Poetry book review

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downsize_250_1000Big Silly, Little Sensible

Mike Lucas

Ginger Cat Publishing

ISBN 9780994559203

RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

 

As the title suggests, this collection written and illustrated by Mike Lucas is a mix of silly and sensible poems, with most falling into the former category.

Poems range from the ultra-short to the super long and are sorted into sections such as growing up, animals, space and time, fairy tales and people. Most are accompanied by Lucas’s line drawings.

All are child friendly and Lucas clearly has the capacity to slip easily into the world of childhood.

The silliness will appeal to young readers, as will the farts poems and frequent use of invented words.

There’s a lovely sense of rhyme and rhythm in some of the poems, while others I found a little awkward to read aloud, which for me is always part of enjoying poetry.

It’s all about me, The not upside down poem, The exactly one minute poem and Don’t steal the scare from a grizzly bear are my favourites of the 99 poems featured in the collection.

Big Silly and Little Sensible makes playing with words and writing poetry seem like a lot of fun, so would be a useful addition to classroom resources.

The book includes some blank pages where young poets are invited to write their own poems.

Big Silly and Little Sensible is available here.

Poetry book review

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Our Home is Dirt by Sea

Australian poems for Australian kids

Selected by Dianne Bates

Walker Books ISBN 9781925081190 PB RRP $16.99

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

our-home-is-dirt-by-sea-coverFrom the title with its play on the line from our national anthem to the content and the creators, this anthology is Australian in flavour and is sure to become a popular addition to home and school libraries.

Dianne Bates, who selected the poems for inclusion, said her aim in compiling the anthology was to honour some fine Australian children’s poets and there are many names that will be familiar to poetry lovers.

The book is well presented and easy to read and features a diverse range of child-friendly, well-crafted poems sorted into categories of Mostly Me, Families, People, Animals, Sport, School and Special Times.

“In choosing which poems to include I was guided by numerous factors,” Bates said.

“First I needed to believe that any given poem would appeal to child readers; I asked myself would they understand the poem and would they like it.

“For me, a poem needs to touch the readers in some way, not just intellectually but emotionally. The reader ought to have an ‘ah’ moment.

“What matters most in a collection of poems like this is that the reader will want to dip into it again and again.”

Our Home is Dirt by Sea fulfils Bates’ intent.

It’s difficult to highlight individual poems from an anthology of this quality. Among my personal favourites are If I Were a Kid (Jane Williams), Quite Bizarre (Kylie Seeberg), The Lady (Ann Coleridge), A Dancing Cat (Janeen Brian) and Christmas Visitor (Bill Condon).

Some poems will amuse and entertain, while others will prompt serious thought, such as Auschwitz Flower by Ian McBryde and The Last of His Tribe by Henry Kendall.

The anthology is a wonderful resource for schools. I’ve used it in my creative writing sessions for young people and adults and find it offers excellent examples of diversity in style and voice.

The only aspect of the book that jarred with me was the background graphic of the Foreword, About the Poets and First Lines Index. It works on the colour cover but interferes with text clarity in mono in the interior of the book.

Bates said the anthology took a decade from research to publication. It’s been worth the wait. Anyone who enjoys poetry – child or adult – is sure to find many poems to love and share in its pages.

Our Home is Dirt by Sea is available from the publisher here.

Poet’s new release

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xanother-night-in-mullet-town.jpg.pagespeed.ic.B-hWqvFFJEAnother Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick (University of Queensland Press)

PB RRP $19.95 IBBN 9780702253959

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a verse novel from award-winning Australian poet and author, Steven Herrick, which illuminates mateship, family relationships, and navigating life.

For typical Aussie teenagers, Jonah and Manx, life mainly encompasses fishing (for mullet) at the local Coraki lake, watching — and joining — school mates party on Friday nights and looking for courage to further develop their relationships with Ella and Rachel. There are other problems, of course, insofar as Jonah’s warring parents are ending their marriage, motherless  Manx has issues, too, and the boys’ lakeside town is about to be sold off to city outsiders for redevelopment. This creates tension in town, especially when someone scrawls graffiti against the Sydney interlopers on the local real estate office owned by newcomers, the Lloyd-Davies.

The story has strong messages which are magnified due to the format of verse with characters and scenes being conveyed in fewer words than that of a conventional novel. Herrick is a master at capturing so much in few words; his writing is crisp and succinct and evocative. There is a strong sense of place in the novel with tight but descriptive language that introduces the creek, the lake, the swamp near Lake Road (site of Manx’s house), the ocean, and the town with its large pensioner population.  Both boys were born in Turon where Jonah’s dad runs the petrol station with its mostly truckie customers and ‘goggle-eyed tourists’ on their way to Balarang Bay.

Herrick’s prose perfectly captures the book’s characters. Here’s a description of Manx as seen through Jonah’s eyes: ‘He walks like a draught-horse pulling a load/his head pushed forward, chin up/and muscular arms hanging by his side./His voice is a few octaves deeper and bass, hands the size of boxing gloves,/dark hair sprouting from each of his knuckles.’

