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

Weekly Update

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Helpful advice for aspiring poets

So You Wanna Be a Children’s Poet…

In this informative article, freelance writer Linda Phillips looks at techniques, terminology and genres and offers some sound advice for anyone keen to write poetry for young people.

“The point is to read widely, acquire new skills and techniques, and get busy writing. You’ll never be a ‘wanna-be’ children’s poet again.”



How to Write Poetry for Magazines

Suzanne E. Henshon encourages aspiring poets to write for magazines as a first step on their path to publication.

“Writing poetry for children is exciting and exhilarating. You’ll discover that the gift of words is challenging to develop but wonderful to share. As a poet, you can give young readers lasting memories: poems that will stay in their hearts forever.”


Poetry books for young people

Elizabeth Kennedy recommends several books for poetry readers in the 12+ age group on this site.


I particularly liked the sound of these…

Dark Emperor of the Night, a 2011 John Newbury honour book by Joyce Sidman. Kennedy describes it as “a striking mixture of poetry, science and art”.

Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts features 20 poems about nature by Anna Grossnickle Hines, all illustrated by a miniature quilt created by the poet.

 Poems wanted

Do you have a poem for young people to share as our Poem of the Day? I’d love to hear from you. Email me on traffa-m@bigpond.net.au


Time is running out if you want to enter this.

The Caterpillar Poetry PrizeClosing date 31 March 2015

More information at: https://australianchildrenspoetry.com.au/2014/08/25/poetry-competition/

Happy writing!