Book Review: Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings, by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_feel_a_little_NZSharing our feelings is not only important for adults. The benefits of emotional literacy can be seen in children of all ages. This book is a collaboration by two people who addressed the need for this. It began as an online project where an emotion was featured each week. The poem for each emotion combines catchy rhymes with beautifully vibrant illustrations. There are 14 emotions in the book, a rainbow of expressions and images, that use colour to reinforce ideas. Following the success of the venture, the poems were gathered into this hard cover book which is best suited for 7-11 year olds.

While the poems are quite long and complex, they would make a useful starter as an educational focus. I could see myself in teaching, using a poem each week and basing activities on these. Movement, music and art would flow naturally from discussions about, “When I feel Sad”. In the home, the book might be read over a number of weeks allowing for family discussions about times when we have felt that emotion. I would struggle to read the whole book in a sitting, but do not feel this was the intended purpose of the authors.

Feel a Little is an exciting collaboration because it addresses the emotional needs of children in words and images. By choosing to publish these poems they will access a wider audience and be useful in many situations. My copy has already gone to my Grandaughter’s preschool who intend to use it in their programmes. That must be a sure sign of a successful book.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Feel a Little: Little Poems About Big Feelings
by Jenny Palmer, illustrated by Evie Kemp
Published by Little Love
ISBN 9780473384456

Book Review: Wolf, by Elizabeth Morton

cv_wolf_MortonAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Wolf by Elizabeth Morton is an atmospheric and breathtaking collection that explores all the strange and mysterious parts of life. It’s all about the sharp edges, the rough shadows, the things that sit in the back of your mind and fester. It’s the uncomfortable, the estranged, all tightly packed into a world where the moon never seems to set and the sun never seems to rise.

It begins with Wolf. He is wild and he is also lonely. Morton’s language is sharply attuned with the wild world of Wolf. She describes how “as a pup Wolf had mewed / tender words… taller now, Wolf barks consonants.” He walks through forests, visits suburbia, travelling with a feeling of loneliness that presses on him the whole way. In Wolf has a dream, this feeling is brought to the fore as Wolf howls “Mo-ther / Mo-ther… but she does not hear”. The way Morton contrasts the eerie wanderings of Wolf as well as Wolf’s own heartache leaves an unsettling feeling of melancholy.

Then Morton expands out from Wolf into her own world, although it’s still not a world removed from the strangeness of the wild forest. Morton’s metaphors are raw and her words are tough. One of my favourite poems of the collection, 17, is a beautiful yet eerie piece. Morton begins, “it was March. / we had city grit in our gums, / and heads violent with stars”. Descriptions such as these made me pause, consider her words, and imagine in new ways. Morton continues with more of her peculiar and unique imagery: “and at seventeen / we were the final flashing synapse in a wrecked brain. / the last dry thrust of a fish”.

In this world, although things are not as wild as Wolf’s forest, the presence of Wolf still lives on. In The Dream, Morton and her dog walk through a landscape filled with “steel-wool bushes, the bones of manuka”. Morton manages to turn even the everyday into something strange and almost menacing. In Sirius, Morton finds the presence of the canine and the wild again in the deep sky: “I found the Dog Star / winking white and black”.

Another poem I really loved in Wolf is Poem in which i am a zombie. It’s written in the same vein as others in this collection—menacing and melancholic— and the imagery is still absolutely beautiful. It feels like Morton has dropped me in an alluring world, but she has also pressed pause. With the remote in her hand, Morton is free to show us around while trapping us in a strange state of being in between. Morton describes “powerlines heavy with starlings”, how she walks “in dactylic hexameter”. Then the loneliness creeps in: “i remember my name. / it leaves a bad taste.” This loneliness reaches its height in the final poignant lines of the poem: “now and then / i turn on all the lights / and pretend somebody’s home”.