In each verse, which has its own sub-title, one aspect of the town or its people, is described. For example, there are the consecutive sections called ‘Vodka Cruisers’ and ‘Broken Glass and Bravado’ where after drinking ‘the night always ends/with broken bottles/piled up on the sand/and all of year ten/wondering who’ll vomit first.’

If you are trying to get a teenager to read – especially a boy – this novel with its terse, and what have been described as ‘iridescent,’ verses, is a great book to encourage him to read. As usual, it’s likely that Another Night in Mullet Town will take out some literary awards.

 

Poem of the Day

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Count-up to Planet Bed

 

I’m one for the window

and two for the door.

 

I’m three for the ceiling

and four for the floor.

 

I’m five for the morning

and six for the night.

 

I’m seven for the stairs

and eight for the light.

 

I’m nine for a story

and ten for my bed.

 

Now I’m off for a dream

to hold in my head.

 

Katherine Gallagher

(Published in Toothpaste Trouble (ed. Nick Toczek, Macmillan, 2002)

  • Submitted in response to Poetry Prompt #23

Poetry Prompt #22

Katherine says: Going to bed isn’t always a happy time but it can be made fun with ‘ a one-step-at-a-time’ count-up. Your Poetry Prompt #23 reminded me of this situation.

 

Poetry Book Review

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Shoctopus-cover-imageShoctopus: Poems to Grip You

by Harry Laing, illustrated by Clinton De Vere (Bunda Books, 2015)

PB RRP $20  ISBN 9780980435023

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

 

Some time ago I was privileged to be entertained in my own home by Canberra poet, comic performer and creative writing teacher, Harry Laing, who recited a number of his quirky and humorous verse. The man is a natural performer! So it’s wonderful that he has now produced his first collection of children’s verse to accompany him as he tours schools and other venues with his show.

The cover of Shoctopus is bright and appealing and as one flicks through the 95-page book, it’s apparent that much thought has gone into making the book as child-friendly as possible. It’s attractively designed with frequent black and white illustrations. It’s also apparent that the collection has many different topics and poetic styles; dipping into it is a pleasure.

The first poem in the collection is ‘Dangerous Words’ made up of rhyming couplets with lines such as

‘Words can be MEAN,

words run FERAL                                                                                            

you play with words at your peril’

Laing has obviously played with words in all of his child-accessible poems. He tells poems from the point of view of a ‘Supertap’, a leech, a worm, and even a wheelie bin. There are raps such as ‘Billy Rap’, limericks, shape poems, a poem that looks like the forest it is about, even life stories (such as ‘Potato Story’), a prose poem and more. Quite a few of the poems are about animals – skink, Pobblebonk frog, a blowie (called Chloe) and an emu; and there are poems from the point of view of objects such as toothbrushes, tyres and trees. A few poems reflect children’s lives; one such poem is ‘It Doesn’t Make Sense’ about a kid falling out of bed.  My only quibble about the collections is that it would have been good to have read more child-narrated poems like this one.

The main message of Laing’s collection is that the poems in this collection are great for reciting aloud, and they ought to be read. There’s no doubt that they will be popular with most readers, even adult ones.

Shoctopus costs $20 plus $3 postage & packing and is available for purchase on Harry Laing’s website www.harrylaing.com.au. The poet is available for writing workshops and performances in schools and can be contacted at harrylaing@bigpond.com

Poetry book review

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silly-squid-Silly Squid!

Poems about the Sea

by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Cheryll Johns

(Omnibus book from Scholastic Australia)

HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9781742990965

 

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

 

What a handsome book of poems for children this is, so lovely that the publishers (rightly) thought to present it in hardback. Flipping through the pages is an absolute delight as the full-page illustrations are colourful and beautifully depicted. And too, the design of the book is very appealing with hand-written font for the poems and facts about the sea creatures depicted on every page typed around the borders.

Each poem is devoted to a single creature, such as a crab, a sea star, Leafy sea dragon, whale, squid and many more. The poet forms vary from poem to poem but all are jolly and enjoyable. In ‘Stingray’ for example, there are three repeating lines interspersed with a three line rhyming line. ‘Shark’ is presented as quatrains with rhymes on the second and fourth lines. Each one of the poems has a light, deft touch and none of them is a line too long. Most of them are narrated by the sea creature they describe with each poem giving (accurate) factual information. Here’s just one example, from the poem, ‘Jellyfish’:

‘…we come in different sizes                                                                                          

 and people call us ‘jellies’.                                                                                                                            

We have no bones, nor heart nor brain –                                                            

not even jelly bellies!’

Faced with information like this, a curious child is likely to go off to an encyclopedia (or Google) to check out if the facts are true, and might thus find out even more about jellyfish.

Researching and finding poems from hundreds of poetry collections in order to compile an anthology a few years ago, I looked at a wide range – and of course have included Brian’s poems in my book, Our Home is Dirt by Sea (Walker Books Australia, 2016). This latest collection by Brian is probably one of the very best single poet collections I came across. It’s highly recommended for readers aged 7 years and up.

