The Verse Novel Form: How and Why, with guest blogger Lorraine Marwood

When her second verse novel, Star Jumps, was released, Iasked author Lorraine Marwood to guest blog on a  blog I’d just started, focussing on the verse novel form. That particular blog is now defunct (I came to realise I really didn’t have time to devote to multiple blogs)  but I came across the interview today and thought it was well worth publishing here. Since the interview was published, Lorraine has had more poetry collections published, as well as prose, and has won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Literary Award  for Star Jumps. Anyway, here’s the original post.

I am delighted to welcome children’s author and poet Lorraine Marwood to my blog today. Lorraine’s second verse novel for children, Star Jumps has just been released (you can see my review of it here), so I asked Lorraine to drop in and talk about why she chooses to use the verse novel form This is what she had to say:

Why use this genre as a way of story telling?

Years ago when I finally gave into my life long desire to write, I could only snatch a few morning moments before the cowshed work, before getting the six kids ready for school, or after the evening meal; to write down lines. I trained myself to write quickly- poems- maybe three a day about details that happened, words spoken, emotion expressed through the rural landscape. Poems were attainable, satisfying and I began sending them out into the literary world of journals.

Many were published. But I still wanted to write for children. I began to write poems specifically for children and many of these poems found their way into the journals of School Magazine New South Wales.

After gathering a collection of poems together, Five Islands Press published one volume ( Redback Mansion) and then later a second ( that downhill yelling).

Now, I wanted to evolve a longer piece of writing. I wrote a short prose verse poem about a picnic in a paddock. I loved the intensity of feeling and atmosphere and setting that prose poetry could give. I wanted to write a novel. But how to take the plunge?

Of course I’d read Sharon Creech’s novels and Karen Hesse’s novels and always enjoyed Steven Herrick’s work. How could I find my own voice in the verse novel?

I researched my topic: I researched human accounts of gold finding and the turmoil and untold stories that were humped across the gold fields. Then I found a voice, an entry, an immediate creation of suspense and atmosphere that I wanted. The striking of atmosphere in the first few words of Ratwhiskers and Me’ was the steering of the story trail.

‘Boy, they call me boy.’

Yes! I was on my way to the exploration of theme and plot and voice. I could use what is kinda instinctive in my writing: my poetics.

The verse novel became an atmospheric device in itself. It is very conducive to the playing out of sensory detail, and the propelling of the bare bones of the story. And while it is shorter in words than an ordinary novel, it strips back the verbiage and puts the reader right there emotionally.

Recently two students from Latrobe Uni were researching the editing process and came to ask me a few questions. They highlighted the way I make a narrative of the verse novel rather than individual poems, and for me that was a point to ponder. I make this distinction because I do naturally write so much poetry. I wanted to experiment with form. And my version of the verse novel is one long poem.

Because my writing is always evolving, the subject matter of the verse novel itself dictates the way a book is written.

Star Jumps, my recently released novel allowed a more poetic vista of details like the ghostling breath of the cows on a cold frosty night. I wanted to convey to non- farming children, as much as possible; a real life snapshot of a farm at its most busy period- the calving season. I wanted to show the drought in action and the decisions that are constantly being made in many rural communities.

My words made flesh and blood of Ruby as she took us through her farm life and showed us hope played out. Only the genre of the verse novel allowed me to recreate the emotion of farming without the didactic and sentimental picture so often stereotyped as farming.

Thanks so much for sharing, Lorraine. You can visit Lorraine Marwood online at

Meet My Book: Guinea Pig Town and Other Poems, by Lorraine Marwood

I’m really pleased today to welcome brilliant poet, Lorraine Marwood, to the Aussiereviews blog. Lorraine has agreed to take part in the ‘Meet My Book’ feature. Over to Lorraine, and her answers to my questions.

1. Give us details: title, publisher, illustrator, release date.

My latest title is  Guinea Pig town and other poems about animals. Published by Walker Books Australia, illustrated by Amy Daoud and the release date was 1st April 2013.

