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primal need.’

Mitton talks animatedly about poetry as a site for testing and pushing language to its limits. He points to an example where Wayland ‘Flew off in the vast of the sky.’ ‘There isn’t a noun “vast” but I like the way it echoes waste. I suspect the words vast and waste are cognate. That’s poetic.’

‘ I have always attempted to write

scanned verse so that the natural speech rhythms glide into the scansion. I think of it as a natural expanding corset, which supports the body rather than a tightly laced Victorian corset which constricts it.

interesting thing is that we usually see the ballad rough cut, when you read it the scansion drops, or perhaps because it was originally in dialect the rhyme is now a half rhyme. I want my poem to rhyme perfectly and the scansion to be exact. I have always attempted to write scanned verse so that the natural speech rhythms glide into the scansion. I think of it as a natural expanding corset which supports the body, rather than a tightly laced Victorian corset which constricts it.’

I love the textures of English verse: the rhyme, rhythm euphony and scansion.

It is a testament to the fine crafting of the verse that the poem reads aloud with ease. I ask if it was equally effortless to write. ‘I’m not going to pretend that it was terribly difficult because writing in patterned form is something that I am very practised at. However, there were a couple of knotty bits, a word that was too vernacular, too much bathos. When that happens I usually take two or three lines and recast them rather than try to replace the single word.’

’ The Books

It is the attention to finding the exact word that leads us on to a provocative discussion about word choice. I ask him to explain why he chose to use ‘slake’ when ‘quench’ could potentially have been used instead. ‘Quench is a lovely strong word,’ he muses. ‘I do know that I would have instinctively reached for the word that was slightly archaic and evokes a past era. When I was young I probably encountered the word in books about King Arthur when knights in armour would slake their thirst. It’s interesting that there’s a lake hidden in slake. And it’s worth thinking about the music of the word – you slide into the word ‘slake’. I think also that there is sexual tension in this scene and the word is more intense and closer to the

Wayland, David Fickling Books, illus John Lawrence, 978-0857560148, £14.99 hbk Plum, Barn Owl Books, illus Peter Bailey, 978-1903015858, £5.99 pbk Bumpus Jumpus Dinosaurumpus, Orchard Books, illus Guy Parker-Rees, 978-1841212944, £6.99 pbk Down by the Cool of the Pool, Orchard Books, illus Guy Parker-Rees, 978-1841210988, £5.99 pbk

The afterword includes a reference to Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chambered long barrow in Oxfordshire. I ask him if landscape is important to him as a poet and as a person. ‘Absolutely, especially the Celtic places, Scotland, Ireland, the Scottish islands: Bute, Arran, Mull, Skye, Iona and more recently the Norfolk coast with its large skies and flocking birds. I love walking and coming unexpectedly upon ruined crofts. Once we came upon an entire village that had been abandoned in the Highland clearances. The cottages were still there, though the roofs were gone. Sometimes there are pieces of old farm machinery. In those places you get a strong sense of lives lived in the past. These are the places that have inspired poems like Cottage by the Sea and The Hag of Beera. I love the way that poetry through lyric can evoke that feeling of landscape.’

The final image of Wayland soaring into the sky, carries great import. He points to the resemblance with the Icarus and Daedalus myth. ‘I love the sense of Wayland using his craft skill to make the wings that release him from his captivity.’ I think back to his earlier reminiscences about teaching children to write and reflect on this most precious message to convey to all young writers – that through writing they can find agency in their lives. n

Nikki Gamble is Director of Just Imagine Story Centre and Associate Consultant at the University of London, Institute of Education.

Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014 11

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