WRITING Poetry Q&A with Joshua Seigal



Poetry for children can be magic. Ask my nine year-old son and he will tell you how much fun he has reading Joshua Seigal's poems over and over again.  I am often invited to poetry battles where we both have a book in hand and try to outwit each other with Joshua's poems, so we are delighted to have him as our guest in this month's Poetry Q&A series. 

Words & Pictures Editor Gulfem Wormald talks to Joshua Seigal about all things poetry.


Please tell us something about yourself that you have not told anyone publicly, some sort of an icebreaker fact about you!


I like to make up songs about my pet cat and sing them in the shower.

Had you always intended to become a poet? If not, what other career plans did you have?


I realised I wanted to be a poet when I was in my early twenties. I've always enjoyed writing and words, but I didn't realise that being a poet could be a proper job! I can't say I had any real career plans up until that point. I stayed at university to complete a two-year Masters, probably with the intention of delaying the decision about what job I was going to do.


Your work is available freely on social media. While it must be rewarding to be so accessible (is it?), what does it mean for making money from a selling your work point of view?


I do put lots of my work on social media, but it is still only a small percentage of my total output. I find that children, parents and teachers still want to buy books, perhaps even more so if they have had a taster of my work online. Most of my income does not derive from book sales in any case; it comes from school visits and other education work.

In your experience, what do you think grabs the attention of children with regards to reading? What works and doesn't work for them?


Children can be so different and we don't want to lump them all in together. I do think it's important to recognise that humour can play a huge role, however. Everyone likes to laugh, and it can be a really great way of capturing the attention of people who do not normally consider themselves readers.


Do you write in other genres or for other audience other than children?


I write for grown-ups as well as children, and I have done a bit of stand-up comedy in the past. I do mostly write poetry, and blog entries. I don't really write stories — I haven't the patience!


Have you got any rules, no-nos, special considerations when you write for children?


Apart from the obvious stuff (no naughty words!) I'd say the most important thing is not to patronise children or talk down to them. I try really hard in my writing and performance not to do this.

How are children as a live audience? Please tell us some of your experiences of receiving feedback from children on your work.


They are very rewarding to work with. I have generally had great feedback, which I can tell simply by observing how they react to a performance. With younger children especially it can tend to teeter on the edge of chaos, and I have to work really hard to stop it spilling over.

Where do you get your inspiration from?


All over the place! My own memory is often a source of inspiration, as is the work of masses of other fantastic children's poets.


What made you start writing? I am assuming it is your calling? If so, when did you realise that it was?


I started writing in earnest when I was a teenager, and the work I produced at first was truly awful. I started writing as a way to express my feelings, and after a few years of lachrymose, derivative crap I started to turn to humour and comedy as a way of expressing myself. I do still write sad stuff sometimes, though. I also started to realise, after performing some of my work at open mic nights, that I got a real kick out of performing for an audience. For me, poetry doesn't just live on the page.

Who are your favourite authors and poets?


Neal Zetter, Roger Stevens, Brian Moses, Michael Rosen, John Hegley, Simon Armitage, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Michaela Morgan, Margaret Atwood.

How did you find literacy in education when you were growing up? What would you like to see change or never change?


A lot of it was focused towards exams, and I think this should change. There should be a greater emphasis on reading and writing for pleasure.

Have you got any advice for poets considering to write for children?


Don't patronise, and write the sort of stuff you enjoy writing. Try to write with yourself in mind, rather than with your audience in mind. If you enjoy and connect with the work you are producing, your audience are much more likely to appreciate it. But let this be a by-product rather than the goal of your writing.

Do you have a process or ritual for writing?


Nope. I write when and where the mood takes me.

Is there a question that journalists/people should ask you but they never do? Have you got a great answer for a question annoyingly no one ever asks?

Hmmm. I think they should talk to me much more generally. Journalists tend to ignore me. I'm not very newsworthy.


 *Header image by Tita Berredo. All other images by Joshua Seigal  


Joshua Seigal is an internationally renowned poet, performer and educator. His first book with Bloomsbury, I Don’t Like Poetry, was nominated for the Laugh Out Loud Award in 2017, an award Joshua subsequently won in 2020 with his collection I Bet I Can Make You Laugh. Joshua was also the recipient of The People’s Book Prize in 2022, and has performed at schools and festivals around the world, including the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and the Dubai Literature Festival. He is an Official Ambassador for National Poetry Day, and has been commissioned to write and perform for the BBC. He can normally be found running poetry workshops and performances in schools, either online or in real life.



Gulfem Wormald is Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact: editor@britishscbwi.org Twitter: @GulfemWormald

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