Poet, comic performer and creative writing teacher, Harry Laing, is the epitome of inspiration … but what inspires him? The answer is both simple and complex at the same time. Everything. Harry Laing takes joy in turning the most mundane everyday items into something crazy and creative. He breathes life into simple objects and provides new and slightly wacky perspectives on regular people. Whether you’re a teacher, a parent or a kid (or kid-at-heart), you’ll find something to love in Harry’s poetry and definitely plenty to inspire you.
Harry Laing travels widely to present poetry workshops for students of all ages, provide teacher professional learning or just perform. He is represented by The Children’s Bookshop Speakers’ Agency in NSW, by Greenleaf Press and by Creative Net. Alternatively, you can contact him directly for a speaking or workshop booking. But for now – sit back and soak up Harry’s answers to our five questions.
Where do you get your ideas, for your poems?
I get my ideas from all over the place. That’s the wonderful thing about poems, they can come from anywhere. And mine do. For instance, I like to challenge myself to write about everyday objects and make them interesting.
Make school carpets fly, make clocks talk! Invent weird creatures.
I also love writing about real creatures because I live in the country and there’s plenty of them running around. I find I keep coming back to particular themes because there’s still fun to be had. Like food. Cheese, for instance, or sausages.
And angry old ladies.
The really cool thing about poetry is you can have three great ideas in five minutes and you can turn them quickly into poems. When you’re writing stories you have to run with one idea and keep expanding on it. But every poem is its own world and that’s a cool way to write.
Do you have any tips for children who might be struggling with the blank page?
Just write without thinking.
Write whatever’s in your head even if that’s nothing at all.
nothing nothing la la nothing toe beep car road chicken…
Hey, look! Something’s already happening!
Write about something you’re looking at. Imagine what that object is thinking about or saying. Make that object talk to another object.
Maybe you could write down all the reasons you don’t like writing and when you’ve finished that, write about cheese, sausages and chocolate. Or a person you especially like. Maybe a special place you remember or like going back to.
Which of your books is your absolute favourite? Why?
MoonFish would have to be my favourite book because of the mix of poems and illustrations. I love the way the words and the art work together in a poem like ‘Pet Flea’ for instance with Anne Ryan’s great double-page illustration.
I also think the book looks great with the die-cut title on the cover, allowing glimpses of details of some of the art inside.
And I think there’s a good mix of different styles of poetry, with raps, shape poems, ballads and free verse.
Not to mention ‘The Grack’ and ‘The Pencil Bird’.
Oh, and I hope you like spiders…
Which of your characters is your favourite? Why?
I’m pretty fond of the Angry Old Lady (‘I’m An Angry Old Lady’, from MoonFish) and funnily enough both kids and adults like her too. Why do I like her? Because she might be old but she’s still gonna have some fun.
‘I’m 93 and it’s time to party, I’m on Facebook and I’m learning karate.’
That’s her style.
I absolutely have to mention ‘Supertap’ from my first book, Shoctopus as he’s pretty cool too. After all, he unscrewed himself, ran away with the bathroom shelf and became a rapper tap.
When you think about children reading your books, how does this make you feel? What do you want their ‘take-aways’ to be?
I love the thought of children reading my books. I want them to feel a sense of excitement about words and all the things words can do, all the things they can make you feel. I’d like to think I’ve created all sorts of different worlds and moods in my poems, from zany and weird to lyrical and reflective to rap and fun.
I want children to think, ‘I want to have a go at this’, and write some poems themselves.
I’d love children to laugh as they read one of my poems and then read it out loud to their parents and friends.
Reading the poems in Moonfish and Shoctopus yourself is one thing but to be truly inspired, check out Harry Laing performing some of his poems on YouTube. The link to ‘Supertap’ is above, but you also have to listen to ‘Powerful Owl‘ (a shape poem), ‘Marshmallow Man‘ and ‘I’m a Wheelie Bin‘ and… just Google Harry Laing YouTube, or find the links on Harry’s website.
Harry is happy to present workshops for primary and secondary students (Years 1-12) and perform his poems for large numbers of children (up to 400.) He’s also available to lead PL sessions.
Dare I say it, but the overloaded curriculum and emphasis on assessment and box-ticking have sucked the life and enjoyment out of writing lessons. I’ve blogged on it: What’s going on with writing lessons? Harry Laing shows us all how writing can be fun, crazy, wacky and, yes, educational.