Children dive into poetry with the same natural ease as swimmers into water, climbers into trees and sleepers into dreams. I've seen this alchemy at work on countless visits to schools, visits which have convinced me that poetry's narrative, rhythm and vibrant imagery is the real language of childhood. But poetry written for children is in danger of dying out, of sliding into fossilised irrelevance, cut off from modern verse. A classic such as Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses may be lovely, but it can't sustain the vital connection between children and poetry. Children also need poets who are still breathing.
The delicate machine which brings poetry books into the hands of children is in desperate need of repair. I used to help choose the poems for the Children's Poetry Bookshelf, the Poetry Book Society's book club for ages seven to 11, and I watched with horror as the submissions from publishers gradually dried up. Starved of funding and support, the club had to stop taking on new members in 2011. As PBS director Chris Holifield said, it seemed that "children's poetry in book form was close to extinction, with just a small number of new titles being published and not much backlist being kept in print."