It may sound obvious, but you have to like kids. And I don’t just mean the sweet, clean, well-brought-up ones either. I mean the little feckers who’ll try it on with you, or the ones who won’t stop talking, or the ones who won’t talk at all, or can’t speak English. And, of course, the toughest ones – those who are too cool to risk learning a new skill… who’ve never learned to try and fail and try again. You have to like all of those brats for what they are and you have to love the buzz of getting through to them.
Most of my work with Poetry Ireland has been in the form of residencies. I organize most of my one-off visits myself, but it’s worth having an established format for a longer stay. I’ve done writing and illustration workshops in all sorts of places, from the small rural schools – often the easiest – to those with disadvantaged status and crusading teachers on a mission to drum an education in the defiant brains of their charges.
I have it easy. I’m a break in the routine. I get to show up, do my thing and go. Poetry Ireland look after the funding and framework, the teachers provide the kids, the facilities and the support. And if I can flick the right switches, I can trick those young minds into realizing that drawing is a mechanical skill that anyone can learn. With a little sleight of hand, I can show them that writing is simply an extension of the skills of expression we use everyday.
If, in that short time, I have a positive effect on the lives of those kids, it will surely be the most useful thing I will have achieved in my career.