Image by Caroline Forbes

A tour of the Children's Archive with Jean Sprackland

There are so many good poems in the Children's Archive, it's hard to know where to start! I'd like to share with you just a few of my favourites. I've chosen six very different poems: some are funny, others thoughtful, and they're full of places and people and animals and weather and magic. I hope you'll enjoy them, and I hope my suggestions will get you started on your own listening adventures.  

Let's start with a short, funny poem by Michael Rosen. Michael knows how to make the most ordinary things in life look strange and daft. This poem starts off sounding just like the TV news, but the main headline isn't quite what we're expecting...

How can my name be magical - it's just a word, isn't it? Not when the poet James Berry talks about it. It shakes me, it brings terror and happiness, it touches me across great distances and switches me on "like it was my human electricity". Once you've heard this poem, you'll never feel quite the same about your name again.

Like James Berry, Valerie Bloom is a poet whose first home was in the Caribbean. In this poem, Valerie describes the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Jamaica so vividly that I almost feel I'm there. This is one of the special things a poem can do: pick you up and take you to another place. It may be a grey November afternoon in my street, but when I press the button and play this poem I'm somewhere brighter and warmer, in "de season when mango is king".

Back to something closer to home: a picnic on an English beach. This poem by Judith Nicholls is a little conversation between George and his mother as they sit down to eat. You know what it's like on a beach on a windy day: the sand gets everywhere. Still, as George's mum says, "at least the sand is free".

Adrian Mitchell has always been especially fond of elephants - they appear in quite a few of his poems. Here he describes elephants walking under "juicy-leaf trees", bathing and "fountaining their children in the mothery river". In the way these "strong and gentle" animals behave together, he sees things which are very special and important to all of us: time, happiness and peace.

In the last poem on our Guided Tour, a son remembers his father. As Brendan Kennelly says in his introduction, his father was "a nice, easy-going man who liked to begin the day with a little dance". When I hear the poem, I see him very clearly in my mind's eye. Whatever hard work and troubles the day ahead might bring, he starts by taking a minute or two to whistle and dance... just for the joy of it.

About Jean Sprackland

Jean Sprackland is a poet and writer. She is the winner of the Costa Poetry Award in 2008, and the Portico Prize for Non-Fiction in 2012. Her books have also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, the TS Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Award. She has worked extensively in poetry and education, and is co-author (with Mandy Coe) of 'Our thoughts are bees: Writers Working with Schools'. Jean is currently Reader in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is also a trustee of the Poetry Archive.

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Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope muses on the lines that keep coming back, the challenges of formal verse and how a poem can be seriously funny.