A poem about falling asleep listening to the rain has won a new competition set up to promote poetry for children. ‘Night Rain’ by Annelies Judson from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland won the Drop by Drop Poetry for Children Competition being run in conjunction with today’s Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.
By Annelies Judson
It cloaks me like a blanket.
I thank it.
It tittle-tatters me to sleep.
On quiet nights I stay awake.
I’m thinking thoughts and counting sheep.
On rainy nights I’m soothed.
Rough patches from the day removed.
The noise swirls round the room
Judge and renowned children’s author Bill Nagelkerke said ‘Night Rain’ was a short and effective poem in which the conceit of the rain cloaking a sleeper like a blanket offered the reader a neat reversal of expectations.
“Writing poetry for children is a challenging discipline, where thoughts, ideas, images and emotions must all be shaped in wonderful language that children can respond to as well as be challenged by.”
“ ‘It tittle-tatters me to sleep’ is both the onomatopoeic sound of the rain as well as the stories the rain tells. The poem ends on an open note ’And soon . . . / Soon . . . / Soon . . .’ allowing young readers to finish the poem for themselves.”
He also commended three poems: Swallowing the Sun and Taniwha Tumble, both by Samantha Montgomerie, and Fishing the Sky by Sally Marx.
He said, “Writing poetry for children is a challenging discipline, where thoughts, ideas, images and emotions must all be shaped in wonderful language that children can respond to as well as be challenged by. Not easy at all.”
Annelies describes herself as a Pākehā, feminist mother-of-four who writes in the little spare time she has.
“I spend a lot of time with poem particles in my head and not on paper. I have these half-formed ideas that float around, and snippets of rhythmic words and appealing rhymes that I note down”
“I love the magic of pulling apart language and putting it back together. I love doing it for kids, because kids are fun and sophisticated and wide-eyed and critical all at once,” she said.
She heard about the competition through a post on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Facebook page.
“I spend a lot of time with poem particles in my head and not on paper. I have these half-formed ideas that float around, and snippets of rhythmic words and appealing rhymes that I note down, but I’ve not been very good at actually forcing those ideas into flesh and blood poems. So the competition was my motivation!”
“I get an almost physical pleasure from the sound of rain at night, and I wanted to capture that feeling.”
The poem ‘Night Rain’ was inspired by a phrase that came to her about hearing night time rain: “It cloaks me like a blanket / I thank it”.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I decided to extend on that idea, about the way that rain at night makes me feel. I get an almost physical pleasure from the sound of rain at night, and I wanted to capture that feeling.”
Annelies was excited to find out she had won the competition and hoped it would motivate her to get more of the poetry in her head shaped into proper poems and to polish up some picture book manuscripts.
And what did her children think about her winning poem?
“They were unimpressed. They are much more taken with Dav Pilkey’s version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Literary poems about the soothing nature of night rain are beneath them, in their opinion.”
The Drop by Drop Poetry for Children Competition was run in conjunction with Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day 2023 and saw 36 poets enter more than 70 poems written around the competition’s theme of ‘water’.
It was organised by The Poets XYZ (children’s poets Melinda Szymanik, Elena de Roo and Kathryn Dove) to fill a gap in the poetry landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand, namely poetry written specifically for children.
“And if you want to create future poets and future readers of poetry it seems smart to start them young.”
Melinda Szymanik said they decided to set up the competition after discussing how few local opportunities were available to writers of this genre.
“Overseas there are specific magazines and websites that specialise in poems for children but there are very few outlets in this country apart from the School Journal and the occasional anthology, annual or individual collection.
“As one of the most malleable genres, poetry is a form of writing children often want to try for themselves, and their efforts are often very successful. And if you want to create future poets and future readers of poetry it seems smart to start them young.”
The Poets XYZ successfully applied for funding from National Poetry Day and approached Phantom Billstickers about giving the winning poem a wider audience.
“We’ve really appreciated the support we’ve received from Phantom Billstickers. Thanks to them, posters of ‘Night Rain’ have been put up on several billboards in central Wellington and Christchurch during the week leading up to National Poetry Day,” said Melinda.
She also wanted to thank illustrator Vasanti Unka for her work in designing the poster of the winning poem and to acknowledge Penguin Random House New Zealand and Time Out bookstore in Auckland for providing prizes to the commended poets.
Bill Nagelkerke said creating some sort of award or recognition for poetic endeavours might encourage more poetry books.
“A love of words, rhythm and language is a gift beyond price. In the end, it’s all about the ability to communicate.”
Kathryn Dove writes fiction for children. Her poems have appeared in The Toy, Tyger Tyger, The Dirigible Balloon and Chasing Clouds: Adventures in a Poetry Balloon (2022). Kathryn lives in Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau.