A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I have to admit, I’m not generally a big poetry reader. But I’ve read enough to have firm favourites, and there are three poems in particular that have lodged in my imagination. These poems have stuck so well, in fact, that I based my debut, Glimpse, on one of them, a second (as-yet-unpublished) novel on another, and would probably write something based on the third if it weren’t for the fact that it’s vampire-y and the YA world doesn’t need more vampires yet.
Like the novels I love to read and the stories I write, all three poems are a touch romantic and filled with Gothic spookiness.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
Noyes’ poem about a dashing highwayman, his lover Bess and their death-defying passion will always hold the spot of ‘favourite poem’ in my heart. I adore everything about it — the simple but evocative language, the drama, and, most of all, the romance so powerful it lasts beyond the grave.
I can’t remember when I first read ‘The Highwayman’, but rediscovering it during my (brief) jaunt as an English teacher was all it took for me to grab my laptop and start writing my first novel. Glimpse was the result — a contemporary ghost story that imagines what might happen in the present day if the events of the poem had really taken place.
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
Reading Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ requires more of a time-investment than ‘The Highwayman’, but it’s so worth it. I remember first tackling it sitting on the carpet of my bedroom as a teen, being daunted by its length, then getting completely swept up in the story. It’s the tale of an immortal mariner who’s forced to travel the country telling his tale of horror at sea, complete with zombies, Death, a ghostly ship, weird sea creatures, and an albatross that’s more trouble than it’s worth.
As a lover of both ghostly happenings and macabre things at sea (sea monsters are just my thing), the Ancient Mariner is a firm favourite of mine.
A snake’s small eye blinks dull and shy;
And the lady’s eyes they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent’s eye
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread,
At Christabel she looked askance!—
One moment—and the sight was fled!
But Christabel in dizzy trance
Stumbling on the unsteady ground
Shuddered aloud, with a hissing sound…
A little less well-known than my other two favourites, ‘Christabel’ is the tale of a young girl who goes into the woods and finds a woman there in need of help. Christabel takes pity on the strange woman and takes her home, but — dun, dun dun! — the lady is not as innocent as she appears, but is actually a vampire-like supernatural being. Sadly, we never find out for sure what she is or what happens to poor Christabel as Coleridge never finished the poem, but I’ve always wondered!
What are your favourite poems? I’d love to know!
Kendra is a YA author. Glimpse, her debut novel, was inspired by Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’. It was published in 2014 by Constable & Robinson. Kendra also runs an organic chocolate company. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found taste-testing chocolate, reading YA, or trying to steal other people’s cats.