An interview with
James Berry - Children's Poems

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What started you writing poems?
Well I started in my Jamaican village. In my home we belonged to the Church of England and my mother was in the choir at church and we read the bible a lot and we went to Sunday School and I became very early interested in bible stories and because I was the kind of child that liked to probe and think a lot, just as I would think about the sun, the moon, the stars, the water and so on, how mysterious they are - the ways of people have always fascinated me. Jamaican culture has folk tales which we tell each other at night, so all these tales, I think helped to bring out of me that desire to write poems.

Why do you enjoy writing poems?
Poems come from your more secret mind. A poem will want to ask deeper questions, higher questions, more puzzling questions and often too more satisfying questions than the everyday obvious questions than the story of your life would tell.

How long do you take to write a poem?
Oh, it takes as long as it takes. You could have a poem hanging around you weeks, months and sometimes you even put it aside because you can't get it right the way you would like it and the way you feel it ought to be. Then you pick it up one day and suddenly you just see and it's absolutely wonderful.

Where do you write your poems?
I have a place at home here where I sit down, but already I would have thought about it, I've made notes on it. I look at the subject and look at the way I would like to approach the subject, what I'm asking the subject to tell me. I was brought up on a typewriter and I can think much more easily without having to worry about the use of the machine, so I get into the habit of sticking to that, after I've made notes by longhand in my notebook.

Can you read me one of your poems?

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Why do you use unusual sounding words in some poems?

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Select bibliography

  • A Thief in the Village (stories for children), London, Hamish Hamilton, 1987
  • The Girls and Yanga Marshall: four stories (for children), London, Longman, 1987
  • When I Dance (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1988 - out of print
  • Anancy Spiderman (for children), London, Walker Books, 1988 - out of print
  • Isn't My Name Magical? (for children), Longman/BBC, 1990 - out of print
  • The Future-Telling Lady (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1991 - out of print
  • Ajeemah and His Son (for children), USA, Harper Collins, 1992
  • Celebration Song (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1994
  • Classic Poems to Read Aloud (editor), London, Kingfisher, 1995
  • Playing a Dazzler (for children), Hamish Hamilton, 1996 - out of print
  • Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird (for children), USA, Simon and Schuster, 1996
  • Everywhere Faces Everywhere (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • First Palm Trees (for children), Simon and Schuster, 1997
  • Around the World in 80 Poems (editor - for children), London, Macmillan, 2001
  • A Nest full of Stars (for children), Macmillan, 2002
  • Only One of Me (selected poems - for children), Macmillan, 2004
  • James Berry Reading from his poems for children, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
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