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems

2. Why did you write the book?

I already have two collections of poetry with Walker and after discussion with my publisher we wanted a brand new collection of poems all about animals.

3. How long from idea to publication?

About 18 months of intense writing, re-writing, editing.

4. What was the hardest thing about writing it?

I think the hardest part was the whole nebulous idea of an animal poetry collection , but once the title poem was written (I wrote and sent poems in batches to be read by my publisher and editor) then the whole book suddenly took shape and direction.

5. The coolest thing about your book.

There were several cool moments- one was writing a flamingo poem after a visit to a restaurant garden several floors up in London (with flamingos)and after discovering the horn of a narwhal in Scotland. Also the way I wanted the cover designed and the breaking up of chapters into roads, crescents, avenues, all following the lead from the title poem ‘Guinea pig town’.

6. Something you learnt through writing the book?

That plunging in with an idea gradually takes shape and form and writing directs more writing. (Well I already knew this but it was reinforced.) Also that I love to research facts about an animal before writing. Very important for me as a poet.

7. What did you do to celebrate the release?

I had two fabulous launches on the one day sponsored by the local Bendigo library and the wonderful children’s librarian Tammy complete with an animal farm for kids to hold guinea pigs. There was a huge response.

8. And how will you promote the book?

Through facebook, school visits, my own blog and the writing of a poetry strategy to share the love of animals and poetry.

9 What are you working on next?

Ah, a bigger novel, another verse novel and of course I’d love to write another poetry collection- any ideas for themes?

10. Where can we find out more about you and your book?

Through my web site.
through the Walker Books website and through my blog.

Also I have a facebook author page

Thanks Sally for a great Aussiereviews site.

Lorraine Marwood

Thanks Lorraine. You can see my review of Guinea Pig Town here

Guinea Pig Town, by Lorraine Marwood

It was our brother’s idea
to build a town,
a small town
for many guinea pigs
which kept multiplying –
cream ginger and black
wisps of colour and rabbity-mousey
features, all ours.

So begins the title poem of this beautiful collection of animal poems from one of Australia’s leading children’s poets. Stretching over four pages this poem, the longest in the collection, tells the tale of siblings building a ‘town’ for their guinea pigs, but it is more than just a story – it is a celebration of childhood, of pets, and of the magic way in which poetry can bring such events to life.

Other poems are much shorter – just a few lines of perfect poetic observation, as in Storm:
The wind so strong
a dragonfly cartwheels
along the ground

But whatever the length, the quality of the poems is consistent. Each new poem is a delight waiting to be discovered, and, like the subject matter, to be wondered at. From cute and cuddly kittens to scary spiders and thrilling frill-necks, there is an animal on every page for young readers to enjoy, whether they read cover to cover, or dip in and out.

New children’s poetry collections are few and far between in Australia, which is regrettable, but fortunately Marwood, (with the support of publisher Walker Books) continues to produce quality collections of Aussie children to savour.

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems

Guinea Pig Town and Other Animal Poems, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2013
ISBN 9781922077424

Available from good bookstores or online.

Of Poetry Collections

I’ve been pondering poetry of late, particular poetry for children, inspired both by some study I’m doing and by the rediscovery of some of the poems of my childhood, including that of A. A.  Milne, some of the earliest poetry I remember loving  (along with Dr Seuss).

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is that makes a poem, the different forms used, and the ways that poetry is collected.  The poetry I’ve been sampling is pretty varied – from Blake, to Ted Hughes,  to AA Milne , to Michael Rosen and more. And, of course, because I’m a proud Aussie, I’ve been revisiting some of my favourite Australian poets. Which has reminded me that there aren’t a lot of children’s poetry books published in Australia, particularly single author collections. For now I’m not going to attempt to analyse why – that’s perhaps a whole series of blog posts.  Instead, I thought I’d start with a list of the poetry collections published in recent years. Initially I looked for those published in t past 5 years, and asked friends on Twitter and Facebook to help.  I ended up with a few titles that were more than five years, but in order to prevent the list being too depressingly short, I’ve kept those in.

