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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!)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2012 17,08,12

    Celia, already at 11 your sense of style and pace and your knack for choosing the fresh word is showing. I hope that lots of 11-year-olds will see your post and be encouraged to save their own writings. I suspect that, like my own lined notebooks which I filled with my efforts at poetry, your early work was saved for you by your mother.

    But, also, like you, I remember vividly the circumstances under which I composed my first verses — I was 5 and my older sister wrote them down, along with notations of the melody, since I had made the little two-verse poem up by singing it. The first doggerel in my own handwriting is from about age 8, and the first real poem (praised by my teachers at school, so I knew it was a success) at age 10. The title of that was “The Indian’s Heritage.”

    Please tell your young readers that even if, like me, they don’t grow up to be published poets, like you, they too can be proud of the fun they’ve had with poetry and the pleasure they’ve brought to those they show their poems to.

    • August 17, 2012 17,08,12

      Hear hear, Mary. Thanks for your comment. Like your mother, I wrote down my daughter’s first poetic creation. She was aged 4 and pre-school, pre-reading-and-writing. I still remember her spontaneous lyrics:
      When children play on the swings,
      their mother calls out to them.
      In they go to have their tea
      and out they come again
      to play on the swings and slide.
      (by Charlotte Warren) x

      • August 17, 2012 17,08,12

        Please tell Charlotte that I love that little poem. It’s wonderful. Many thanks for sharing it here on Poetry Box, Celia.

        And I look forward to reading more comments and more posts from you on this topic of poetry composed by children.

      • August 18, 2012 18,08,12

        Will do. Thanks, Mary.
        Would you consider sharing The Indian’s Heritage (if you still have it) or another of your childhood poems?

      • August 22, 2012 22,08,12

        Celia, I am happy to post my poem that I wrote in the 5th grade here. I wrote it shortly before I turned 11. We were in the middle of a unit on Indians, in connection with Texas history, and my teacher had made a profound impression on me, with his description of the Spanish conquistadores.


        His are the deer in the forest,
        His buffalo on the plain.
        His are the broad, sunlit pathways,
        His are the shadowy lanes.
        His is the game of the prairie,
        His are the birds in the air:
        Of all these things and many more,
        He is the rightful heir.
        His is the wigwam and tepee,
        His are the longhouses, too.
        These homes belong to the Indian:
        Cherokee, Blackfoot, and Sioux.
        His was the beautiful New World
        Until the white man came,
        Claimed all the beautiful country,
        Said, “America is its name.”
        All this and more was his property,
        All of this country so grand.
        The white man came from over the sea
        And stole the wonderful land.

        Full of flaws, of course, but my teachers and parents praised me for it. Along with the 4th and 6th grades we were also rehearsing the cantata “Hiawatha’s Childhood” (from Longfellow’s poem) at that time, so our teacher of English&Music was involved in the Indian unit that the Social Studies teacher was doing. He showed her my poem, and she said to me that I should not have used the word “stole.” They didn’t steal it, she told me, they just took it. Change it to “took,” she advised. But I refused. Mr. Vest had said to our class, with great emotion, “They stole it!” And it seemed to me then and now that he was right.

        Celia, thanks for letting me publish it here. Hope you and your readers enjoy it.

      • August 23, 2012 23,08,12

        It’s absolutely beautiful, Mary. Your parents and teachers were right to be proud of you, and I’m glad you didn’t change a word. It’s full of sentiment without being sentimental. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

      • August 24, 2012 24,08,12

        Oh, thank you, Celia. I’m glad you saw some merit in my early work. It has made me feel good to share both the poem and my memories surrounding it, here. And I’ve enjoyed Heather Reid’s striking poem “Red” and Rachel Rooney’s delightful “The 20a Bus” very much as well. Your Poetry Box is a wonderful place.

  2. August 17, 2012 17,08,12


    Red is the colour of roses
    Red is the blood when you fall
    Red is the sunset
    and the robin’s call.

    By Heather North age 7 (now Heather Reid age 49)
    Printed in Butterworth Lane Primary School Magazine 1970

  3. August 21, 2012 21,08,12

    Rachel Rooney has kindly given me permission to post this poem that she wrote when she was 10 or 11 in ‘top juniors’. Rachel is the winner of the 2012 CLPE Poetry Award, which she won for her brilliant first collection ‘The Language of Cat’, published by Frances Lincoln. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (See my blogroll for a link to Rachel’s website.)

    The 20a Bus

    In the line you hear a chatter
    Up and down a clatter, clatter.
    Noisy schoolgirls scream and shout
    pushing in and pushing out.

    Down the street the red bus trundles.
    Girls surge forward all in bundles.
    On at last, but what a rush
    Banged my elbows in the crush.

    ‘I don’t know what it’s coming to’
    said the lady with big buttons, who
    had a habit to pursue
    the trivial things young children do.

    And when the bus stops in the street
    I kick her underneath the seat
    And when the lady stops her chat
    I pull the cherries from her hat.

  4. August 25, 2012 25,08,12

    I enjoyed reading everyone’s wonderful poems from their childhood. I vividly remember my best friend and I, age 9, embarking on an epic rhyme about a mouse that kept us busy giggling for a whole week of one holiday. It went on, and on, as the mouse met up with different animals and had adventures… we got through tons of paper from my Mum’s secretarial spiral pad and stuck it all together in a very long scroll. It was the beginning of my joy in rhyme but the rhyme itself is (probably mercifully) lost in the mists of time.

    • August 26, 2012 26,08,12

      Sounds great fun, Jane.

      My niece and I have written epic story-poems over t’internet and a series of months. We write two lines, following a one-line starter, in imabic pentameter, thus presenting each other with a fresh line each time. (The first began after my niece wrote a comment in an email that just happened to be iambic pentameter and I wrote the next two lines and so it continued.) Its and the subsequent poems’ narratives got ridiculously wild and silly and usually featured talking animals … great fun, if nothing else! But NOT worthy of printing here!!!

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