Dragons of the Prime
Richard O’Brien explains to Ishika Tiwari the inspiration behind his Dragons of the Prime: Poems about Dinosaurs and reveals his very own dinosaur qualities!
Dinosaurs have captivated the human imagination for a long time, what sparked your interest and inspired you to compile a poetry book about Dinosaurs? I wrote in the introduction to the book how I used to read books and magazines about dinosaurs with my Nan when I spent time at her house as a kid. Kids have always been interested in dinosaurs — I think partly because they’re so massive and strange to us that they seem almost magical. And they have these long, complicated names you have to learn how to say, and I feel like wrestling with those very early on was maybe when I first started to get interested in the power of language. So mostly I just wanted to put together something for the kind of young reader that I used to be, because I know I would have loved to have a book like this about my favourite subject.
Dragons are mythical creatures, whereas Dinosaurs are real ones as scientific evidence suggests, what is the significance of the titular phrase Dragons of the Prime? This title comes from a famous poem, by the Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson — from a section which is also the source of the phrase ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw.’ When Tennyson was writing, it hadn’t been many years since the term ‘dinosaur’ was invented. Scientists were still trying to make sense of these enormous beasts buried under the earth, and what they meant for our understanding of history and evolution. So when he calls them ‘dragons’, he’s sort of saying that they seem so strange and fantastic that they might as well be creatures from fantasy. The ‘prime’ means something like ‘the early days’: again it’s like they’re shrouded in the mists of time. All the Emma Press anthologies for children have had titles taken from famous historical poems, so that if they inspire people to read poetry throughout their lives then readers might find it fun recognizing those phrases again in the future!
When you're not reading or writing, what occupies your time? I like to cook vegetarian recipes (or as the dinosaurs called them, ‘herbivore recipes’), and I’ve recently got into baking, though I’m not particularly good at it! I also like going for walks in the park, and around cities, and visiting historical houses and things like that. My day job is working at a university, where I teach classes about poetry and Shakespeare’s plays.
Which Dinosaur's qualities resembles you the most? I’m probably more like the snuffling small mammals that scurried around trying not to get eaten by the dinosaurs, if I’m honest with myself. But you could also say I’m a bit like the Iguanodon, whose skeleton first got put together out of order, in that I’m not always confident that I’m the right way up a lot of the time.
What is the message the book is trying to spread through the poems about/for Dinosaurs? I don’t know if I have a message for dinosaurs specifically, other than to say ‘You did good, kid’ — it would be nice to know you were still famous 66 million years after you died. But I hope readers will come away from the book feeling like I did when I first read about dinosaurs as a kid: that they were awesome and exciting and worth finding out more about. Because no one alive today has seen a dinosaur, we have to use our imaginations to picture them — and it’s always important to let our imaginations run away with us from time to time.