Valerie Bloom

A huge thank you our Poetry Zone friends who supplied the questions for our interview with Valerie – Suchaita Tenneti, Maria English, HeatherLauren Tree and Vicki Waters

How has your background and family influenced and inspired your writing?

Like all writers, I draw on my memories and experiences in my writing. It’s what makes the writing individual. But as well as that, my family also, sometimes inadvertently supply me with ideas for poems. Haircut Rap, ‘ Megastar Rap, Chicken Poxed, Don’ ride no coconut bough down dere and many others were inspired by members of my family.

Do you think your Caribbean background makes your poetry different from writers who have always lived in the UK?

I draw very heavily on my Caribbean background in subject matter, structure and language. Obviously, someone born in the UK will not have those experiences to draw on, and though they’ll be able to use a Caribbean landscape in their writing through research, the telling will be different , just as my experience of British life will be different from that of the person born here.

Outdooring by Valerie Bloom

Done baby, done cry, yuh madda gone a fountain
Done baby, done cry, yuh madda gone a fountain

Listen to the drums, child, hear what they say
There’s going to be a celebration here today

The dancers are going to leap through the air,
Your grandfather going jump like a young ram from his chair

The smell of ackee, rice and peas,
Fried chicken and plantain going sweeten the breeze

We will touch you with cola nut, ginger, sugar and oil,
To help you taste the world, me child.

So hush, me baby, no need to cry,
Let me wipe the eye-water from out you eye.

Sweetie water never dry, yuh get i’ dung a fountain
Sweetie water never dry, yuh get i’ dung a fountain

Do you think that poetry and music have a lot in common? Have you ever tried your hand at writing song lyrics?

Both poetry and music speak to the emotions and in fact I think they are closely linked. Part of the beauty of poetry is the music in the words, and a vital part of music is often the poetry in the lyrics. I have written song lyrics, some of which have been performed by an orchestra, but I also incorporate song in my poetry, and I have to write the lyrics for those sometimes.

In today’s world, poetry seems to be a dying art. How do you think poetry can be kept alive and how do you think that poetry influences our world?

I don’t actually think that poetry is a dying art. That may have been true a few years ago, but recently there has been a great upsurge in interest and practice. It’s true that it doesn’t enjoy the same media attention as prose, but more and more people are going to poetry readings, listening to it on radio and writing themselves. I am always inundated with requests for readings, especially on national Poetry Day, and I know this is also true for many of my fellow poets, so I think you’ll find poetry is alive and kicking.

Do you think that it is important to obtain a formal degree in English literature to be a good writer or can one be equally successful by pursuing writing as a hobby and honing their creativity and writing skills on their own?

There are many highly successful writers who have not formally studied English Literature. In fact, a few have told me they felt that studying Literature at university was a hindrance rather than a help, and analyzing the works of great writers left them feeling inadequate. I think it’s important to love books and to read as much as possible, but a formal qualification will not necessarily make you a better writer. A degree in creative writer might be useful, but again, not essential.

What have been the biggest challenges that you have been faced with as a writer? How did you manage to cope with them? How do you usually overcome writers’ block?

The biggest challenge has been trying to juggle writing with school visits, performances at festivals, conferences and so on. I’m always panicking as publishing deadlines loom and the books/poems/stories/ have not been started. I manage by going without holidays. I don’t often suffer from writers’ block because I always have several projects on at once and if I get stuck on one, I switch to another. That’s the good thing about working in different genres.

What sort of thing are you normally doing when you come up with your best poems?

Sometimes the best poems creep up on me when I least expect them. I might be cooking when an idea hits. I might be gardening, watching a TV programme, but often I’m trvelling on the train to a gig somewhere.

What, according to you, are the most important qualities that a writer should possess?

Perseverance, dedication, self-belief and a thick skin (for those rejection letters).

Big Bang by Valerie Bloom

They tell me that a big, big bang,
Bring order to the worl’ an’ space,
So how come when I make a bang,
Is complete chaos ’bout the place?

