John Coldwell

When The Poetry Zone interviewed John Coldwell he was a busy teacher. But now he’s retired and has gone to live in France where there are rumours that he plans to open a hotel for retired poets. We thought it would be fun if John interviewed himself…

Hello, John. When did I start writing? I began writing poetry at the age of 7 – see below for reasons A. Then I began writing poetry again at the age of 17 – see reasons B Then I began writing poetry again – See reasons C

Why do I write poetry?

Reason A – Because the teacher wrote on the board – Write a poem about a  butterfly. If you didn’t, you got the cane – which is good enough reason for me to write a poem Reason B – I thought that girls would realise what a sensitive and wonderful human being I was… they did not. Reason C – Because I began making up poems to entertain my children when they were little.  Someone, I forget who, said that what I was doing was poetry. I was surprised.

Girl + Date = Spot

She said, “YES!”
And I am so happy
She wants to go to movies with me
What’s that feeling on my chin?
A tightening beneath the skin
To the bathroom mirror, I have to trot
And what do I see?
The start of a spot
So I dab it with lotion
Smother it with cream
And It becomes the biggest blemish
The world has ever seen
It grows a red round rim
And a crusty white peak
And then a head.
Is it going to speak?
And on that head is a baseball cap
And underneath’s a mouth
that starts to rap…

Leave off the  spot stuff
Cos I am hot stuff
I’m no simple pimple skin irritation.
I’m the eruption with built in inflation
I am the magnificent ballooning, bulbous boil
While I’m around you can forget about the goyle
But don’t squash me, don’t cosh me, don’t wo wo wo wo wo wash me.
I’ll hang around for a week or so
Don’t try creams because I just won’t go
Don’t bop me, don’t chop me Don’t p-p-p-p-p pop me
You’ve got me under your skin
And that’s where I’m gonna stay
No attack on me will ever win
So come on kid, let’s go play.

She said, “NO”!
What a blow Did I mind if she didn’t go? (to be continued…)

Do I write anything other than poetry?
Yes. Rude letters to firms that send me computer generated letters. I also write letters to Jazz magazines in the hope of winning a few CDs. I have also written a few stories for Oxford University Press. The Masked Cleaning Ladies have been quite popular. They wanted to publish a story about a girl who spoke to hedgehogs in China but it couldn’t be translated as they do not have hedgehogs in China. Shame.

Do I write for adults? Sometimes. But adults are too grown up to understand what I am saying.

How long does it take to write a poem?  The really annoying thing is that it sometimes takes me half an hour to write a great poem (well, one I like) such as The Magic of Numbers and another not so good poem takes me years, on and off that is – not non-stop 

Girl + Date = Spot (Continued)

I screamed out loud, “I wish I was dead.”
The boil said, “Well, take me instead.”
So, I sneaked him in the cinema under my scarf,
We shared a box of pop corn and had a laugh
As far as spots go, he wasn’t that bad
And when he told me he was leaving, I almost felt sad.

But next day Hip hooray
Not a trace
On my face
But he did leave a note
And I quote,
“Dear Boy, I’ve been sent
To torment
And wreck
The neck
Of another poor clown
So see you around


The boil.

PS, I’ll be back.”

What is the most unusual event, person or feeling that has inspired me to write a poem? 
I think that it must be the time when I pushed my brother in a lake – but then, cheeky monkey that I am, I pretended that the whole thing had happened to me – and that it was a canal and not the sea. I did get chased by a dog once which set me to writing a poem about my experience – 20 years later. 

How do I write my poems? 
I usually jot notes down in my note book. Later I sit at the computer and save all my rubbish versions of the idea. I often call these attempts something like My First Day at School – Rubbish Version – so that I know to go back and bash the words up a bit more. I save stuff and come back to it weeks, months or even years later and play about with the words and ideas

Do I have a special time to write?
Being a teacher the answer is – any time I can get. Tonight I am writing at 8.50 pm which is pretty civilized for me. Early morning is a great time to write but I am usually asleep. I like writing at tense moments like being in the dentist’s waiting room. The other day I wrote 12 (yes twelve) pages whilst waiting to see the doctor (about an arm strain from writing would you believe.)

What books have I written?
The following story books – How to Build a Space Rocket/ The Masked Cleaning Ladies of Om/ The Masked Cleaning Ladies Save The Day/ The Masked Cleaning Ladies Meet the Pirates/ Amy The Hedgehog Girl/ Bertha’s Big Challenge/  Poetry Books entitled The Slack- Jawed Camel/ Hoo Sir Me Sir/ More Lasting Than a Fish Supper/ Beast In The Bedroom. All the poetry books have sold out and are now collectors items worth millions, or thousands or just a few pence.

