The National Schools Poetry Award has resulted in some beautiful poems written by young New Zealanders.
The judge’s report and the winning and shortlisted poems are now available on the National Schools Poetry Award website.
Ilena Shadbolt was named winner of this year's award, and spoke with the Book Council about being a 'little-girl-aspiring-wordsmith', why poetry is particularly special to her and the book she would recommend to fellow readers.
How did you start writing poetry?
Can’t remember the specific first instance, but I started writing poetry when I was six-ish. I’d get these images that would 'float up' to me when I was trying to sleep that I just couldn’t not write down because I wanted other people to know what I was seeing. Naturally, this led to some over-description and over-reliance on incredibly detailed imagery but, hey, I’m not going to criticise my six-year-old writing style at this moment.
As is integral to the whole little-girl-aspiring-wordsmith deal, I loved to read, I was a bookworm. It was this extensive expansion of different worlds and being in different characters heads that instigated my love of writing when I was young. I was really prolific in the first decade of my life. It’s always interesting stumbling across old Google Doc relics and reading what I was writing when I was in primary school!!
I definitely owe it to some of my teachers in those first few years who enabled me to write! It was all those lunchtime writers clubs that really stimulated my imagination and got me entering competitions. Thank you <3
What draws you to poetry?
My appreciation of poetry has only truly developed over the last few years- I think it’s because I’ve finally started reading poetry that resonates with me and that I gravitate towards. Poetry is such a nuanced, tight art form that is so much harder to master- if one ever can- than many people dismissively think.
A good poem has that allure that any meticulously crafted artwork or song has. The constraints of poetry also appeal to me, where the author is bound by the rather two-dimensional form of words (which are additionally in short supply), yet has to prompt a complete sensory experience in the reader's head. I guess this is why I love gritty, clear poetry so much, where imagery is encapsulated in the smallest, richest nutshells. If that makes sense.
How important is it that we read poetry?
It’s as important we read poetry as we watch films and documentaries, view art and read books. You can learn about the most mundane moments, feel endlessly inspired or have guilt punch you in the guts. It’s such a cool platform that still fascinates me every time a poet weaves together something entirely new and fresh.
Now I’m not going to lie, I should be reading more poetry than I am currently, but I’m working on this because I know how important it is not only as a writer but as a person to open my mind, cheesy as it sounds. There are some really important little nuggets you can get out of poetry that stick with you.
Which books or poets have been special to you in your life?
I really loved The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which I read when I was maybe 14 or 15? It got me thinking that you don’t need to stay within the confines of much of traditional literature (although such conventions obviously have a rather significant place) and altered my perspective towards a different angle to writing.
Recently, I studied The Handmaid's Tale and loved the fusion of brilliant writing and an overtly political tinge. I wrote an extended research essay on how Margaret Atwood incites empathy in the reader through this novel, which showed me a different, more critical way of engaging with a text, which I have integrated into how I view any text now. So although this was quite an academic exercise, I would still consider it quite special as it has made me re-evaluate how I read.
If you were going to recommend poetry to others, which books would you choose?
I’d recommend any of the poetry collections by Richard Siken. I love the nimbleness of his imagery, how vividly light it is and the matter-of-fact tone. I studied Sylvia Plath in English last year and having liked the poems, bought the collection of her journals- which I possibly liked even more than the poetry. I very much recommend that collection as not even just an insight into the author but an interesting read by itself of a young woman’s isolated musings and whatnot.