 

New poetry anthology review

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When the Moon is Swimming Naked: Australasian Poetry for the Chinese Youngster, Edited by Kit Kelen and Mark Carthew (ASM Poetry, Association of Stories in Macao, 2014).

When-the-Moon-is-Swimming-Naked-cover-art copy

This 220 page paperback anthology ‘for the Chinese youngster’ was, according to co-editor, Dr Mark Carthew, ‘an enormous drawn out speculative project… driven by the translators and readers at the Macao end.’ Certainly to have a children’s poetry book which is bi-lingual (English and Chinese), translated by sixteen Asian translators (some of whom contributed to the anthology), is a massive – and innovative – project and is a credit to the co-editors who volunteered their time and energy.

The book’s cover is not as child-friendly as it could have been, showing a muted blue swirl with white shapes, including a moon on it, and with a vertical row of Chinese characters and a horizontal English title. There is a contents page, and in the back an index of first lines and biographical notes of the Australian poets. All pages of poems have poems in English on even pages and the Chinese interpretation on the opposite odd pages. The typeface throughout is small, about eight point, which might make it difficult for younger children to read. The book could have done with another proof-reading as there are numerous typos, including some poems mistakenly printed in bold. Poems are not grouped under sub-headings but are arranged alphabetically in order of the poets’ names.

This is an uneven collection. Many of the poems are written from an adult point of view and would seem to be primarily for adults. Happily, others are more child-centric. For this reason it is difficult to hazard a guess at the age of the targeted readership. ‘Difficult Love Poems from a Step-Parent’ by Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, while poignant and beautifully written, is one example of a poem too sophisticated for a child under the age of 15 to comprehend. ‘Resonating chambers’ by Ashley Clarkson, about playing musical instruments, might be understood by a teenage reader, but certainly not by a younger child, nor would Claine Kelly’s ‘While Poets Chant in the empty boathouse,’ about an older woman reflecting on her adolescent love. Another poem with an adult perspective, Martin Langford’s ‘Their Son’, which questions the behaviour of a teenager, is yet another example of a poem suitable for an adult readership — and there are many more.

The collection includes poems by well-known Australian poets who generally write for an adult readership, such as Peter Stryznecki, Vivian Smith and Mark Tredinnick, but many names are unfamiliar to this reader, such as Vaughan Rapatahana, Phillip A Ellis and Kenneth Hudson. A number of the poets represented are well known as children’s poets, such as Stephen Whiteside, Claire Saxby and Meredith Costain. Also included in this anthology are poems by the sixteen translators whose names are written in both English and Chinese. One such poet is Zoe Fang (Fang Xiaojun) whose poem, ‘baba’s big hand’ I found endearing and quirky.

Interestingly, many of the poems are nature-based with titles like ‘Frill-necked Lizard,’ ‘Thylacine’, ‘Welcome Swallows,’ and ‘a leaf remembered from Susquehanna’, which might well appeal to Chinese readers young and old. Most of the poems are written in free verse, with only a few rhyming poems, such as ‘Gym-bo’ (Vashti Farrer), ‘Grandma and the Mouses’ and ‘The Elephant who Lost his Tail’ (Andrew Lansdown). Sadly, there is little in the way of playfulness and/or humour in most of the poems.

Some of my favourite poems in this collection include ‘Shoefiti’ (Meredith Costain), ‘A Bedtime Story (for a boy)’ (Rebecca Kylie Law), ‘Blunder the Wonder Cat’ (James Norcliffe), ‘Train Song’ (Mark Macleod) and ‘The Dangerous Dinosaur’ (Stephen Whiteside) – all of which have child appeal and read well aloud.

‘Pride Comes before a Fall’ by co-editor Kit Kelen, contains one of my favourite couplets in the book: ‘Now the woodcutter/takes down the shadows of trees.’ In Laurel Lamprell’s ‘Joy Riders’, school children steal a car only to finish ‘Straight down the road/Where eternity waits/In the guise of a lamp post.’ As here, there are some excellent concepts and descriptions in many poems, but words like ‘animus’, ‘geomorphology’, fractious’, ‘polophonic’ ‘meniscus’ and ‘syncopation’ and numerous other complex words that occur in poems throughout the book are well beyond the comprehension of most teenagers, let alone children.

Notwithstanding my criticisms, I congratulate the compilers and publishers on this anthology — no doubt a massive feat — for taking the time and care to make Australian children’s poetry accessible to a foreign market. Hopefully the book will be distributed in Australia, too, and allow our country’s teachers and students to see the work of new and more established poets.

Dianne (Di) Bates is a well-published children’s author and editor who has established a unique blog site, Australian Children’s Poetry, http://wwww.australianchildrenspoetry.com.au to showcase children’s poetry written by Australians to the world. In 2015, Di’s anthology of Australian children’s poetry, Our Home is Dirt by Sea, will be published by Walker Books Australia. Di’s website is http://www.enterprisingwords.com.au