Author interview: Roger Stevens, poet

We've been lucky to speak to popular children's author, Roger Stevens. He's a fantastic poet whose work we feature in some of our imaginative learning projects included in the Cornerstones Curriculum. His poem Grandma is included in our ‘Time Traveller' project for Year 5. It's a great poem for thinking about memories, growing old and how family relationships change over time.

In this interview, we speak to Roger about his poetry and some of his favourite poets.

What inspired you to write the poem, Grandma?

I was thinking about my childhood. My dad’s mum and dad lived next door to us. This meant that, as a child, Grandma and Grandad were always there.

Our back gardens joined up and so you could walk from one house to the other without going on to the main road. I spent lots of time there. They had two television channels while we only had one. (It was a long time ago, when TV was in black and white.)

When I was a young man, my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s. As time went by, she remembered less and less and eventually she died. And so I decided I would write about visiting Grandma in the nursing home.

What do you enjoy about writing poetry?

I love pretty much everything about it. It's one of the most enjoyable things there is, I think. Apart from, perhaps, eating a bag of chips with salt and vinegar while sitting on a rock overlooking the sea!

I like the thrill you get when a really good idea presents itself. I enjoy the writing, but then editing a poem, playing around with it until it is right, is good fun. I like adding or taking away words, finding better words to improve the poem, and looking at its shape.

I love seeing a poem when it appears in a book for the first time.

Do you prefer writing rhyming or free verse poetry?

I like both. Usually a poem dictates whether or not it will rhyme. I rarely think about rhyming a poem when I start out.

If you worry about rhyming, you often end up with contrived rhymes that twist the meaning of the poem away from what you really want to say. Children often send poems to The Poetry Zone and the verse is great until the last line. Then the poem suddenly doesn’t make sense.

I’m always reminding people that a poem has to have rhythm and it has to flow, but not all poems have to rhyme.

Of course, if I’m writing something like a limerick, a type of verse that does have to rhyme, then I’m thinking about the rhyme from the word go. And it is very satisfying when you come up with a good one.

A couple of years ago I passed an estate agent’s called Roland Gorringe. I couldn’t believe my luck. A rhyme for orange!

Who is your favourite poet?

My favourite modern poet is Roger McGough. It was his poems, along with those of Brian Patten and Adrian Henri – The Mersey Poets – that got me interested in poetry as a teenager.

As well as writing for adults, Roger McGough has written lots of excellent children’s poetry. My favourite poem of his is probably A Potato Clock, which you can find in A Million Brilliant Poems (Part One), an anthology I edited, which is published by A&C Black. I love reading this poem to children and watching their faces as they gradually get the joke.

Do you have a comprehension question for teachers to ask?

I don't actually say whether I was fond of my grandma in the poem. Do the children think I was? And if so, why?

Download a free copy of Grandma

Click the link below to download a PDF copy of the poem to show to your class.

Grandma by Roger Stevens

Like to know more about the Cornerstones Curriculum?

Cornerstones Curriculum is a creative curriculum built on a robust framework and proven learning philosophy. It features more than 80 projects packed with 1000s of activities.