When I was 11 years old …
August 17, 2012
Often, when I visit schools, children ask me, ‘What was the first poem you wrote?’ The simple answer is: I don’t know! But the other day I came across a notebook that I kept when I was 11. I was in my last year at primary school when I began writing poems for fun at home. The notebook was a Woolworth’s ‘Winfield’ brand Exercise Book. Similar to books we wrote in at school, to help with neat handwriting, the pages had lines – or ‘ruled feint’ – as it said on the dull-blue paper cover. I think it cost 6d (an old sixpence).
I loved notebooks and paper. I still do. And I still enjoy wielding a pen and watching words and pictures appear across plain paper, like footprints across a field of crisp, fresh snow. Even so, these days (even as now), I do most of my writing on a keyboard, and watch the words appear on the screen of my laptop. But I’m straying from the subject: my first poem.
I still don’t know for sure what my first poem was, it may have been written on the back of an envelope, and been thrown away, but I can show you the first poems that I wrote in this notebook from 1964. The first one isn’t very good and yet it has stayed in my head all these years, even though I thought I’d lost the notebook, so it must have had something to it: a bit of rhyme, a bit of repetition, that made it memorable. It also had ‘word inversion’ – putting words in an unnatural order just to force a rhyme: dreadful! It makes me cringe now. But it is worth keeping the early stuff that you write – at whatever age – even when you’re grown up. That way you can see how your writing develops and improves as you acquire your own style, your own ‘voice’.
On the cover of the book, it doesn’t say Celia Warren – strangely enough, at age 11 I wasn’t married! So the title of the book is Poems by Celia Rosemary Barker. If you are reading this and are aged 11, too, I hope it inspires you. Keep reading poetry and keep writing. (Oh – but don’t number your verses like I did when I was 11. Haha!)