Wolf is an absolutely breathtaking collection of poetry that Morton has crafted together with perfection. There is a little bit of Wolf in her and in all of us: the jagged parts of the heart, the strangeness of the night, and ultimately, the sadness. And Morton touches on this all in a heartbreaking but alluring way that kept me enraptured all the way through.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Wolf
by Elizabeth Morton
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994137821

DWRF 2017: Word Balm, with Glenn Colquhoun, David Galler and Sue Wootton

Available in bookshops nationwide.
pp_glenn_colquhounDWRFIt was a mild autumnal night as a nearly sold-out crowd of 100 or so ventured out to listen to three expert witnesses talk about ‘what literature can do for Medicine’. Glenn Colquhoun (right), David Galler and Sue Wootton all have experience in the worlds of medicine and words, and they were a thoughtful expert panel in consideration of this topic.

The three authors read from their work, with Colquhoun and Wootton sharing exquisite poetry that bridges what seems to be the divide between medicine and the arts, perhaps specifically the art of being human.  The final line of Colquhoun’s shared poem, written for a teenage client of his medical clinic, expressed with tenderness the remodeling or deconstruction that is perhaps needed when we think about illness and ill-health: ‘learn to love the broken bits’.

pp_sue_woottonSue Wootton’s poem ‘Wild’ was a reminder of what is at the heart of our human being: Measure my wild. /Down to my last leaf,/my furled, my desiccated. This deciduousness,/this bloom …’ The sharing of this poem followed a discussion of the clinical nature (sometimes thankfully, sometimes awfully) of medicine and the medical tests and interventions that come from living in a bio-technological era.

pp_david-galler_3_origA lot of the discussion was centred around how to gain/regain human connection in the medical world.  At one stage this dialogue considered the role of touch in the professions, and how touch can be more than just the corporeal laying on of hands, although that, too, was discussed as sometimes fitting. Galler (left) shared his experience of having a serious accident, and the recognition from the staff upon being admitted to hospital. They wanted to talk; he needed the morphine.  To Galler, the sharing of this anecdote expressed the subtle and artistic evaluations medical practitioners need to make in the moments, and how crucial and important these are to a patient’s sense of humanity. The ‘touch’ here could be in assessing with compassion what is most needed in the moment.

Glenn Colquhoun’s metaphor further exploring this, in which he compared his role as doctor with that of a surfer catching waves, was perfect; if you wait too long or take off too soon, you miss the wave.  This, he said, is like the art of listening that occurs in the relationship with a patient; you need to feel out when it is time to talk and time to listen; when it’s time to move forward and to move back.  Here, the ‘touch’ is in the words, or their absence.

I left the discussion wishing, as Colquhoun also mentioned, that the medical world was not so separate from the human, everyday one we exist in. If, as he says, the ‘white walls and white sheets’ could be or become more integrated with our lived experience, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a scary and sometimes isolating place to inhabit, as we all inevitably do, either as patient or family member.

Event attended and reviewed by Lara Liesbeth on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Word Balm – An event at Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival 2017
Featuring Glenn Colquhoun, Sue Wootton and David Gellar 

Programme for the DWRF, running from 9 – 14 May

Lonesome When You Go: A Q & A with Saradha Koirala

cv_lonesome_when_you_goLonesome When You Go is Saradha Koirala’s first YA book, after having released two collections of poetry. We are happy to be able to participate in the Lonesome When You Go blog tour this week, following Kids’ Books NZMs Blair recommends, and Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano.

From our review by 14-year-old Isabelle Ralston: “Lonesome When You Go follows the story of a teenage girl named Paige as she faces all sorts of challenges with her bandmates, friends and family. Over the course of the novel Paige discovers that she can’t always control everything in her life. This novel is filled with lots of fun, quirky unique characters, who help Paige discover that she’s never alone even when it seems like no one is there.”

