The Oldest Girl in the World; The Emperor's Watchmaker; Points of View with Professor Peekaboo
Digital version – browse, print or download
Receive the latest news & reviews direct to your inbox!
Points of View with Professor Peekaboo
Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
It is very good news that Carol Ann Duffy is writing poems for children. But after Meeting Midnight, which was a cracking book, and a challenge, this new collection, perhaps following rather hard on the other's heels, is a bit of a let-down. It has some fine poems - 'A Crow and a Scarecrow', 'The Bridge of Toys', 'Halo', 'Vows', 'Fishcakes', 'The who?', 'How Emily Mercer (96) Grew Young', and others.
The strength of these poems - as of the earlier book - is in the drive of the narrative, the edgy syntax, the taut wit in the word-play and the rhyme. But too many others are working at a lower pressure, particularly where an idea or phrase is worked through a sequence of verses: as when 'a friend gave me' six things in the six verses. It makes for an 'easier' manner. Is that what's wanted? The rather more challenging and consistently better poet of Meeting Midnight was also recognisably the adult poet of The World's Wife. That was very exciting, and important. Just as it is important that Duffy keeps writing flat-out for children.
It is good news when Bloomsbury - or anyone - publishes someone's first collection of childrens' poetry. In Lemn Sissay's The Emperor's Watchmaker there are some real poems - such as 'The Emperor's Butterfly Maker', 'When I'm Older', and 'I'm Sorry I'm Sorry I'm Sorry'. And there are fine moments:
Every mother wants a baby / Like you / Every hiccup a comedy / Every fall a catastrophe.
But there are also a great number of words flying around not doing much, in poems where cats curl cautiously in a corner, and where a chip is a salted sire of this sight of style. I wince a bit being invited to feel welcome in The wonderful world of wordy / Wicked wild worldly winding / wishful whizzing whacky words! It is a pity, because this is a first collection and because there are poems, shorter poems, to be found and written up from what is hidden here, somewhere under the super-charged entertainer stance. My guide would be the genuine, quietly felt 'I'm Sorry I'm Sorry I'm Sorry' - which reveals a voice not elsewhere.
Being a professor, Peek-aboo, in John Agard's Points of View with Professor Peekaboo, has thoughtful adult preoccupations about the environment, genes, the natural world, and so on:
Green issues / are not to be treated lightly. / And quite rightly. / Or so Professor Peekaboo concluded / as he ponders forests denuded / and fish in rivers oil-slick-doomed / and air all laden with fumes. / So from his bed, he made a leap / and sat upon his compost heap.
I am clear about the message but a bit lost with the rhyme and rhythm aspect. I try to get children to write things like fatty chips in preference to chips fatty (even though they've a rhyme planned on scatty), and carpets starred with cat-sick in preference to carpets cat-sick-starred. And I hope they rhyme zoomed with groomed or even rheumed - at least when it sounds like full-rhyme time in the rest of the poem. Is that pedantry? (And shouldn't it be pondered? Also, would it be rude or thick to ask why the professor makes this particular leap of imagination?) In sum, is there a poem here?
Questions like this crop up for me throughout the book, though not on every page, not in a nice pair of bathroom poems, or the fine poem about trees:
They stand to attention / for the wind's inspection / They take orders from the sun / and also obey the rain / They salute the skyline / and restle their green bayonets
Does the poem need Peekaboo? Does the book as a whole? Do writers need so firmly theming?