today we have Kathryn Apel visiting us as part of the Alphabet Soup Poetry Festival. Kathryn writes fabulous poetry for kids. Some of you might remember Kathryn’s poems in Alphabet Soup (back when it was a print magazine) and her latest work is a brand new verse novel called Bully on the Bus. (You can read a review of Bully on the Bus in a previous blogpost — thanks to Souper reviewer Joseph, 10.)

We asked Kathryn if we could bombard her with questions about verse novels. (Luckily — she said yes!)

kat apel
Kathryn Apel dressed for the book launch.

AS: What IS a verse novel exactly?

KA: A verse novel is a story that is told in verse, either as a collection of individual poems that build to tell a story — or longer poems that stand as chapters in a larger story. Verse novels may be told in rhyme, or free verse.

AS: Can a verse novel rhyme?

KA: Oops. I answered that before I got to this question. I think, traditionally, verse novels did rhyme. But now there are lots that don’t. Mine don’t rhyme — but there are rhymes that sneak in, in places. I used to write lots of rhyming picture books, but I love that my verse novels don’t rhyme — so I can play with the words more … which includes rhyming play sometimes.
AS: What gave you the idea for Bully on the Bus?

KA: The idea came from an experience my boys had on their school bus … but as I was writing, I was  reminded me of my journey on the school bus as a child — with bullies. And suddenly I had more than enough ideas for Leroy’s story!

AS: Why did you choose to write it as a verse novel? (Why not a prose novel?)

KA: In fact, I did first write it as a prose novel — a chapter book for early readers. It was the Book Chook (Susan Stephenson) who helped me see that it really was a verse novel. Rewriting it as a verse novel was one of the most rewarding things I have done. I knew that this was the right format for Leroy’s story, because the words sang on the page.

AS: You write lots of poetry too. What’s different about writing a verse novel and writing a poem? 

KA: Great question. You’re really making me think with this …

A poem often captures a moment in time — or an event. A verse novel creates a bigger picture, and you become really involved with the characters — feel their emotions with them, and know how they’re going to respond. I think it’s the fact that the poems are a part of a whole that give them their strength … And because there are different emotions and experiences (and sometimes even different narrators — although not in Bully on the Bus, which is told through Leroy’s eyes) you can also explore different forms of poetry — different rhythms — throughout the book. Of course, because each poem is just one of many, the devices you employ as a writer in each particular poem are also dictated by the surrounding poems. Something that might be effective in a stand-alone poem may have already been used within the verse novel. So you have to  evaluate if it will still be effective if you do the same thing again — or if there’s another, better way of presenting it.

AS: Can you recommend other verse novels for primary school aged kids?

KA: This is one of the easiest questions I’ve ever had to answer! Australia has produced lots of beautiful verse novelists — and verse novels. It’s wonderful that publishers are producing them, and kids are reading them! The following verse novels are great reads for Primary students — although older readers (and adults) will also enjoy them. (That’s perhaps the best thing about verse novels. They’re so versatile!)

  • Sixth Grade Style Queen NOT! by Sheryl Clark
  • Ratswhiskers and Me, and Starjumps by Lorraine Marwood
  • Pearl Verses the World, and Toppling, and Roses are Blue by Sally Murphy
  • The Spangled Drongo, and Pookie Aleerah Is Not My Boyfriend by Stephen Herrick

AS: Where can we find your poems?

KA: Most of my poems have been published in magazines — so they’re not available online. But it’s something I’ve been meaning to fix, so in honour of this post, today I’m launching a page with poems for kids on my blog. You’ll find it at http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/poetry-for-kids . Skip across to check it out sometime.

AS: Is there anything else we should know about Kathryn Apel?
KA: Every January I co-ordinate Month of Poetry, a family-friendly event that Alphabet Soup readers can participate in. The challenge is to write a poem a day for the month of January — but even if you only write a couple of poems, that’s still better writing none. 🙂 You can read more about the challenge on the Month of Poetry site — but be sure to get your parents permission and help to sign up.
Interview with Kathryn Apel © October 2014 Kathryn Apel & Rebecca Newman