A Special Edition of Children’s Poetry, Guest Editorial by Terry McDonagh
Terry McDonagh taught creative writing at Hamburg University. Was Drama Director at International School Hamburg. Published ten poetry collections, letters, drama, prose and poetry for young people. Translations into Indonesian and German. 2016 poetry collection, ‘Lady Cassie Peregrina‘– Arlen House. 2017, included in Fire and Ice 2 Gill Education. 2017, UCG by Degrees included in Galway Poetry Trail. 2017, Director of WestWords, Germany’s first Irish lit. festival in Hamburg. His latest collection, Fourth Floor Flat – 44 Cantos, published in September 2018 by Arlen House. The cover is by Irish Artist Sally McKenna. It was first launched at Clifden Arts Festival, County Galway on September 18th 2018. The book is available at www.ArgosyBooks.ie, The Book Depository and Syracuse University Press New York. Terry is a founding contributor of Live Encounters Magazine. www.terry-mcdonagh.com
It’s hard to imagine that Live Encounters is celebrating its ninth birthday. These have been nine special years. Mark Ulyseas has provided a wonderful platform for writers and artists from a whole variety of national and international backgrounds and the magazine continues to grow and flourish.
Now to celebrate these years, Live Encounters – affectionately LE – is bringing out a special edition of children’s and teenagers’ work. A rampant wheelbarrow of ideas, dreams, hopes, thoughts and expression. Imagination speaks from the heart and children speak from the heart. They write, sculpt, sketch, dance and perform in ways best known to the youthful mind. Given a healthy climate, children will always surprise and grant us access to a rich world that will often belie their tender years. The arts are building blocks that create a vibrant, inventive and rounded personality. Thankfully there are still lots of teachers, parents and guardians that have not relinquished the rich, artistic side of what it means to be fully human. Teachers read to children in class, create original theatre, allow playtime and challenging activities. Parents read and tell stories before bedtime.
Just recently reading Matthew Sweeney’s poetry collection, ‘Up on the Roof’, I was, again, touched by the light touch and ease with which he could immerse himself in the world and language of young people.
I was sad when he passed away this year but he’s left us countless thought-provoking, happy and amusing poems such as:
Cows on the Beach
fed-up with grass, field, farmer,
barged through barbed wire
and found the beach.
Each mooed to each:
this is a better place to be,
a stretch of sand next to the sea,
this is the place for me.
Matthew is only one of many writers and poets who, in their work, have sought or seek out the challenge of trying to reach out to the world of young people. Poets Michael Rosen, Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Hollie McNish, Adrian Henry or Benjamin Zephaniah – to name but a few – do it so well. Adrian Mitchell wrote wonderful plays; Roald Dahl was an industry of words; Oscar Wilde gave us beautiful stories; we have JK Rowling with her Harry Potter, Kate DiCamillo. The list goes on.
It seems like a cliché but it’s true that an enlightened child will, most likely become a rounded and responsible adult. The arts can play such an important role in this, and especially at a time when educational systems are placing more and more emphasis on control, assessment and results. It would seem as if they wish to tie imagination to a fence-post in the hope that wind and rain will somehow wash it away. But thankfully imagination is greater than chains and test results. The wheels of systems roll on and on and it is our duty to sidestep these limitations and what better way to do this than to awaken dreams, instil confidence and pass on rich language to the next generation. Writing, in whatever genre, is by its very nature organic and changing. It’s constantly pushing accepted boundaries and challenging style and format.
There’s also the very popular poetry slam and performance poetry that comes in all shapes and sizes. It draws huge audiences often including music and movement. In Ireland, since 2006, Poetry Aloud, has become an annual poetry speaking competition open to all post-primary students. It is organised by Poetry Ireland, The National Library and University College Cork. It has flourished and grown beyond all expectation. In the USA, Poetry Out Loud, initiated and organised by The Poetry Foundation since 2005, helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literature, literary history and contemporary life.
From my own point of view, the really exciting work with young people takes place in the classroom or at festivals and occasions when I facilitate creative writing and drama workshops. I am always surprised, amused, touched by the humour in children’s work. It’s as if I can feel aspects of my own childhood creeping back into my adult bones.
In this special edition of Live Encounter’s writing, children are granted a unique opportunity to see their work in published form. Thanks to Mark Ulyseas for allowing this to happen.
© Terry McDonagh