As a poet, is it possible for you to make friends with other poets?

We are often invited to the same book festivals, sometimes we meet in schools for book weeks and many of us share the same publishers. A few of us are also anthologists, and as such are forever writing to each other with requests for poems, so yes it’s very easy to be friends with other poets.

What is your favourite poem – by you, by someone else?
Which poets do you admire?

Favourites change all the time. For a long time I was very fond of ‘Fruits’, and I still am, but as I write others jostle for position. ‘Sandwich’ is a firm favourite with audiences and so I am very attached to it as well. ‘ Al Caprawn’, a poem about a gangster shrimp is a favourite because my daughter does it with a wonderful accent, just like Al Capone, the American Gangster from the movies. Others have a special place in my heart for one reason or another, a bit like children.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have been trying to cut down on the reading while I finish my next novel, but books are so hard to ignore, and without meaning to, I’ve found myself reading Eoin Colfer’s latest, The Supernaturalist. My daughter had just read it and enjoyed it so much that I couldn’t resist.

What are your other interests besides writing?

Besides writing I love reading (obviously), cooking (I make a mean vegetarian curry and my Jamaican patties are not too bad either), gardening (but I never have enough time to do as much as I’d like. I wish I could spend more time with my hundred or so bonsai plants) and playing word games (especially Scrabble and Upwords, but again I haven’t too much time for those).

Do you have any pets?

I used to have dogs and cats in Jamaica, but here I’ve got some fish in a pond.

Next Door’s Cat by Valerie Bloom

Next door’s cat is by the pond,
Sitting, waiting for the fish,
Next door’s cat thinks Geraldine
Would make a tasty dish.

He’s had Twinkle and rose Red,
He ate Alberta too,
And all we found were Junior’s bones
When that horrid cat was through.

Next door’s cat comes round at night,
Strikes when we’re in bed,
In the morning when we wake,
Another fish is dead.

Next door’s cat has seen the new fish,
He thinks that it’s a goner,
What a surprise he’s going to get,
When he finds it’s a piranha.

What advice do you have for young up-and-coming poets?

Read as much poetry as you can; you’ll learn a lot from people who have already done it, both what to do and what not to do. Listen to poetry if you can, the sound of poems is important. Keep writing. The more you write, the better you’ll get, hopefully, and experiment with different forms and different voices.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a genetic condition I’m afraid. The doctor says I’m never going to grow any more. Just as well I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

Thanks to everyone who sent Valerie questions, especially Suchaita who sent lots of very good ones. And thanks to Valerie. Bye for now…

Outdooring and Big Bang © Valerie Bloom from Whoop an’ Shout
Next Door’s Cat © Valerie Bloom from The World is Sweet (Bloomsbury)


Whoop an’ Shout by Valerie Bloom
Illustrated by David Dean (Macmillan Children’s Books 2003)

Surprising Joy

Surprising Joy by Valerie Bloom (Macmillan Children’s Books)

The eagerly awaited first novel from one of the UK’s finest poets. Joy has spent her life with her grandmother in Jamaica, steeped in Jamaican culture, sunshine and traditions. Until the day her dream comes true: Joy’s mother, who moved to England when Joy was a baby, writes to say that she’s ready for her daughter to come and join her. Joy can hardly contain her excitement. Packing, saying goodbye to all she has loved and the journey all add to it. But London in December is a shock. It’s cold and dark and unfriendly. Even so, it’s nothing to the shock that awaits when she goes to live with her mother…

Valerie’s other books include –

Fruits (Macmillan Children’s Books 1997)
Ackee, Breadfruit, Callaloo (Bogle L’Ouverture and Macmillan Caribbean 1999)New Baby (Macmillan Children’s Books 2000)
Let Me Touch the Sky: Selected Poems (Macmillan Children’s Books 2000)
The World is Sweet (Bloomsbury Children’s Books 2000)
Hot Like Fire (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2002)

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