What do you like doing when you're not writing poetry?
I love walking in the hills, the Shropshire hills are just gorgeous, you can walk all day without meeting anyone. I really like trashy movies where the bad guys get it bad in the end and the good guys get the girl. I particularly love at the end of a school performance, driving all the way home and coming and hanging out in the sauna.
How long does it take you to write a poem?
I can often write a draft of a poem maybe in twenty minutes, half an hour, an hour, but you have to understand there's twenty years of training led to that moment, of using words and studying and looking at language and the one thing I would say to any budding poets, it isn't easy just to write a poem. You have to use all those structures like simile and metaphor and personification and alliteration. Poetry, just like anything else is a craft. If you build a rubbish house, it will fall down, if you write a rubbish poem, nobody will be interested. It does take work and drafting and editing, and then you end up hopefully with a polished jewel.
What kind of poems do you write?
I write all sorts of poems. Formal poems, silly poems, serious poems, sonnets, roundels, haikus, cinquains, poems about love, poems about falling out of love, poems about hate, about families, about families breaking up, about bullying, all sorts of things. What I particularly like to do is to write poems that will perform well when I'm working with an audience. Poetry was always performed and this is one of my favourites inspired by a poem called 'The Night Train' by W. H. Auden and here's a bit of it.
Begun with a word
spun from the heart to
click the pen and make it start.
Out pours ink to the alphabet sea
my words are whales now racing free
my words are done so wrap them tight
in an envelope of night.
Stamp a head on its face
dressed with address then slotted in place
till along comes a burglar with sack and key
to steal the words to you from me.
Sack to van, van to train
words like rain etc. . .
Where do you get your ideas from?
I get my ideas from other children, working in schools, observation, my own childhood, wordplay, other writers. Colin McNaughton wrote a lovely poem about a robot who dies and obviously it's "Rust in peace" at the end so we were thinking about our own ending and our own poem about a gerbil who comes to an untimely end, squashed between the covers of a trouser press which ends "Poor old pet with a permanent crease/Gerbil Gerry pressed in peace."
How do you write your poems?
A lot of the books I now write are with my wife Polly and when we first married we vowed we would never work together creatively we thought "Thus things would go very badly" but it seems to be we've got a very good way of working together. My wife was a former teacher, so she edits a lot of my material, I edit her material, she comes up with ideas I write them down, I come up with ideas she writes them down and it's such a wonderful collaboration - we sometimes don't know who has written what, but I thoroughly recommend it, it's a great way to get feedback, to work with somebody else.
Do your own children like your poems?
We have two children, Rosalind and Asa. Asa, the boy, is a little bit too young to understand the subtle superiority of my material, being the modest kind of person that I am, but my daughter Rosalind, thank God, hasn't yet reached the age of embarrassment to be seen dead when we go to festivals and when I perform she still enjoys my material. I try out a lot of poems and stories on her and she's still enthusiastic. I have a feeling when she's a teenager that will change dramatically.
Why did you start writing poetry?
I started to write for three reasons, one is that I experienced a lot of bullying when I was younger, until I got bigger than everybody else and they stopped and writing was one way to express my feelings. Also I had an older brother and we all know about sibling rivalry - I was jealous of him, he wrote poems so I could too and the third reason was 'lurve'. The girl was twelve I was eleven, I wrote her rubbish love poems. She lived in Leeds and I asked her to come and live with me, but it didn't work out - "And my heart, how it still bleeds/for Sharon Smith, who lived in Leeds."
How big a part does music play in your writing?
Music plays a great part in my writing, in my performing with poems set to music - let's not forget that poetry comes from the oral tradition and the original Old English poems were performed, often with music. And I play didgeridoo, I play jaw harp, I sing some of my poems, I work with musicians and it's a way of making poetry accessible, making words come to life off the page.
Does being tall help you write poetry?
I think being tall is an integral part of my work as a poet. I am the tallest poet in the United Kingdom, six foot eight and a half inches, very, very important and I would certainly say that when I walk into schools kids think a giant has walked in. It helps for other reasons, namely if the kids give me any 'gip', I'm a lot bigger than them, so any trouble, I sort them out. It also helps with the website - tallpoet.com. Also, nobody ever forgets a tall poet.
Where do you write your poems?
I need a quiet place to write, away from the kids and this summer house is absolutely perfect, out in the garden, with views to the hills, I can shut myself from everyone else and spend some time writing. No phones, nothing. Peace and quiet.