John was born in 1941 in Scotby, a village outside Carlisle. He didn’t have a television when he was growing up, so spent a lot of time reading. One of his favourite poems was ‘Albert and the Lion’ by Marriot Edgar, in which the eponymous Albert is eaten by a lion at Blackpool Zoo. John’s father would put on a Lancastrian accent and perform the dark and funny poem for him, which began his life-long love of both listening to, and speaking poetry aloud. He has said in interview with The Poetry Archive: “Poetry is part of the oral tradition and many of my poems are written to be performed.” He wrote many poems at school, and remembers one being published in a school magazine; he also remembers always wanting to be a writer. He went on to study at Oxford University and then trained as a teacher. He taught English for twenty years in Oxfordshire and while he was teaching wrote information books for children, and English course and source books, as well as books and articles for teachers and librarians. The first poems he wrote as an adult were initially made up to amuse his children when they were small, on long car journeys.
Since leaving teaching to become a full-time writer in 1988, John has become a regular visitor to schools. He says: “I like the spontaneous way children react when I perform my poems. I enjoy making them laugh.” John relishes word play and puns – he likes dancing with language to see how it moves. You can hear ‘Give a Cheer for Onomatopoeia’ on this Archive recording, where he has language fizzing and whizzing and humming and drumming. He also enjoys writing in form such as the neat, rhymed four-lined form of the Clerihew - he says it’s a bit like “solving a puzzle”.
John says that “poetry can be serious too” so also writes about issues such as being bullied. You can listen to ‘Four O’clock Friday’ here, in which the speaker of the poem escapes the torment of being bullied when he is “home at last.”
John Foster’s love of spoken word is much evident on this lively Archive Recording. He invites children to “read poems out loud, to revel in the sounds of the words, to learn poems and to recite and perform their favourites, both old and new,” so why not start here? You can read along with John.
This recording was made on 28th March 2012 at The Soundhouse in London, and the producer was Anne Rosenfeld.