I like to think of it as a mini lesson plan in a poem. I don’t talk about rhyming. So part of my aim in that particular poem is to introduce children to the fact that there’s a whole toolbox of techniques that a poet can use, other than purely rhyming. I Don’t Like Poetry is probably still my favourite book – it contains lots of ‘performance pieces’ which I use regularly in schools, and also because it contains my favourite poem, which is also ‘I Don’t Like Poetry’. And of course many children love it, and even those that initially thought they don’t soon come round to liking it.’

Little Lemur Laughing was Joshua’s second book for Bloomsbury – all his poetry books are based in laughter, he even edited an anthology called I Bet I Can Make You Laugh as his third book with Bloomsbury. I asked Joshua, knowing he has spoken about having OCD, whether humour is his way of helping himself cope, or is it just how his poetry expresses itself: ‘It started, I think, as a way of helping me cope during my undergraduate degree, and during my first postgraduate degree. I found I put a lot a lot of pressure on myself, academically, to do very well. Basically my sense of identity was my academic performance. And I think I used poetry and comedy as a way of maybe distracting myself or comforting myself, just for fun. I think a lot of my poetry even though it is funny, does come from a place of sadness. I do think having OCD is, is a big hindrance to my writing. It stops me writing rather than makes me write and when I’m anxious, I find it very hard to be creative. So, yeah, I think initially I wrote as a way of escaping my pain, and I tend to write better when I’m in a better place mentally, but often the writing that I produce is informed by being in that bad place. Having OCD does have its upsides, as weird as that sounds. I really obsess over every word, and every comma and every line break and maybe I’m a better writer because of it, I don’t know. I think I would swap that for not having it if I’m honest. But humour can be a good way of exploring children’s conflicts within the classroom.’

I wondered how Joshua came up with the ideas for his books – inspiration, a desire to write on a subject, a need? ‘With the exception of I Bet I Can Make You Laugh, which I was asked to edit by my editor off the back of my first Lollies nomination in 2017, my books have all been compendiums of different themes. And basically what happens is, I write a poem about bananas. The next week I’ll write one about football. Maybe a couple of weeks later, I’ll write one

about my dad. And then maybe two years down the line, I’ve got 50 poems, and then there’s some decision-making about how to structure them and how to order them. Often this is purely intuitive. In my most recent book, Welcome To My Crazy Life, there is no specific theme, but lots of the poems centre around wordplay, and playing with language generally.’

Yapping Away, due out in March 2021, is another KS1 book, following on from Little Lemur Laughing. Joshua writes well for KS1, and I wondered how he gets his head into that place of wonder and ridiculousness. ‘I’d say with that age group - this isn’t like a technical thing, but there are the three R’s, rhyme, rhythm and repetition, which really appeal to Key Stage one and even younger. And I just naturally have that when I write – I’m in that mindset of rhyme, rhythm and repetition. I’d say it’s really challenging to come up with something with artistic merit and not to become too facile. I really try and maintain the quality of the wordplay. Regardless of the age that I’m writing for, that’s what I try to do.’

Joshua has boundless energy and enthusiasm for using humour, poetry and performance to engage children with learning all across the curriculum. He believes: ‘children and poetry are a natural fit.’ His future aspirations? ‘To continue doing my work, interacting with poets, audiences and pupils both in real-life and online, maybe publishing the odd book, and making a living doing what I love.’

Books mentioned My Grandpa’s Beard, Yabby Books, I Don’t Like Poetry, Bloomsbury, 978-1472930033, £5.99 pbk Little Lemur Laughing, Bloomsbury, 978-1472930040, £5.99 pbk I Bet I Can Make You Laugh, Bloomsbury, 978-1472955487, £5.99 pbk Welcome To My Crazy Life, Bloomsbury, 978-1472972729, £5.99 pbk

Liz Brownlee is an award-winning poet who has poems in over seventy anthologies, including Reaching the Stars – Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, written with Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan. She is a National Poetry Day ambassador and regularly visits schools, bookshops and festivals to perform her poetry and give workshops

Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 9

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