The first poem I wrote was a little book

Words by Carmen Leigh Keates

Published on March 8, 2013

I can’t really remember when I first wrote a poem that I consciously called a poem, but when I was about three and four I used to make these little books. Dad had found a few boxes of fresh writing paper on the dump; it was letterhead from the Workers’ Compensation Board of Queensland. This is exactly the sort of thing that is handy when you have five kids and they all like drawing. We were told to cut the title off so that we wouldn’t get in trouble with the government.

The paper was really good — very heavy — at least 150gsm. It had a nice texture, like water-colour painting paper, but less absorbent. This taught me to colour-in more lightly (using less pressure on the crayon) so that I could see the pattern of the paper’s surface. I also discovered how if you coloured-in lightly, you could sometimes make out what someone had written on the sheet of paper before yours, because the imprint of the words became visible.

Anyway, I’d fold a few sheets of paper over a couple of times and staple the spine to make a book,
then cut any folded loops to free the page edges. But I was three, so the staples would be placed way in because stapling was awkward and difficult for my little hands, and then after that I would try again and again to re-cut the page edges straight. I wasn’t much good at this, so by the time I was satisfied with the edge I had, the book was this skinny tall thing, with only a narrow bit in which to write between the mercilessly-whittled edge and the ever-encroaching staples. I would make the book and then think about the content later. (Like a born grant writer!)

Faced with a book and no real idea of what to write, I would string the content out so there’d be a phrase (or sometimes half a phrase) on each page-spread. I would then go back and do some illustrations. Sometimes I just left it blank though, if I thought things looked ok the way they were.

Mum and Dad still have one of my books. What follows is a faithful transcript:

“Wuns ther was a litle dog. He was very por and did not hav eny food.”

This was spread out over several pages. I think it’s a good poem.