I’ve been reading a bit lately about word play, and how important it is for kids. The many ways they (we) do it are fascinating.

I didn’t often play with words myself. I was a very careful child, I tiptoed around words until they were absolutely mastered. No word would leave my mouth until I’d thoroughly chewed on it and felt confident it would come out perfectly. My mum wondered if I was behind the other kids who uttered such adorable things as “pasghetti” and “amberlance” – I remember going to the doctor when I was about 5 for a regular check-up – I remember being at the doctor a lot as I was such a small kid. During this particular check-up they were talking about a heap of developmental stuff and he asked me to draw a person for him. I did, and he told my mum I was in front of the other kids my age, because I drew people with necks, which other 5 year olds apparently did not… So Mum felt better about my development, and I continued only spitting out fully-cooked words like “spaghetti” and “ambulance”.

One word I do remember playing with, though, is my Opa’s name.

I remember crawling under a bench in the shed – my grandparents were market farmers, and they had enormous sheds that smelled of earth and carrots.

I made a little song out of Opa’s name, crouched under the bench as he washed carrots. As I got splashed with water, I sang – “Opaaaa-ha-haaaa-ha-ha!” I sang it with such joy, letting out my gleeful little “ha-ha-ha!”s. Opa must have loved it, because he still asks me now if I remember singing his name, and he still remembers the tune I made up for it.

Next week I’m running a poetry workshop for year 9’s at my old high school. What I wish we could all keep, if only for the sake of poetry and writing, is the ability to play with words. To have fun and just let out our own joyous song, even when it’s nonsense.