We asked Saradha a few questions about the basis for the book, what comes next, and what her favourite YA titles are at the moment.

pp_saradha_koirala1. When did you begin writing Lonesome When You Go – was there a particular trigger?
I started writing Lonesome ages ago! It was around the end of 2011 when I’d been teaching at a girls’ school for a few years and had ideas about what was perhaps lacking in the library for some of my students. I wanted to have a cool female lead with a strong voice – actually I probably wanted her to be cool and nerdy at the same time, but I’m not quite sure that’s how Paige turned out! I was lucky in 2012 to receive some funding to write my second book of poetry, Tear Water Tea, and used some of that bought time to also make progress on Lonesome When You Go.

2. Was it a book that came quickly? Can you describe some of the challenges writing the book, perhaps around disguising characters who were somewhat real?
None of the characters started off as real people (although they feel very real to me now!) and I realise this I could have explained this to my high school friends and ex-band mates up front, to alleviate their anxieties about me writing this book!

The main challenges for me were around creating a coherent plot. I’m primarily a poet, so I really got stuck into writing “scenes” – little snapshots of imagery and emotion – and struggled to tie these together into a story. I got some help from an awesome writing group, but the structure and story arc did not come easily at all.

Another challenge was time. I started teaching full time again about halfway through 2012, but dedicated my summer to working on Lonesome. It really was quite a long process of writing – mostly for a few hours on Monday evenings once school went back – and I put the whole manuscript away for about sixth months before I dared look at it again and then crafted it into something I felt okay about sending to a publisher.

3. You also experienced having a band in Rockquest as a teen: what was that like? Did you make it to finals? Are the winners still around now? (did you go to their concerts and boo?)
It was completely amazing to be part of Rockquest ’96! 1996 remains one of may favourite ever years for my own memories, but also what an incredible time for rock music! (I go on this rant often.)

Our band formed just for that year and we had some really fun and messy times rehearsing. My brother was the lead guitarist, his best friend on vocals and my boyfriend of the time was the drummer! As you can imagine it was fraught with love, arguments and shifting allegiances. We made it to the regional finals in Nelson and I vividly remember our performance in front of a mind-blowingly huge crowd (although some of that memory is now mixed with Paige’s fictional experience!) but remember little else from the night. I have no idea who won, but they’re probably incredibly wealthy and famous now.

4. What are you in the midst of now? How do you balance writing poetry with writing YA?
Last year I completed a third poetry collection and another YA novel. With time and space this one came much more easily to me. Now I’m busy trying to get some of the poems out into the world and am working on a third YA novel (1996 features heavily) that is somewhat more challenging to write than the first two. It’s a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I’m really enjoying trying out different styles and structures.

I still find writing poetry comes a bit more naturally to me and I have to really make a concerted effort to focus on writing fiction. Not that it’s a chore – I completely love it and I feel incredibly lucky to have time to dedicate to writing at the moment – but it takes plotting and planning and there are more rules and expectations when writing fiction, I find.

5. What are your favourite current YA books set in high schools?
People keep asking me variations on this question and I find my answers keep changing! Probably because there are so many favourites and so many great YA books to choose from, so I’ll just take it as an opportunity to mention some more awesome YA books!

In terms of books set in high schools, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky rates very highly for me. I also think John Green and David Levithan capture the high school vibe really well – Paper Towns in particular has some nice quirky schooly moments. I grew up with a rather Americanised version of high school life from movies and books, which really wasn’t anything like my experience at all. When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah feels like a very real and authentic high school story (especially for me now living in Australia) and Abdel-Fattah always does a great job of exploring issues that should definitely be being discussed among young people in the classrooms and corridors of high school.

Thank you Saradha: tomorrow sees My Best Friends are Books take on the tour, courtesy of Zac McCallum.

