For more than a decade now, this blog has burst into rhyme every November and occasionally at other times. I’ve just published the fourth hard copy collection of these rhymes: Take Five.
I’ve given copies as New Year gifts to a number of people. If you think you should have received one, there may be one earmarked for you but still sitting on my desk because of my CPS (chronic procrastination syndrome). Email or text me and I’ll rectify the omission. Likewise if you think you should have received one or more of the previous four books
If you don’t feel entitled to ask, you can buy a copy, cheap, from lulu.com. It may also be available from Amazon at a slightly higher price. The previous four books are for sale there, here, here, here and here. There’s information about all five books on my Publications page.
I’m not the intended audience for either of these books, but they’re both written, or co-written, by writers whose work I love. One of the writers is my niece. Each of the books is related to its author’s other job: Edwina is a yoga teacher when she’s not writing, and Jennifer Maiden has been employed as Writer in Residence at STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors).
Edwina’s book has a further subtitle on the title page: ‘Practical tools, creative activities and yoga exercises to help you cope with the loss of someone you love’. It announces itself as a self-help book. OK, I’m deeply suspicious of self-help books so, as blood’s not thicker than prejudice, I approached A Guide through Grief with my defences up.
It turns out that, yes, there are plenty of practical tools etcetera. At the end of each chapter there are several suggested activities: journalling and other writing tasks, affirmations à la Louise Hay, rituals with a New Age feel, the promised yoga exercises, and some recipes. Some or all of these may hit just the right note for some readers, and I’ve got nothing against a good recipe for chicken soup, but if that’s all there was to the book my heart would have hardened against it. (Luckily, an introductory ‘How to use this book’ explicitly invites readers to turn up their noses at some exercises, depending on taste.)
But the book is also a memoir. Edwina’s reflections on grief and loss, the need to weep and to stay connected, the importance of facing the reality rather than taking refuge in work or destructive activity of one kind or another, the passage of time – all these are entwined with accounts of personal experience. The book is rooted in her own bereavements: her father died of cancer when she was 14, her younger brother killed himself not long after, her grandmother died a peaceful death in old age, and then, devastatingly, decades later, a baby son died soon after birth. The self-help advice and suggestions have been tested in the laboratory of the writer’s own life, and she shows at least some of her workings.
I had tears in my eyes in many places. Partly this is because three of its four main deaths affected me deeply at the time. (I was ridiculously pleased to read in the paragraph about the impersonal remoteness of her brother’s funeral on page 110: ‘Only my uncle’s speech reflected the true essence of Matty’s personality.’ At least I’d been part of bucking the trend.) It’s also because Edwina can write. I happen to have read this book as I’m making my way, three pages a day, through Proust’s account of bereavement in the sixth volume of À la recherche du temps perdu. I’m not suggesting that Edwina Shaw and Marcel Proust are in any way similar writers, but Proust’s description of humans as ‘amphibious creatures who are immersed simultaneously in the past and in present-time reality’, which I read this morning, resonates through Edwina’s accounts of the role of memory in grieving.
The book does an elegant two-step: it evokes one person’s experience of loss and her grieving work, and gives practical suggestions on how the reader can do their own work. I skipped the yoga and I skim-read the affirmations; you might ignore the writing exercises – which I might actually try. I doubt if I’ll ever practise a ‘visualisation’ in which I sit naked on the lap of a mother goddess, but I’ll remember Edwina’s wise aunt who said that ‘for every death there is one hundred hours’ worth of crying’. I love her argument for wrenching funerals from the control of religious institutions and for-profit enterprises. Edwina says in her introduction that this is the book she wishes someone had given her when she was 14. I hope I’d have the moral fibre to give it to someone in that situation: it could save lives.
Workbook Questions is what it says on the lid: 47 pages of carefully-devised questions intended as prompts in writing exercises for ‘Torture and Related Trauma Survivors and for Survivors of Camps and Incarceration’. So the main intended audience is limited – though an opening section of ‘General Questions’ is designed to make the book useful to anyone addressing trauma of any sort, not just torture and incarceration, which is a much broader readership/user base. It turns out that the list of questions is preceded by a 30-page ‘Conversation’ between the authors: Margaret Bennett, former Executive Director of STARTTS with a background in group therapy and counselling, and Jennifer Maiden, poet.
