An Post Irish Book of the Year Nominees 2023: Poetry Gems & Playfulness with Lucinda Jacob, Sarah Webb and Ashwin Chako

In the running for this year's An Post Irish Book of the Year are six outstanding and unique books from a selection of incredibly gifted authors, editors, and an illustrator. We caught up with Lucinda Jacob, Sarah Webb and Ashwin Chako, nominated for their poetry collection I Am the Wind, in light of their win at this year's awards, where they took home the 2023 Specsavers Children's Book of the Year (Senior).

 

I Am the Wind: Irish Poems for Children Everywhere, is a beautifully illustrated collection of children's poems from Irish poets, imaginatively, playfully and expertly blending the traditional and the modern. The poems have been lovingly curated by acclaimed children’s poet Lucinda Jacob and award-winning children’s writer and bookseller Sarah Webb, and are accompanied by joyous illustrations from acclaimed illustrator Ashwin Chako.

 


 

Can you tell us a bit about the origins of this book? How did it come about?

We are children’s writers who love poetry and we do a lot of work with children to encourage their own creativity. A few years ago, chatting about our work, we discovered that a collection of Irish poetry, chosen with children in mind was the book that we felt was missing from our bookshelves. So we decided to go for it!

 

What was the poetry selection process like of curating this book? How did you decide which poems you wanted to include?

We started with favourite poems that we each felt must be in the collection, then we widened the search to our bookshelves and then to public and university libraries and, for instance, we read every anthology and single poet collection in Poetry Ireland’s library. We wanted this to be a book full of variety, with something to delight and surprise at every page turn. So we have chosen poems from the earliest times to contemporary and diverse voices, including well-loved poems and some overlooked gems. After four years of reading, we had well over four hundred poems in our shortlist which we had to get down to around a hundred! How did we do it? By constantly asking ourselves, will a child love this poem?

 

How did you blend the traditional and the modern in this book?

As we started selecting the poems, we found themes and tones emerging and we saw that poems with things in common could be from a 9th-century manuscript or they could have been sent to us by a contemporary poet. That felt exciting to us. So, for example, on one double-page spread, we have placed ‘Pangur Bán’, in Robin Flower’s translation, speaking across the page and across the centuries to Gabriel Rosenstock’s cat poems, ‘Ní Gá …’ and ‘Without …’. And, of course, the blend of traditional and modern is wonderfully drawn together in Ashwin’s vigorous and sensitive illustrations.

 

Why was it important to you to include both Irish and English language poems?

All the poems in the book are Irish. In our selection, we have attempted to reflect Ireland and Irish poetry in all its variety. We are so happy to have poems by Polish-Irish, Russian-Irish, Nigerian-Irish, Indian-Irish, Ukrainian and Traveller poets as well as poems in Gaeilge in I Am the Wind.

 

How important is poetry to Irish history and culture?

It is huge! You only have to think of the songs and poems which embody our history, have been handed down to us, and which each generation makes their own. Think of Pádraic Colum’s ‘An Old Woman of the Roads’ wishing for her own place. Sadly that is a current thought for many of our children, and makes for a new reading of a poem about Irish Independence. With two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, W. B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, not forgetting world-renowned poets such as Eavan Boland, Brendan Kennelly, Paula Meehan, Derek Mahon and Michael Longley, we have a wonderful tradition to draw on, both as writers and readers, and poetry is very much alive here today. As a nation, we enjoy listening to each other's voices – the essence of poetry.

 

Why do you believe introducing poetry to children is important?

The playfulness of poetry, and the emotional heart that is at the core of a poem make poetry important. The way poems connect us to each other make introducing poetry to children as vital now as never before. And there is such joy to be had!

 

Do you think children read enough poetry? How can this be encouraged?

Everyone can always read more poetry, and we can encourage children by reading poetry to them and making poetry accessible. Funny, happy, thoughtful, sad - there is a poem out there for every mood and every child. As adults, we can bring all sorts of poems to children, and this is what we have tried to do in our book.

 

What do you hope both children and adults take away from reading this book?

We hope our readers see what wonderful poems and poets we have here in Ireland, and we hope they find reading our book a joyful and sustaining experience.

 

As a book with three collaborators, how did you all work together on this project?

Working together has been a real pleasure and it has been so good to have each other to turn to at every stage in the creation of the book. From the start, we were constantly in contact - during Covid, often meeting in car parks with the car windows rolled down or on park benches! Sharing ideas as the work on the poems and illustrations progressed has been really important to all three of us, and it was fun!

 

How does it feel knowing that so many people have voted for your book that it has now made the top 6 nominees for An Post Irish Book of the Year?

We all feel honoured and humbled that so many people have taken the trouble to vote for our book. It is so good to think that a poetry book for children (which makes it doubly niche!) has made it this far. And we are delighted for all the poets who so willingly allowed us to include their poems in the book.

 

I Am the Wind

 

Explore the 6 titles in the running for An Post Irish Book of the Year 2023 here.

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