Lonesome When  You Go
by Saradha Koirala
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN  9780994123749

Book Review: Aboriginal to Nowhere, by Brentley Frazer

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aboriginal_to_nowhere.jpgAboriginal to Nowhere is a love-letter to a world that ultimately rejects its people. It is a celebration of grunge, and a roll call of those things that are lame, cast-off, defunct and unlovable. It is about people divorced from the places they inhabit, and people who are disorientated in their own homes. Like those Talking Heads lyrics, ‘And you may tell yourself / this is not my beautiful house’, its people are bewildered. It also speaks to the profound loneliness ‘of the post-modern dispossessed’, the sort of grubby solitude that finds itself in a throng queuing for the Portaloos.

Frazer’s poems find beauty in the brokenness of things. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing fractured pottery with gold, Frazer conjures rich images from the ‘buckets of colonial rubbish’. While much of his poetry is sprawling and untethered, there are hushed moments:

‘The sky bruised over
slate roofs, the wind
moaning through louvres
leaves brown as coffee
rings.’

Most of his verse has a sort of musical harangue feel to it. The first poetic set, Aboriginal to Nowhere – Song Cycle of the Post Modern Dispossessed, pairs the technological and the ecological, through anxious reflections about man-made worlds and the alienation they can create. Frazer’s characters are watched by CCTVs and crows. They chart a course through a shifting Australia, one where ‘The indigenous goddess exits / stage left’ and people ‘bulldoze dream time for a freeway’. It is a rousing, rambling, and often irreverent, address to the nation. ‘Are you my mother, Australia?’ his speaker asks. The Australia that we find in the poems is more insouciant parent than maternal presence. And yet there are images, beyond the ‘broken hopes’, ‘generational displacement’ and ‘collapsed footpaths’, a sort of nostalgia for an Australia that may never have existed.

Aboriginal to Nowhere explores existential themes. Freewill and determinism wrangle in the cityscape. ‘Man, I didn’t get a choice where my consciousness / landed’. Cultural appropriation is prised open, xenophobia explored. There are questions of meaning in a world where the ‘Eternal Being’ is ‘an angry cynic’. ‘I don’t know what I am doing here’, the speaker exclaims. People depersonalise, aliens in their own skin. ‘Most days I feel like an actor ‘. And in a nod to Plato:

‘You are a piece of nothing,
shadows on the factory wall’

Frazer invites life’s dissonances to the table. Sometimes ‘the music and the lyrics / don’t match the visuals’. He entertains a ‘happy drowning feeling’. In all of this he steps lightly, capering around concepts, toying with the reader’s ability to hold two contrary ideas in mind.

Mostly, though, Aboriginal to Nowhere is about people – all sorts of folk. We meet hipsters and junkies, the mentally ill, beer guzzlers, strippers, rednecks, millennials, academics, immigrants, city slickers and farmers. Frazer’s is a world populated and full of noise, but ultimately nobody’s.

This is a thoughtful and fierce collection. Frazer is a visionary at a time when humanity risks losing touch with its core animality, and the real-world places in which it finds itself.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Aboriginal to Nowhere
by Brentley Frazer
Published by HeadworX
ISBN 9780473365677

Book Review: Lucky Punch, by Simone Kaho

Available now in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_lucky_punchFollowers of Simone Kaho’s poetry and spoken word performances on various stages will be delighted and surprised by her debut collection. As a performer, she is vivacious and alluring. Her captivating readings lure you in, captivating you with her tales of extended family foibles, childhood fascinations and modern city romance and heartbreak. At times Simone’s work has a dark undercurrent in the form of vignettes capturing various acts of violence and casual misogyny. Lucky Punch is in fact a string of inter-related vignettes, verging on prose poetry, with some more formal poems interspersed. Each one is short and succinct, requiring the reader to pause before moving to the next one. Set mainly in Waterview, Auckland in the 1980s, it is as much a coming-of-age story, as it is a poetic reflection of a domestic and urban life, through the eyes of a curious child.

