John Agard on the importance of poetry: 'Language can control our thoughts'

Published on: 24 October 2017

John Agard has long been one of our favourite poets, and now he's back with a brand new book.

John Agard

The Rainmaker Danced features a collection of the award-winning poet's latest verses and is beautifully illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura.

To celebrate, we spoke to John about what influences his work, why children need poetry and which books he loved when he was young. 

And keep going to download two lovely poems from the collection, complete with Satoshi's gorgeous artwork.

What inspires you to write a poem?

It can happen right out of the blue. Maybe you see a line in a book you're reading, let's say on a train - a great place for writing poems, by the way! Or you hear something on the telly, or an odd story in the newspaper grabs you, or an old memory comes back to you, perhaps through a photograph or a song. Then suddenly, something clicks, and you coax the seed of the idea into flower, using the building blocks of words.

But even after you've crafted the poem onto the page, you need some time and distance away from the poem, in order to go back to it with a fresh eye. That's when you're likely to spot words that aren't quite right or lines that aren't necessary. Don't be afraid to cut. Remember the old proverb: 'Any fool could write, it takes a genius to erase'. Say the poem aloud to yourself so you can feel its music in your mouth.

The Rainmaker Danced

What's the animal you enjoyed writing about best in The Rainmaker Danced?

I enjoyed writing about all the animals, but I especially enjoyed writing about the meeting of a dinosaur and an electronic mouse as it gave me the chance to bring together an extinct creature and a modern hi-tech gadget.

Why is poetry important for children?

We are surrounded by words and language can control our thoughts. When world leaders speak, for example, of 'limited collateral damage' to describe the bombing of people, it's a way of speaking that you could call cosmetic and deceptive. That's why it's important for children to be in touch with the language of poetry which not only tunes their ear to the music of words but keeps alive their sense of wonder.

Which is your favourite children's book?

I can't think of one specific book, but as child I loved going to the library and borrowing The Hardy Boys Mystery Stories by Franklin W. Dixon and the Famous Five and Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton.

When I got to secondary school in Georgetown, Guyana and was in sixth form, I also liked reading about that famous butler Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse. As an adolescent, I liked Jeeves' use of rather grand speech. Like commenting on his employer, Mr Bertie Wooster's tie, and describing it as, 'a trifle too bizarre, Sir'...

Read 'The Tomato Says I Do'

Read 'Dinosaur Meets Electronic Mouse'

Find more books by John Agard

Goldilocks on CCTV

Author: John Agard Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura

By turns funny, poignant and insightful Agard’s poems are told with a direct and distinctive voice

Read more about Goldilocks on CCTV

Going Batty

Author: John Agard Illustrator: Michael Broad

Dyslexia-friendly, super-readable, illustrated story about a girl whose school project (and a hidden colony in the attic) makes her face up to her greatest fear.

Read more about Going Batty

Come All You Little Persons

Author: John Agard Illustrator: Jessica Courtney-Tickle

Captivating and vibrant illustrations complement the lyrical text in this joyous, inclusive story by celebrated poet John Agard. Perfect for reading aloud at bedtime, this book celebrates childhood and the natural world in all its rich diversity.

Read more about Come All You Little Persons