When did you start writing?
Before I started school. My mother told me I used to write poems and short stories and illustrate them, then staple them together to make little books. I said to her, “What were you thinking, letting a four year-old run amok with a stapler?”
Why do you write poetry?
Honestly, I’m not 100% sure. I always have done on and off, and I can’t seem to stop. I like the way poetry leaves room for lots of different ways of thinking and feeling, and different ways of understanding and experiencing things. I love its rhythm and sound, like a kind of music, and the way it creates strong images in the mind, like a painting. And poetry’s compact, so it challenges you to work hard to find the best ways of saying what you want to say.
Where can we find your poetry for children?
In a bunch of anthologies, and from July 2020 in my first children’s book. It’s called Saturdays at the Imaginarium and it’s being published by Troika. Right now (January 2020) we’re working with artist Jude Wisdom on the illustrations. It’s pretty magical to see your own words being turned into images.
Do you write for adults?
Yes. I have two poetry chapbooks (small books) for adults: Blueprints for a Minefield and Love Bites. Some of my poems for adults have been displayed on buses, performed by actors, made into comic art, hung on a pub wall, turned into song lyrics and made into short films. I love exploring different ways of making and sharing poetry.
How long does it take to write a poem?
Forever! I’m a slow writer. I get a rough draft down, then I edit and edit and edit. Usually I have to put a poem away for a while between edits, so I can look at it fresh and see what needs to be improved. I have to really work at it.
How do you write your poems?
Slowly (see above). Other than that, I have no set time, place or process for writing. For a long time I’d just write poems whenever they came to me, but these days I have to be more disciplined because I have books that need to be finished.
Have you been on the TV or radio?
I’ve been on local radio, and years ago I made a brief appearance on French TV news dressed in a Santa Claus suit, but we won’t go into that…
What are your favourite poets/poems?
Way, way too many to list! Really, there are so, so many and I urge you to explore them. Let me just give a shout out to the American poet Stephen Dobyns, whose poem ‘How To Like It’ inspired me so much that I wrote it out in marker pen on my kitchen wall. I never got tired of seeing that poem every day. It features a man and a talking dog – the dog’s saying things that the man thinks, but doesn’t dare say.
Did you write poems at school?
No, I’m sorry to say that school completely put me off poetry. The way it was taught made it seem very puzzling and pretty dull. We weren’t introduced to any modern poets at all, only older, classical ones who I couldn’t relate to at the time. And we had to analyse poems in a way that took all the pleasure out of poetry for me. I want to experience things, feel them, roll them around on my tongue, let them seep into my veins, have them live and breathe inside me – not analyse them to death.
Did you enjoy school?
Not really. I did well academically and got good grades, but I was bored and felt like I was being put into boxes I didn’t want to be put into. Sometimes I was rebellious and I almost got expelled twice. What I did enjoy were the after school clubs. I did lots of music and singing and drama.
What did you do before becoming a poet?
Loads! I’m interested in lots of things so I’ve done a variety of stuff both for work and for fun. Some of the jobs I’ve done include researcher, librarian, marketing copywriter, chef, travel agent, working in government, creating websites and managing charities. I’ve studied business, French, jewellery making, meditation, songwriting and film-making, among other things. I used to think this was a problem and I should know what I wanted to do, choose one thing and stick with it. Then I realised that was just a thought I’d picked up from other people, so I dropped it and got on with enjoying a variety of things.
What are plans for the future?
I’m currently working on my second poetry collection for young people, on the subject of mental and emotional health and wellbeing. I was lucky to receive a grant from Arts Council England to support work on that book, which will probably be aimed at older children. I also want to make lots more poetry films, for both adults and children. And I have a few half-written picture books I’d like to do something with at some point.
Do you have a web page?
I do, it’s at www.shaunarobertson.com. At the moment it’s mainly written for adults. But by the time Saturdays at the Imaginarium comes out in July I hope to have another site that’s more for children.
What advice would you give to young poets?
The same advice I’d give to poets of any age: read good poetry! Sorry to be a pain, I know everybody says that. But it really is vital if you’re a poet. There are so many incredible writers out there of all ages, backgrounds and styles, and they’re producing some amazing writing. There are poems that’ll make you laugh out loud, weep, think, rage, feel punched in the stomach or lighter than air, or both. Some are so good you’ll want to give up writing altogether – how could you ever match them? And some are so good you’ll want to be a poet more than ever – how could you not at least try to write something so moving?