A more conventional presentation might have spelled out a carefully referenced rationale for the questions, probably with each question numbered for easy cross-reference: ‘The reasons for starting out with neutral questions about parents are as follows,’ etcetera.
Although such explanations are covered in the ‘conversation’, it is much more interesting and readable than that. Two women who have worked with each other and know each other well discuss the circumstances that led to this set of questions, the insights they bring from their different experiences and expertise, what they found worked in the groups, the value of writing as opposed to speaking as a way of integrating traumatic experiences, and autobiographical anecdotes.
Maiden and Bennett take turns in speaking/writing, and each turn is printed as a single paragraph. As these paragraphs can run for several pages and cover a range of topics, the reader has to do work that would be done by an editor in a more conventionally presented work, but the work pays off. I imagine that this conversation will be very useful, not only to people working with survivors of torture, trauma and incarceration, but also to to scholars interested in Jennifer Maiden’s poetry, in which these themes appear frequently.
A Guide through Grief and Workbook Questions are the 20th and 21st books I’ve read for the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
As regular readers know, every now and then this blog bursts into rhyme. This has been happening in November for nine years now, and occasionally at other times. I’ve just published through Lulu.com the fourth hard copy collection of these rhymes: Four, Good Measure.
I gave copies to a number of people as glorified Christmas or end-of-year cards, I still have some left. If you think you should have received one, email or text me and I’ll rectify the omission.
Otherwise, you can buy one, cheap, from lulu.com. It’s not listed at Amazon yet, but the previous three books are for sale there, here, here and here. There’s information about all four books on my Publications page.
You know how US presidents retain the title of president until it’s prised from their cold stiff hands? Well, it’s not like that for magazine editors, but some of the perks of office do survive long after one loses the right to use the editorial ‘we’. One of these perks is free books. Mind you, in my days of wielding editorial power any free books were for the magazine, not for me personally, so maybe this is a perk of the afterlife. Both these little books arrived in my mail from poets who graced the pages of The School Magazine in my day.
By no means all the poems in Big Blue Mouth were previously published in the magazine, but the collection benefits from monochrome versions of the illustrations that accompanied some of them there – by Kerry Millard, Andrew Joyner, Noela Young and Tohby Riddle on the cover (every one of those links leads to delightful things) [Correction: The cover is not by Tohby but was put together by John Malone and the printer]. They’re mostly short poems from a young boy’s point of view, many featuring a grandfather who must surely resemble the poet himself. If you’ve found this page by googling John’s name, hoping to find a collection of his poems for yourself or a young fan, or if you’re a regular here and ditto, you can buy a copy direct from him – his email address is johnlmalone at yahoo dot com dot au (notice that his second initial is in that address). Stocks, I’m told, are limited.
As far as I know, none of the poems in Stephen Whiteside’s book have been previously published, though he has recited them at folk festivals and to other audiences – as you read them you feel a building pressure to give them voice: they’re meant for performance. This is bush verse, not specifically for children, but I imagine that anyone of whatever age who enjoys the ballads of Banjo Paterson will enjoy them. In ‘Clancy of the Undertow’, Clancy is a surfie; the eponymous Son of Mulga Bill has trouble riding a horse, and is at ease on a bicycle; the likewise eponymous Man from Ironbark wreaks revenge in kind on the dapper barber. ‘The True Story of the Man from Snowy River’ isn’t really a parody – it’s a piece of serious revisionism, but it scans as impeccably as the rest. You can buy this book from the BookPOD bookstore. You can find out how to get hold of a copy at http://www.abpa.org.au/bush_poetry_forum/viewtopic.php?t=591.
I do have one complaint about both books. It’s that the economics of publishing are such that the only way for them to see the light of day was through self-publication: single-author Australian collections of children’s poetry are rare as hen’s teeth. Because they are self-published, these boooks are unlikely to reach a four-figure audience. And that’s a shame.
Suddenly Milo Parker / Gerry's voice has taken on a deeper timbre. This is strangely unnerving, and there's a corresponding darkening of the tone, as we are given faint hints that there's a war on and that the Greek government isn't necessarily benign. But the tag line on the poster – 'Nostalgic fun n the sun' still holds good. […]
Ostensibly about dementia, this doesn't go anywhere near portraying the terrible loss of dignity that happens even in the early stages, though it gestures towards them. It's a beautiful portrait of a tender, loving relationship between two ageing men facing a major crisis. I'm glad I saw it on the big screen because there are wonderful images […]