So, here it is, my list of single-poet poetry collections for children published in recent years.  I’m hoping I’ve missed some, and that this post will draw some comments from those who remember what I and my friends haven’t.

From Lorraine Marwood:

A Ute Picnic (Walker Books, 2010)

Note on the Door (Walker Books 2011)

Guinea Pig Town  and Other Animal Poems (Walker Books, 2013)

Redback Mansion (Five Islands Press, 2002)


Elizabeth Honey

Mongrel Doggerel (Allen & Unwin, 1998)

The Moon in the Man (Allen & Unwin, 2002)

Honey Sandwich   (Allen & Unwin, 1993)

I’m Still Awake Still  (Allen & Unwin, 2008)


Steven Herrick

Untangling Spaghetti (UQP, 2008)


Doug McLeod

 Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns (most recently Working Title Press, 2012)


Colin Thompson

 There’s something really nasty on the bottom of my shoe (Hodder, 2003)

My Brother Drinks Out Of The Toilet (Hodder, 2000)

The Dog’s Just Been Sick in the Honda (Hodder, 1999)


Meredith Costain

Doodledum Dancing (Penguin, 2006)


Anne Bell

Muster Me a Song (Triple D Books, 2002)


Christobel Mattingley

Nest Egg: A Clutch of Poems (Triple D Books, 2005)


Max Fatchen

Poetry Allsorts (Triple D Books,  2003)


Andrew Lansdown

Allsorts: Poetry Tricks and Treats (Wombat Books)


Rosemary Milne

There’s a Goat in My Coat (Allen & Unwin, 2010)

Duncan Ball

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard (Harper Collins, 2009)

Michelle A. Taylor

If the World Belonged to Dogs (UQP, 2007)


Janeen Brian

By Jingo! (ABC Books, 2005)


Geoffrey McSkimming

Ogre in a Toga (Scholastic, 2007)

John Hay-Mackenzie

Cautionary tales for boys and girls (Murdoch Books, 2009)


Jill McDougall

Anna the goanna: and other poems (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008)


So, have I missed any? If you know of any single poet collections published in Australia in recent years, do drop me a line and I’ll add them. I haven’t included verse novels here, because I’m intending to compose a separate list of these, and perhaps also  of anthologies.

Note on the Door, by Lorraine Marwood

Perfect both for the classroom and for private reading, this is a volume which will gladden every poetry lover’s heart – and switch others on to the sheer pleasure which poetry can bring.

This is just to tell you
that your bedroom
rotted away
at 9.15 am
this morning.

Thus begins the title poem of this wonderful collection, a poem pleasantly reminiscent of William Carlos Williams This is Just to Say, which young readers may be unfamiliar with, but one which this modern poem could be used to introduce and compare. And that’s the wonderful appeal of this collection – it can be read and enjoyed cover to cover, but can also be used to explore poetry well beyond its pages, as well as to open discussion and exploration of a wide range of themes.

From fun poems about messy bedrooms or getting out of chores, to acute observations about everyday things such as spilling milk, spinning like an acrobat to land
all over
the most extensive area,
of my mother’s
newly washed
kitchen floor.

and to explorations of truly sad events – a boy burying his dead cat, with blisters, a kind of hand weeping,Marwood shows her poetic dexterity time and again. The use of line drawings, photos and, of course, in keeping with the title, pieces of notepaper, adds visual appeal.

Perfect both for the classroom and for private reading, this is a volume which will gladden every poetry lover’s heart – and switch others on to the sheer pleasure which poetry can bring.