Am I writing anything at the moment?
Yes, this blooming interview. As soon as I have completed it I am going to have Monday’s bath (it is now Wednesday.) Then I shall get back to a book of poems I am doing about what boys feel. By the way, if your Mum or Dad are book publishers then tell them to contact me.

Which is the most unusual school I’ve visited?
One where the head teacher was dressed as a hamster. At another I was introduced to the students as Brian Moses. I still get odd children (very odd) who see me in the street and say, Hello Brian.

What was my worst moment?
Being in a main school assembly and reading a two page poem. When I got to the bottom of the page, the second page was missing.  I had to make the rest of it up. Nobody noticed apart from red-faced me.

Have I been on the TV or radio?
Whew! This is a marathon load of questions.  Yes. I did a show watched by, at least my mum, with Roger McGough. It was a kind of talent show for young (oh, how I loved that description) poets. I was about 92 at the time. But TV makes you look younger, especially with all the make-up they put on me.

What are my favourite poets and poems? 
My favourite poet is an American writer by the name of Robert Hershon who writes crazy stuff. I love Ian McMillan, even though he supports Barnsley FC because he makes me laugh. There are loads of others who excite me. I could go on for days trying to list them all.

Of all the poems I’ve written, which is my favourite? 
May I chose two? Thank you.

1 A poem called “Left” because it was the first poem I ever read to an audience and the first time I brave enough to call myself a poet.

2. The Cupboard on The Landing – because it is about the way I do not always do as I am told.

Have I any poems coming out in the near future?
Bucket loads of stuff will be appearing in various anthologies. For instance, The King’s Pyjamas; On  A Camel To The Moon; Elephants Can’t Jump. I am still waiting for the rich and wise publisher to say, “Hey, John, Here is a million pounds, go to the South of France and write a book of Children’s poems. And take your time about it.” 

Did I enjoy school?  To be very honest, No. Some people that tell you that the best years of your life are the ones you spent at school, did they did not spend their time with big-fisted boys who were taller than them and who thought that putting your school bag on top of a cupboard was the funniest thing on Earth. It is far too easy to make friends (or enemies) at school – all you have to do is turn up. Give me adulthood any day. 

Have I any pets?
I do not believe in keeping animals. The nearest I get is a pond of goldfish.  Having said that, my garden boasts, frogs, toads, newts, hedgehogs, mice, grasshoppers, loads of birds…  (Yes, yes, I get the point, you can stop – RS) …spiders, beetles, mice…

What football team do I support?
Gillingham FC. When I first started supporting them about a hundred years ago, they were bottom of the league with no money – now they are half way up the 1st Division. Oh, and worms. 

How do I spend my spare time? Spare time? I wish!!! Well, I love going to the theatre, in fact I am off to see No Man’s Land at The National Theatre on Friday. I love the thrill of a live show. I love the cinema but don’t like blockbusters much. My top fave is strange music. The other day I went to see a Japanese man make very odd noises with an electronic box. Most of my CDs have been banned from our house. But I love them. One day I will write a poem that is as wonderful as Derek Bailey playing the guitar.

Have I any plans for the future?
Yes. I would like to be brave enough to go on holiday and not come back. The real future means a holiday in a lock-keeper’s cottage. A little bit of me (but the bit gets bigger every day) would like to run a hotel in France 

Do I have a web page? 
No. I just don’t have time to make one – but you  can find me on the OUP pages and on one for the London Musicians Co-operative

What could schools do to improve the way poetry is taught?
Get rid of the National Curriculum and let kids enjoy reading and writing poems.

What advice would I give to young poets?
It is the easiest thing in the world to give up being a writer. Don’t expect many people to encourage you to write and don’t expect a load of praise from others. You have to do this writing thing because you want to do it. Be you own worst critic and your biggest fan.

Are there any other questions I’d like to answer?
Yeah. How about – What my worst moment as a writer over the last two months? You want to know? You do? You don’t…  Oh. You really do? Well, I had written a book of about 50 (yes 50) poems and was saving it on the computer. On that dreadful night my computer passed away and took most of the poems with it, including stuff that I had not saved anywhere else.  Did I cry about it? Too right I did. I then began the painful ask of starting out again. But look on the bright side, Coldwell. Along with those lost brilliant poems were probably loads of rubbish.

Well, thank you for your patience, Dear Readers. I did this interview for The Poetry Zone before, you know. But I pressed the button “send” and nothing happened. They never arrived. They’re probably on their way to Jupiter or somewhere. I hope that this pile of answers reaches the Poetry Zone. Although I suppose it must have done or you wouldn’t be reading it, would you? – John


More Interviews


Read on

Roger Stevens

Read on

Brian Moses

Read on