The illustrations that grace the monochrome cover are courtesy of a young relative of Simone’s. They depict a child bobbing above the waves; the title submerged and a wide-eyed character navigating this subterranean world in big heels. On the back, we have a man and possibly a woman in freefall. The childish drawings are fitting for the experiences described within the covers, where hidden dangers lurk in the background of fantastical and mundane childhood experiences. The politics of growing up with Tongan culture is touched upon lightly in several poems, such as, Standards, where vegetarian Simone examines the cultural ideas and hypocrisy around meat eating.

…I gave up meat eating at sixteen.
They thought I was crazy in Tonga.

Or there’s, the poem, Here, that touches on the racial attitudes that are present toward the Tongan culture in New Zealand:

An Air New Zealand training manual gets leaked.
It says Tongans are softly spoken but drink the bar dry.
Maybe it’s Tongan thing, like gold teeth.

Some of the poems are peppered with cultural references: Tongan time, the umu, and catching crayfish.

Simone’s fascination with the rhythms and quirks of nature is evident in the collection; something that may surprise fans of her stage work, which has a more urban and edgy mood. Firmly rooted in place, many of the images will be familiar to Aucklanders, such as hanging out at the local creek, running from bulls, pillaging blackberry bushes and taking trips to the local dairy for cheap bags of lollies. We all know the delight of finding a bird’s nest and pulling a disgusted face on discovering a weta for the first time. It’s relatable in a way that brings a smile to the face of the reader.

Expressed at times as a stream of consciousness, we look through the child’s eyes as events unfold and circumstances shift into uneasy young adulthood and all its rude awakenings. Simone holds our hand for the journey and we are right there with her, swinging from branches and experiencing our first kiss, our first sip of peach schnapps and our first gasp of recognition that the reality of growing up can hit you like a badly-thrown punch. When we walk away relatively unscathed, we feel lucky; we might even laugh about it later, or in Simone’s case, metabolise the experience into a poem.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Lucky Punch
by Simone Kaho
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473367510

Book Review: Snark, by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_snarkThe creativity of authors and illustrators has always been a marvel to me, but Snark is a masterpiece that outdoes them all. How does a writer come up with such an amazing idea – to complete the backstory of Lewis Carroll’s best known Jabberwock and Hunting of the Snark poems?

David Elliott is based in Port Chalmers and has written and illustrated many award-winning books. He has also illustrated for others including Joy Cowley, Brian Jacques, Margaret Mahy and Australian John Flanaghan. This experience is evident in Snark which shows both his artistic, creative and linguistic skills.

David Elliot took as his starting point those mysterious poems which use ideas and language in ways new and exciting to the original readers, but still enticing to us today. I grew up reciting, “Twas brillig and the slithy toves..” Here we have the story of the individuals who set out to hunt the Snark. David Elliot has given a wonderful portrait in paint and in words of each of the participants in this ill-fated journey. He takes the information from Carroll’s work and builds it into a fuller portrait. The art work in this book is a joy on every page. By using pencil and wash with a limited palette, he creates images of energy and excitement. The expression on faces, the details of plants and maps, the towering cliffs and the valiant ship are all drawn superbly.

Within the story we are also given the two poems around which the story is based. This allows us to remember the details so important to understanding the tale. The Boots reveals the true story for the first time. What actually happened in the tulgey Wood, who got into trouble with the Jabberwock and what was the Snark? All these will be revealed when you delve between the pages.

Not only do we have the original poems beautifully illustrated anew, the tale of the actual voyage and its conclusion, we also get wonderful explanatory notes at the end. Here we are given the detail that those of a more scientific bent will be seeking. There are actual photos and diagrams, original items and historical facts to support the story. This lends a more serious gravitas to the book which some may be misguided enough to describe as fanciful.

I loved it. It is such a surprise to discover I was not the only reader who was dissatisfied with the abrupt ending to Carroll’s original poems. I am so grateful that the very creative and determined Mr Elliott has provided me with this beautiful book. I will not be sharing it with anyone else over the holiday season. Everyone ought to buy their own copy.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Snark
by David Elliot after Lewis Carroll
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578946