All the Wild Wonders – Poems of our Earth, edited by Wendy Cooling and illustrated by Piet Grobler is a collection of poetry which poses interesting questions about the world we live in. The poems encourage reflection on the wonders and beauty around us on our planet, and provoke thought about what the future holds given the impact humans have on the natural environment. There are poems in many different styles from Benjamin Zephaniah to William Blake, via Ogden Nash and John Milton, each juxtaposed in ways that draw out new and sometimes surprising comparisons.
Rich and colourful watercolour illustrations throughout make this look more like a picture book than many a poetry anthology whilst the embossed, textured cover and luxuriously thick paper that have been used for this new edition make this book simply delightful to hold in your hands as well as to read silently or aloud.
To celebrate publication of All the Wild Wonders in its new and exceptionally beautiful format earlier this spring I put some questions to Wendy Cooling, the editor of the anthology, about the way she works, the state of children’s poetry and what we could look for in the library or bookshop if we wanted to offer more great poems to the kids in our lives.
Playing by the book: When I look at the poetry books you’ve worked on sometimes they are described as being “written” by you, other times “edited” or “selected”. So what is a poetry editor? I see you almost more as a curator – you choose poems to present and juxtapose, rather than (I imagine) editing their actual words or structure?
Wendy Cooling: Yes, a poetry editor is really more like a curator than a book editor as he/she cannot change the words in a poem, or amend in any way without the poet’s consent. Sometimes an extract from a poem is agreed to but otherwise the poem is as the poet wrote it. The editor chooses and arranges the poems to present a theme or an idea in a coherent way.
Playing by the book: Where and how do you start when you’ve a new anthology to curate? With lots of books on the table? Innumerable post-it notes?….
Wendy Cooling: The beginnings of an anthology are pure joy to me. I sit somewhere comfortable, often under a tree in the garden, surrounded by mountains of poetry collections and anthologies I just read and read and read… and use lots of post-it notes. I visit the Poetry Library in London’s Festival Hall and indulge in more poetry reading and lots of photocopying. I have of course far more poems that I can ever use.
The next bit is the hard bit, weeding out poems I love but don’t quite work for the age-group or within the overall developing theme. I look for a mixture of forms as I want to move children away from the idea that poems must rhyme. I look for writing from many cultures to give a sense of the universality of poetry.
I have a budget to consider too as of course poets are paid for the inclusion of a poem. There are always one or two very eminent poets we just can’t afford.
Playing by the book: So just with the words, there are plenty of different considerations. What about when an anthology is accompanied by illustrations, as many of yours are. When you are working on an anthology to what extent do you liaise with the illustrator?
Wendy Cooling: It is quite unusual for editor and illustrator to liaise, often the two never meet. Luckily I do get to see and comment on Piet Grobler‘s very earliest roughs. We don’t always quite agree on the meaning of a poem and can talk this through, quite a fascinating process. I think I’m very fortunate and do hope to work with Piet in the future.
Playing by the book: I’d love to be able to eavesdrop on those conversations where it turns out your two interpretations don’t quite match. I bet they are very rich and interesting!
What sort of anthology would you like to curate next if you could have an entirely free say in it? Is there a theme you’d especially like to explore which you haven’t yet?
Wendy Cooling: I have three ideas that I’m working on at the moment but won’t reveal them here!
Playing by the book: Fair enough – but I will be keeping my eyes peeled for future collections!
What about this then: Is there something that poetry does better or differently than other genres in your opinion?
Wendy Cooling: Poetry is very special as it helps children to really taste words and to experiment with their own writing. To children who struggle as readers, a poetry book is very liberating – poems are quite short and there’s no rule that says you must read them all. Poetry well-introduced can be perfect to get some children into reading – they all love the ‘no rules’ bit.
Poetry is wonderful at expressing a very deep thought in few words and with great immediacy. Children don’t become good readers until they are able to hear words sing in their heads, poetry helps them to experience this magic. Too often children are asked to find similes, metaphors, examples of alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc and they couldn’t care less what the poem is about. Let’s leave all the analysis for later on and introduce poems as pleasure, fun and excitement, things to make you laugh, feel and think.
Playing by the book: What’s your opinion about the state of children’s poetry in the UK? Who are the up and coming children’s poets we should be looking out for?
Wendy Cooling: Children’s poetry is very strong at the moment but few publishers will publish it as they’re nervous of achieving the necessary sales. We need to be brave and to celebrate poetry. I’m very keen on James Carter and Rachel Rooney as well as more established poets like Michael Rosen, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Valerie Bloom, Judith Nicholls and many many more.
Playing by the book: This seems like an opportune moment to congratulate Rachel Rooney on making this year’s CLPE Poetry Award shortlist which was recently announced. And what about you? Do you write poetry yourself?
Wendy Cooling: I write myself but not for publication! It’s a great pleasure perhaps a personal indulgence in my case.
Playing by the book: Apart from All the Wild Wonders, what three other children’s poetry anthologies would you encourage us to seek out if we were looking at starting a home poetry library?
Wendy Cooling: There are many terrific anthologies to look at, one of my favourites is Adrian Mitchell‘s A Poem a Day, it’s a delight to dip into and perfect for families to look at together. A Caribbean Dozen edited by John Agard and Grace Nichols is special too. If you can’t go to the Caribbean this is the next best thing as it invites you to experience the rhythms and atmosphere of another land.
There’s nothing like a live poet though, listening to them read, or perform their own poems can be a great experience. Children love to perform their poems too but should only be encouraged to learn by heart poems they really want to remember for ever.
Playing by the book: I couldn’t agree more with you Wendy. Thank you.