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Poetry Archive: Tony Mitton Reading from his Poems

Tony Mitton

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The Poetry Archive

October 2012


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Tony Mitton is one of the best children's poets writing today. His first book, Plum appeared in 1998 and he has since published 14 more collections, his work appearing in numerous anthologies. He has won many awards and honours for his work and is a very popular visiting poet in schools.

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.

Track listing and individual poem timings

1 My Hat 0.34
2 Instructions for Growing Poetry 0.56
3 Growing 1.03
4 The Snake and the Apple 1.01
5 What is Under? 1.09
6 Magic Carpet 0.33
7 St Brigid the Baker 1.22
8 Forbidden Poem 1.01
9 Shore Music 0.39
10 The Selkie Bride 05.05
11 Bubble Songs 0.53
12 Secret Passage 1.21
13 The Minstrel and the Maid 0.56
14 Little Red Typewritter Ditty 1.09
15 Nightwriter 0.59
16 Puzzled Pea 0.27
17 Stone Circles 1.11
18 Green Man Lane 2.18
19 Elegant Elephant Delicatessen. 1.08
20 Night Stairs 1.10
21 Nits 0.47
22 Flightpath 0.19
23 Rainforest Song 1.32
24 Child from the Future 1.11
25 I Wanna be a Star 0.48
26 Dreaming the Unicorn 1.19
27 Freak Cat-Flea 0.31
28 Old Noah's Animal Dance-Hall 2.13
29 Willow Pattern 1.28
30 Plum 0.32
31 Grown Out Of 0.29
32 Pip 0.32
33 Frog Hops 0.24
34 Worm Words 0.19
35 Minibeast Movements 0.33
36 Tiny Diny 0.36
37 String 0.18
38 Twang 0.21
39 Tissue 0.29
40 Key 0.43
41 Tiny and Shiny 0.26
42 Fluff 0.19
43 Shell 0.37
44 Coin 0.45
45 Bubblegum Balloon 0.45
46 Lollipop Poem 0.26
47 The Web 0.24
48 The Pirate 0.26
49 Arabian Nights 0.35
50 Rickety Train Ride 0.35
51 Write-a-Rap Rap 1.18
52 Little Red Rap Rap 1.57
53 Fol de Rol Rap 1.25
54 Entrance 1.10
55 Dunwich 2.03
56 Yarn 1.15
57 The Taper 1.51
58 Shell Villanelle 1.38
59 Kwan Yin 1.51
60 Days 0.37
61 Penny Piece 1.03

Total Running time 62' 27"

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