He was born in Tripoli, North Africa, and because his father was in the British Army the Mitton family travelled around and Tony largely grew up overseas in both Hong Kong and Germany. From eleven to eighteen, he attended a boarding grammar school in Suffolk. Before that, at his prep school, he was appointed ‘After Lights-Out Storyteller’ for his dormitory - weaving stories from thin air for the entertainment of his fellow pupils.
He remembers writing his first poem in bed in his head when he was about nine or ten. Frustratingly, by morning the poem had mostly vanished, yet to this day he remembers it was in ballad form and was about a highwayman. He has said in interview with The Poetry Archive: “It’s possible that much of my poetry writing impulse may come from that experience...a good poem evaporated before one records it. Always since trying to recapture it in some form or other.”
Tony Mitton read English Literature at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, and then trained as an English teacher before eventually deciding to work in primary schools. Although he had been writing “obscure grown-up” poetry since his teens, working with primary children, and also reading to his own children gave him the impetus to try writing for them. With an audience of children he says, “You can't get away with obscurantism. No hoity-toity allusions, references, arcane lexicon, abstruse diction and other whatnotteries.” Yet despite this, Tony does write about big and often philosophical subjects, as we can see in 'Plum', whose stone holds the mystery of the eternal plum tree.
One of Tony Mitton’s greatest influences is Charles Causley (who you can also hear on the Children’s Archive). Both poets use a ballad form to tell stories. Listen to St Brigid and the Baker on this Archive recording for how the music and rhymes of this type of form carry the poem along. On the process of writing Tony has said, “a phrase or rhythm, usually both, a rhythmic phrase, tends to start the process off. If it convinces me, or just insists, I'll get to the point where I'll write it down.” He also encourages children to write their own poems down in 'Instructions for Growing Poetry', and at the same time hints there might be something both dangerous and exciting about poetry in Forbidden Poem - upon entering which “You’ll never be the same again.”
Tony Mitton’s voice is clear and expressive on this recording. It’s hardly surprising he was elected ‘Lights-Out Story Teller’ at his boarding school.
This recording was made on the 28th February 2012 at The Soundhouse in London, and the producer was Anne Rosenfeld.