I have a special hiding place For all my favourite stuff But recently I’ve realised It’s not quite large enough. I’ve got so many precious things And it’s hard for me to say, But I think at last the time has come To throw some bits away. But not my special finding stick That gives me so much pleasure, When off I go and hunt about For buried pirate treasure. And not my lovely rounded stone I picked up by the sea. It’s red and white and like a jewel - That has to stay with me. And not my fluffy tiger That I used to take to bed, Or the paper crown I made in school That’s too small for my head. And not my hoard of foreign coins, And not my plastic string, Not my dice, or diary, And not… well, anything. There’s not a single thing I own That doesn’t have a place Inside my special hidey-hole That’s running out of space. And now I’ve got another thing I want to hide away, A bundle of elastic bands I found the other day, So I push and shove and squash and squeeze And force it in on top, But when I jam the lid back on, My special box goes… POP!
When you call yourself a poet, and then spend a great deal of your time trying to get your poetry published, either by submitting to journals or entering competitions, it’s very easy to realise that you’ve started taking yourself way too seriously. And sometimes, it’s good to step back and write something just because it’s fun, or stupid, or pointless, or whatever.
Here is a case in point. This poem is never going to make it into my next anthology, and probably not my Selected Poems collection that Penguin will no doubt bring out at some point. In fact, if I have anything to do with it, it probably wouldn’t even make it into my Collected Poems. Is it really that bad? No. Actually, it’s quite a fun little piece. It’s just that it doesn’t fit with most of the other stuff I’ve written and would stick out like a sore thumb in a collection of my work. Maybe if I end up writing a whole lot more poems like this, then it might end up seeing the light of day somewhere, but until then it will have to make do with appearing here.
I wrote it for my younger son at some point when he was in primary school. They were studying (talking about) poetry and had been asked to bring in a copy of a poem they liked. At the time he didn’t have a favourite poem, or even one he could remember ever having read for that matter, so we retired to the family poetry library (a particular shelf in the office) to see what we could find.
There was plenty to choose from, and we (well, I) spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering through the works of Roger McGough, Ted Hughes, Judith Nicholls, John Hegley, and others in search of something suitable for the kids at school. But nothing did the trick. If I remember correctly, there was the possibility he might have to read it aloud, so he was being particularly critical of anything too long, or with too many difficult words, etc.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I offered to write one myself, and the offer was accepted – probably so that the rest of the afternoon could be taken up playing computer games rather than reading poetry. So there was the challenge – write a poem my son could, if necessary, read out in front of his class. So, not too long, not too tricky, nothing embarrassing. And I should probably make it rhyme, because that’s what poems for kids are supposed to do, right?
I began by searching for a suitable topic. Nobeard the Irate Pirate? Cosmic Joe and the UFO? The ‘I Know’ Rhino? [Actually, looking at these now, they all seem like they would be a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll revisit them sometime.] But in the end I went with something a bit closer to home. I think it might have been while I was thinking about Nobeard and his adventures, but I got the rhyme of treasure/pleasure in my head and sort of went off on a tangent.
I am something of a hoarder. My son puts me to shame. So maybe I could write something about hoarding treasure. What kind of treasure? The kind of treasure little children collect, obviously. And just like that, the idea was born; a box of little treasures, collected over the course of a childhood – the kind of stuff grown-ups would probably think is junk and might throw out if it wasn’t kept hidden away.
So the secret hiding place would be the starting point, and the poem would be about all the stuff inside. What stuff that would be could be based on real life, but more likely would be whatever I could find that rhymed.
With a poem like this, rhythm is just as important as rhyme, and I went for the easiest rhythm I could think of… de-dum-de-dum de-dum-de-dum / de-dum-de-dum-de-dum, which I hoped would mean the poem wasn’t completely butchered when it was read aloud. And when it came to the rhyme, I went for a four-line stanza with lines 2 and 4 rhyming – again, because that seemed like the easiest. I thought about also making lines 1 and 3 rhyme, but actually when I tried it I found it got in the way and prevented the poem bouncing along the way I wanted it to. Also, it was harder.
And that was pretty much it. Most of the editing was done as I was writing it, in order to fit the words into the rhythm and rhyme schemes, and I was happy enough with the end result to leave it as it was and not edit it into oblivion. The only thing I played around with was the title. I couldn’t decide whether it should be a secret box of special things, or a special box of secret things, or both secret, or both special. Or something else entirely. In the end, this one seemed like the best, because the things themselves are not really secret, they’re just special to the child, and it’s the box itself that needs to be kept hidden from the mean and horrible parents.
As far as I remember, he didn’t end up having to read it out.
And he still has piles of junk he’s been hoarding for years, only now his secret box is called his bedroom.