Caterpillar Poetry Prize: a Wonder-pudderful win for Andrew Weale

Judge Brian Moses: ‘This poem has such potential. Children will love the idea behind it’

The Caterpillar Poetry Prize, an annual award of €1,000 for the best unpublished poem written by an adult for children (aged 7-11), was judged this year by one of Britain’s favourite poets, Brian Moses, whose poetry books and anthologies have sold more than 1 million copies worldwide.

Brian was looking for something “that stays in the mind, something that wriggles into the reader’s head and sets up home there for a while. I was also looking for that ‘I wish I’d written this poem’ feeling.”

The poem that Brian chose was Andrew Weale’s Wonder-pudderful.

“It only took a few lines for me to realise that this was a poem by a writer who understood what it takes to write a poem for this age group. I was hooked from the moment I read ‘a hyphen had swept between them/like a bird/and joined them with its wings’.

“I love the way that the word existed only for a brief moment in time, but it reminded me of something that the French writer Montaigne once said: a rose blooms once and then dies, but for anyone who saw the rose, it blooms forever. This poem has such potential and children will love the idea behind it.”

Weale didn’t start out with a desire to write, but rather followed his dream to become an actor and singer. After graduating from Oxford, he went straight to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and took on a weekend job as a shop assistant at Waterstones. From there he moved on to proofreading and copyediting for publishers such as Faber & Faber, then to editing theatre books.

As a singer, Weale performed under many of the great conductors such as Sir Georg Solti and Simon Rattle. His dream was to be the next Pavarotti. But one evening, after a performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, in which he was playing Monsieur D’Arque, he felt an irresistible urge to put pen to paper. He had no idea what was going to emerge, but out came a piece of writing in perfect verse. This was The Oscar Song (or How To Become A Star), which was later put to music and performed (by Weale) in a Stuttgart theatre.

Since then, Weale has written mainly in verse for young children. His picture books Spooky Spooky House and Dinosaur Doo have won awards (including the Red House Children’s Book Award in 2013), and his latest project is a collection of poems about punctuation: Functuation! Punctuation! The Caterpillar Poetry Prize has gone to one of those poems, Wonder-pudderful. How wonder-pudderful that is.

Moses also commended poems by Carole Bromley (UK), Cheryl Moskowitz (UK), Michael O’Connor (Ireland), Heather F Reid (UK), William Sharff (US), Robert Schechter (US) and Susie Weber (US).

The winning poem is published in the summer issue of The Caterpillar, an art & literature magazine for 7-11 year olds published in Ireland by The Moth.

The Caterpillar Story Prize is now open to anyone (over 16) willing to have a go at writing a story of no more than 1,500 words for children aged 7-11. The lucky winner will receive €1,000 plus a week’s stay at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and the prize will be judged by Kelly McCaughrain. McCaughrain last month won the CBI Book of the Year Award with Flying Tips for Flightless Birds as well as the Eilís Dillon Award for a first children’s book and the Children’s Choice Award. Details are available at thecaterpillarmagazine.com

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