Notebooks and poetry

Find out why superstar poet Joseph Coelho always keeps a notebook handy. Find out how Joseph works poems out in his notebooks, developing their structure and making lots of changes. Plus have a go at one of Joseph’s poetry techniques.

Joseph Coelho:
Hello, Joseph Coelho here. I'm a children's author and poet, and I've been asked by the British Library to talk to you about notebooks and poetry.

Many writers of poems, short stories, longer fiction, non-fiction, write in notebooks. As a poet and as a children's author, I often use notebooks. I've got loads of notebooks here behind me, notebooks I've filled up over the years, and I always have loads of blank notebooks to hand so that I can grab one and then start a new project and get my ideas written down.

This is an old notebook that I've got here. I've had the notebook for years, but I've only actually started writing in it relatively recently. And I have an example in here of a poem that I was working out in this book, a poem for one of my latest poetry collections called The Girl Who Became A Tree.

And here you can see I've just scribbled in pencil the title that I think the poem may have had. Down the side, I've put a guide for the poem because I was writing a villanelle, which has a set structure. So I've labelled each line so I know what kinds of rhymes I need. As you can see, I've crossed a great deal of words out, words I wasn't happy with, words I felt needed changing. And I've also put rhyme lists. So a rhyme list is just a list of words that sound the same. So in my rhyme list, I've got free, tree, enemy, and pain, gain, main, stain, frame, all these wonderful words that I can just grab whilst I'm writing, just by looking up and then include. And you can see I've crossed some off as I've used them in the poem to make sure I don't use them again.

So a notebook is a fantastic tool to carry around with you, to have by your bedside at night so that when those ideas strike, you can write them down in your notebook. And the notebook can take any form. It can be a notebook like this, which I got from a shop, or it can be one that you make yourself. It might just be a few scraps of paper that you fold together and staple at the top, or keep held together with a paperclip.

I actually made my own snazzy little notebook for the British Library's mini book project. Now I was very lucky. I had an old leather bag that was very, very old and ready to be thrown out. So I recycled some of the leather and I made a leather-bound book. I even found an old fossil on the beach which I stuck to the front. And the inside is just cardboard and paper glued in.

I wrote a short story. I wrote it out on scrap paper first, and then I copied it very carefully into my little notebook, making sure that I wasn't making any mistakes, because this book is a one in a kind. It's even got a wax seal on the back with my initials on. So that is great fun. It's great fun to make your own little notebooks, and maybe you'll have that and you'll give that a go.

I know that the British Library have some videos showing you how to make a fantastic notebook with a pop-up element. I absolutely love pop-up books, but once you've made your little book with a pop-up element, you'll need a poem to put into it. So I'm going to show you, over on my desk now, how to write a poem suitable for a pop-up book. Shall we go over and give it a go? See you in a bit.

Hello. So here I am over at my desk with my old notebook. I just realised this is a very old notebook. It has lots of stain, some coffee stains on the front and even a little scribble. So I've filled up most of this notebook, but I still have some pages at the back. So I'm going to get my special pencil from Grimm and Co, which has magic at this ended and mistakes at this end. And I'm going to show you a very easy way that you could write a rhyming poem for your very own pop-up books.

Now, pop-up books have that wonderful word pop in them. So in this poem, we're going to have lots of words that rhyme with pop. So we're going to make a little rhyme list. Pop. We could have hop, we could have slop, top, stop. What else could we have? Shop.

Pop, hop, slop, top, stop, shop. There must be something I'm missing. Can you think at home? Pop, hop, slop, top, stop, shop. Drop.

Okay. So we've got lots of wonderful rhyming words. And then when I'm writing the poem, I don't need to think about, “Oh, what can I use to rhyme with hop or pop or slop?" I can just look up to this list and cross words off as I use them.

I don't need to use all of these words. They're just there to help me write the poem. And I'm going to imagine it's a poem about opening a pop-up book. So I'll start with, “I opened my book with a pop." I think that's a good start. “I opened my book with a pop."

Cool, got my first line. I'm quite happy with that. I'm going to cross off pop, though I might use pop again. If I want to, I can. It's my poem. It's up to me. “I opened my book with a pop."

I'm going to leave a line just to give myself a bit more working space in case I need to cross anything out or change any of the words. “I opened my book with a pop." A rabbit arose... A rabbit appeared and started to hop. “A rabbit appeared and started to hop." So I'm imagining this pop-up book has a rabbit in it. “I opened my book with a pop. A rabbit appeared and started to hop."

It hopped so high, I wanted it to stop? Nah. I turned the page to a lovely cake shop. Nice. “I turned the page to..." I did a little mistake there. “To a lovely cake shop." See, I've got my other rhyming word, shop.

“Full of..." What do you have in a cake shop? You have cupcakes and donuts. Donuts could be good. Full of donuts that started to drop... “Full of scones that started to drop." Full of scones. I like scones. Do you like scones? “Full of scones that started to drop."

Cool. So in our pop-up book, there's a rabbit that started to hop. We've turned the page to a lovely cake shop full of scones that started to drop. The cakes made a mess, so I turned... Oh, I've used drop as well. The cakes made a mess. I wanted it to stop. So I turned the page. Yes. “The cakes made a mess. I wanted it to stop." I wanted it to stop. So I've used stop.

“So I turned the page." Oh, made a mistake. Doesn't matter. Cross it out. So I turned the page... “So I turned the page to..." What have I got? Top, slop. “So I turned the page to a mountain top." Nice. To a mountain top. So on this spread in the imaginary pop-up book, there's a whole mountain. “So I turned the page to a mountain top."

Where rain poured down in a great big slop. “Where rain poured down in a big slop." That's a nice wet sound, isn't it?

“I opened my book with a pop. A rabbit appeared and started to hop. I turned the page to a lovely cake shop full of scones that started to drop. The cakes made a mess. I wanted it to stop. So I turned the page to a mountain top where rain poured down in a great big slop. So I closed the book with a great big pop." With an almighty pop. “So I closed the book with an almighty..." That's a lovely word. “Pop." And I'll squeeze it in there, because I ran out of space.

So I used top. Oh, I used all the rhyming words. How wonderful. And I used pop twice. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. An eight-line poem using one, two, three, four, five, six, seven rhyming words, because we repeated pop, all about imagining a pop-up book.

So I hope you have lots of fun creating your very own pop-up books and writing your own rhyming poem using lots of rhyming words, with a rhyme list just like this. I'm going to put rhyme list. Good luck and have fun.

Explore, Imagine, Create at bl.uk/childrens-books

Post pics of your notebooks on social media using the hashtag #DiscoveringChildrensBooks and tagging @BL_Learning – or email them to childrens.books@bl.uk

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