Posted in poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

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


Posted in poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

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 . 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
Posted in poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Time for a poem: The Duel


by Eugene Field


The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
‘T was half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
(I wasn’t there; I simply state
What was told to me by the Chinese plate!)

The gingham dog went “bow-wow-wow!”
And the calico cat replied “mee-ow!”
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
While the old Dutch clock in the chimney place
Up with its hands before its face,
For it always dreaded a family row!
(Now mind: I’m only telling you
What the old Dutch clock declares is true!)

The Chinese plate looked very blue,
And wailed, “Oh, dear! what shall we do!”
But the gingham dog and the calico cat
Wallowed this way and tumbled that,
Employing every tooth and claw
In the awfullest way you ever saw —
And, oh! how the gingham and calico flew!
(Don’t fancy I exaggerate —
I got my news from the Chinese plate!)

Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)

Posted in competitions, poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Alphabet Soup’s 2014 poetry comp for kids

Think of something that scares you … or something that scared you when you were younger. (Sometimes ordinary things can seem very scary to someone small.)  Write a poem about it. Your poem should be no longer than 20 lines (shorter is fine!).

You must include an official cover sheet with your entry:




Your poem can be handwritten or typed.

The winning poem will be published on Alphabet Soup’s blog and the winner will receive one $30 bookstore voucher (posted to the address provided on the entry).

Entries (poem + cover sheet) may be posted to Alphabet Soup, PO Box 3099, Broadway Nedlands WA 6009. (Entries must be posted in time to reach us by the closing date.)


Entries (poem + cover sheet) can be scanned and emailed as PDFs or .docx documents only to Entries must be emailed in time to reach us by the closing date.

KEEP A COPY OF YOUR POEM because all entries and contact information will be destroyed after the winner is announced.

Some fine print:

  • The competition opens on Saturday 25 October 2014 and closes at 11.59pm (Perth time) on Tuesday 25 November 2014.
  • This competition is open to children aged 12 or younger on 25 November 2014.
  • This competition is open to residents of Australia only.
  • Immediate family members of Alphabet Soup’s paid employees are not eligible to enter this competition. (Children who contribute book reviews to Alphabet Soup’s website are not considered to be employees.)
  • To enter, you must write a poem about something that scares you, or something that scared you when you were younger. Your poem should be no longer than 20 lines (shorter is fine).
  • The poem must be all your own work. Poems that are copied from someone else (plagiarism) will be disqualified.
  • Entries must include the the official cover sheet with its signed declaration (see above to download).
  • You may enter as many times as you wish, but each entry must include its own completed cover sheet (see above to download).
  • One winner will be chosen and will be notified by email or by telephone as per the info on your cover sheet.
  • The winner’s poem will be published on Alphabet Soup’s website and the winner will receive one $30 bookstore voucher — posted to you in the mail.
  • Entries (poem + cover sheet) may be posted to Alphabet Soup, PO Box 3099, Broadway Nedlands WA 6009. OR Entries (poem + cover sheet) can be scanned and emailed as PDFs or .docx documents to

Privacy statement:

Alphabet Soup will never pass your information on to anyone else, except where required by law. All entries and personal information will be destroyed at the end of the competition.

Happy writing!

Posted in Soup Blog Poetry Festival

Alphabet Soup’s Poetry Festival starts today!

Poetry Festival

Today is the start of Alphabet Soup’s Poetry Festival for 2014. Over the next month we’ll feature interviews with children’s poets, reviews, giveaways poem-writing tips, and poems.

We’ll be launching this year’s Festival shortly with a poetry competition for kids. The winner will have their poem published here on Alphabet Soup’s blog and will also win a $30 bookstore voucher — so flex those typing fingers and sharpen those pencils! We’re really looking forward to your masterpieces arriving in the Alphabet Soup letterbox. (We love getting mail almost as much as we love poetry.)

And now … let the poem fun begin!



Posted in poetry, Soup Blog Poetry Festival

The return of Alphabet Soup’s Poetry Festival!

Last year we held our first ever Poetry Festival, right here on the website. Hold onto your hats — it’s back! From 25 October when you visit our website you’ll find interviews, book reviews, tips and hints, interesting links, giveaways and of course … poems! (October is also our birthday month — what a fabulous month to celebrate poetry.)

And here’s a cheery poster to make it look official:

Poetry Festival