Interview: Dianne Bates

Di BatesIn Our Home is Dirt by Sea, Dianne Bates has complied a fabulous collection of poetry written by over thirty different Australian poets for Australian children. Topics include school, family, special events like birthdays and Christmas, animals and sports. Check out the classroom ideas.


What is your “elevator pitch’ for Our Home is Dirt by Sea?

An anthology of poetry, Our Home is Dirt by Sea comprises 45 poems by Australian poets for children aged 8+ years, divided into categories ranging from “Mostly Me” to “Special Times”. Some poems are light-hearted and some are more thoughtful; all, I hope you agree, are wonderful!

What draws you to write and collect poetry?

I love poetry and have done so since I was a small child listening to my mother many times re-reading The Owl and the Pussy Cat. Later, as a ten year old, I had a marvelous teacher who introduced me to poems I can still recite. A teacher, I regularly taught verse-speaking and poetry writing to primary school students. I even married two poets – the late Max Williams and my current husband, Bill Condon. Poetry connects me to other minds, to other perspectives.  I often swap poems with friends – some I’ve discovered, others I’ve written. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t read or write poetry: it is a balm to my soul.


You have included a number of well-known poets in this anthology; how did you pick whose poems were included?

Yes, some poets are well-known, such as Elizabeth Honey, Steven Herrick and Max Fatchen, but some are lesser known such as Jenny Erlanger, Anna Jacobson and Jenny Blackford. I chose poems based on their content and their ability to say something powerful, whether poignant or humorous. I love every poem in the book, especially “The Tree” by Chris Mansell; it should be posted in every school, every government house in the world, and in the United Nations!


What advice can you give to teachers who struggle when teaching poetry?

Maya Angelou says, “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” I urge you to find poetry that has this kind of effect on you personally. If you love anything – more especially a poem – your enthusiasm as a teacher will be contagious. If you can’t find poems, find song lyrics. Raps are terrific for teaching rhythm and rhyme! Encourage your students to write poetry: one of the best ways of doing this is to invite a poet into your classroom. Do make the effort to bring poetry into your students’ lives; they deserve it as a way of exploring and expressing their thoughts and feelings.

Why do you think it is important that quality poetry is published for children?

Quality poetry not only gives aesthetic pleasure, but it can also awaken our senses or bring the element of surprise into our lives. It provides windows into the thoughts and feelings of others, not just of today but of the distant past.  Poetry can affect all generations, and make people consider anything from love to loss. Above all, poetry does what little else can – it can inspire. The poet speaks to the reader intimately and exclusively giving insight into the inner workings of their minds, their ideas, their loves and hates. In our fast-paced, “instant everything” world, we need poetry because it helps children to think, observe, ask questions and discover sights, sounds and feelings that otherwise might remain untapped. It brings balance and beauty to our increasingly complex world. It makes us laugh, teaches us powerful lessons and renews our souls. Its literary value cannot be under-rated.  If done well, it can illuminate parts of life to the reader that had never been considered.