Note on the Door and Other Poems About Family Life

Note on the Door and Other Poems About Family Life, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2011
ISBN 9781921720611

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

A Ute Picnic, by Lorraine Marwood

The sound of heat,
a roar like a sawmill
hungry for wood
that day,
that forty-five degree day

(Black Saturday)

From confronting, but very real, explorations of the realities of bushfire, as above, to the silliness of passersby mistaking a milk tanker for party lights, this poetry collection captures the highs and lows of rural Australian life.

Award-winning poet Lorraine Marwood offers a collection that is very Australian, and which delights in its variety. What is common across the collection is the excellence which makes each poem give the reader pause to consider, to enjoy, to celebrate.

Spiders are made fascinating:
of spider
curled against the daylight
waiting for the moon


and cows, which feature prominently (as is to be expected in a rural-themed collection) play follow-the leader (Cow Tracks and Facts) and swing hips in joy of gourmet anticipation (They Buck Only for Oats).

In a classroom setting rural youngsters will delight in the familiarity of the subject matter, and the accuracy of its portrayal, whilst city kids will delight in the novelty of the images. In private, readers will enjoy dipping into the poems one at a time, or reading cover to cover.

A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems is an outstanding poetry collection from an outstanding poet.

A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems

A Ute Picnic and Other Australian Poems, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker Books, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Ratwhiskers and Me, by Lorraine Marwood

Ratwhiskers is sleeping.
I must have dozed.
I am filthy. I am worn out.
I am hungry.
I’m late to bury a body.
I don’t know where I am.
But just above me the sky is dark.
The stars cold glitter.
Night is safe sometimes.
I unroll.
I ache.

The boy doesn’t remember much – just smoke and running to escape. Now he is on the goldfields, working as cook for three miners. But there are many hardships on the goldfields – death, disease, shortages, and the miners expect him to work hard. There is no kindness. When the boy befriends a Chinese boy tending a market garden, it makes life a little easier – until the miners turn on the Chinese, and the boy finds himself caught between the two groups. Then his Chinese friend discovers his secret, a secret which could make life harder for both of them.

Ratwhiskers and Me is a beautifully rendered verse novel, telling the story of conditions on the Bendigo goldfields in the 1850s. Marwood uses a minimum of words for a maximum impact, bringing to life the hardships of the life of the miners, the harsh prejudices faced by the Chinese and the extremes of human behaviour during the goldrush. The use of the verse novel format allows both a vivid first-person narrative and a paring back of all but the most important details, taking the reader on an emotional journey through gripping events.

A masterpiece.

Ratwhiskers and Me, by Lorraine Marwood
Walker, 2008

Redback Mansion, by Lorraine Marwood

The sky has bones,
electrical legs
that hip and socket
in neon strides
faster than a rocket.
(Storm, p 29)

Lorraine Marwood’s description of lightning as a skeleton marching in the sky is just one of many vivid and creative descriptions which will delight young readers. In her collection Redback Mansion, Marwood shares 46 poems for children on a wide range of topics.

There are poems about insects (Redback Mansion, Mosquito and others), about the weather (Hot Rain and Storm), and about childhood pleasures like riding a bike (Feel a Bike Rhythm) and making a cubby in a cardboard box (Cubby House). Marwood skilfully looks at everyday objects and events through new eyes. A dog lying on his back in the sun is portrayed as solar-powered:
Much stomach expanse
given to the task
of soaking up the sun.
(Solar Powered Dog, p36)
and a noisy washing machine becomes an earthquake:
I can hear an earthquake coming
thundering, lumbering
coming, coming
feel the floor shake
feel your heart quake.
(Earthquake Coming, p13)

A variety of font sizes and layouts have been used to complement the tone and subject matter of the different poems and the black and white illustrations of Marwood’s daughter Tamara and incredibly talented young artist Joanne McNamara.

Kids will love reading these poems – to themselves or out loud – and teachers will find this offering an excellent classroom tool.


Redback Mansion, by Lorraine Marwood
Five Islands Press, 2002