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Do you need something to be really proud of, South Africa?


There’s this thing you need to know about if you have any clear and strong feelings about getting books into children’s hands. ALL children – not just the lucky few whose parents read to them.

It’s called PRAESA, the slightly awkward acronym for the very awkwardly named Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa. For years, they’ve been quietly getting on with what I consider to be some of the most important research and real, life-changing work that exists in this country. But, probably because it doesn’t involve health or crime, it’s not an organisation the lay person knows about much.

PRAESA promotes children’s literacy in all official languages across South Africa, and they’ve been doing it for more than two decades. Last week, in Sweden, this wonderful non-profit organisation was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA). This is the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature and reading promotion.


Pippi Longstocking

There were 197 nominations from 61 countries for this award, so this is not a small deal by any stretch of the imagination. Previous winners include Maurice Sendak (a hero for some of us), and Philip Pullman (also a hero for some of us). Plus the award is named for Astrid Lindgren – who made Pippi Longstocking! Pippi was my hero long before I knew the name Astrid Lindgren or knew what heroes were.

PRAESA director Carole Bloch said the award would make a huge difference to the reading work PRAESA does.

“Having this award come to the African continent gives great acknowledgement to the importance of growing a love of reading with all children, irrespective of their language and background.”

And here’s what Bloch had to say about Lindgren:

“Astrid Lindgren was a human rights activist, feminist and author of the famous Pippi Longstocking series of children’s books which have been translated into 64 languages. She was passionate about treating children with dignity and respect and her spirit resonates with the work that my colleagues past and present in PRAESA are committed to. This incredible award encourages us to continue, ” concludes Bloch.

Dignity and respect for children. I wish every human being on earth would cultivate a bit of that.

I am beyond delighted for PRAESA. Here’s a little about them:

PRAESA is an independent research and development unit established in 1992 at the University of Cape Town by the late Dr Neville Alexander. A leading advocate for multilingual education in South Africa, Alexander spent ten years on Robben Island for his political activism. Under his directorship the PRAESA team advocated for the use of African languages and the growth of a reading culture across Africa, working on language planning and policy implementation and conducting research into multilingual classrooms. PRAESA’s current Director, Carole Bloch, has initiated and led many of its projects to enrich children’s early literacy learning experiences and the publication of storybooks and other reading materials in several languages for use in multilingual settings.

Most recently, PRAESA began the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment campaign, which aims to spark all children’s potential through storytelling and reading. Launched in 2012, Nal’ibali works with partners to put in place the conditions that support the initial and ongoing literacy learning of all children. It combines a mass-media advocacy campaign highlighting the critical link between children’s love of reading and educational success, with a grassroots programme of training workshops and reading clubs.

To date, there are over 300 clubs in a growing network across the country. In addition, the campaign produces a fortnightly reading-for-enjoyment supplement with partner, Times Media. The supplement is the only bilingual resource of its kind in the country and provides children and their caregivers with regular stories and literacy tips and activities in six South African languages. Further, 30 000 copies of the supplement are delivered for free to Nal’ibali reading clubs, as well as schools, libraries and early childhood development centres every second week. The campaign also broadcasts children’s stories three times a week in all 11 official languages on public radio stations. – Karin Schimke







Oh, but your information really is so beautiful!


infoisbeautifulInformation Is Beautiful

David McCandless


“Do you have something I can press on?”

I was in a meeting, but we got shifted out of the boardroom and I had to make notes on my printout on my lap. A colleague passed me Information Is Beautiful.

I have wanted this book for many years and I’ve just not bought it. I spent the rest of the meeting trying surreptiously to page through it. At the end I just gave up and asked whether I could borrow the book until our next meeting.

So I spent a happy afternoon over Easter weekend paging through this book and exclaiming some random bits of information to whoever walked into the room. But you can’t. You simply cannot randomly quote from this extraordinary book. This is a book you have to see and spend time with.

McCandless, in an effort to better see and understand the information he felt swamped by, decided to filter what he was finding on the net through a visual net – or several different kinds of visual nets. The result is a colourful and fascinating book that presents a miscellany of ideas and facts as charts and graphs and pictograms.

Some of these are quite incomprehensible to me – either because of the complexity of the visual presentation, or because the information was of no interest to me. McCandless made pictures form the things that interest him – “subjects that sprang from my own curiosity and ignorance – the questions I wanted answering”. And since none of us wonders about the same things, a 100% overlap in interest is unlikely.

But that in no way detracts. Every page is quite beautiful, made so made so by a particular kind of mind, that sees and processes in a specific way.

One segmented polar grid (I know it’s called that, because there’s a page with a graphic presentation of Types Of Information Visualization), I was particularly drawn to was “Being Defensive”.

Defence mechanism from the outside in.

Defence mechanism from the outside in.

Salad Dressings

Salad Dressings

Being often completely puzzled by my own or other people’s behaviours, I have on numerous read about psychological defence mechanisms to make slightly better sense of things. McCandless puts them all together in a very interesting way that gave me a new – and fuller – perspective on the matter.

Some of the information is utterly completely useless to me (useless, but never dull). Other information is so useful, you want to tear out the page and stick on the fridge or the notice board. Like this one, which gives you a breakdown of how to construct salad dressings.

I’ll have to return the book next week, but I’m so glad I’ve had a short sojourn into the McCandless mind. There’s lots more on his website – and some of the graphics are interactive. Go and check out Novels Everyone Should Read and Non-fiction Books Everyone Should Read.

REVIEW: Fields of Blood

Fields of Blood

fields of bloodFields of Blood  

Karen Armstrong 


REVIEW: Sue Townsend

“Political differences can be resolved. Religious ones cannot.” So said a commentator on the most recent outbreak of fighting in the Middle East.

Fields of Blood can be thought of as a determined, carefully argued rebuttal of the sentiment expressed in that comment. Armstrong says, on the first page of this book: “In the West, the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident.”

Armstrong, once a Catholic nun, now a commentator on religious affairs, begins her argument in prehistory. Starting with cave paintings, she writes that through most of human history, people have chosen to integrate religion (of some kind) with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed, “because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance,” she says.

Within the major religions that we consider today – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the more Eastern Buddhism and Hinduism – she considers the tension between violence and aggression on the one hand, and pacifism and justice on the other. Contrasting medieval crusaders and modern day jihadists with the pacifist teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, she insists that the violence almost always begins with the state and spills over to religion, rather than the other way around. This, she says, is because any government, whether democratic or tyrannical, peace-loving or expansionist, “was obliged to maintain at its heart an institution committed to treachery and violence,” and because violence and coercionlay at the heart of social existence.

“As an inspiration for terrorism,” she writes, “nationalism has been far more productive than religion.”

Armstrong then goes on to discuss examples of violence involving each of the major faiths, from the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century to the Islamist (and other) extremists of the 21st, including ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. In most of these cases, she argues, violence that originated elsewhere (with nationalism, territorial skirmishes, resentment at loss of power) could be perceived as “religious” but really had little to do with faith or religion.

Referring to colonisation she writes: “Once colonized, a people often depends heavily on their religious practices, over which they still have some control and which recall a time when they had the dignity of freedom.” This is extrapolated to an attempt to explain connections between the heated American faith-versus-science disputes on evolution, same-sex rights and climate change, to world events a century ago.

Armstrong is at pains to show that in modern times Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all atheists, and that the power behind the Holocaust was ethnic rather than religious hatred. An overemphasis on religion’s damage can blind people to the ‘unholy’ terrors that their states inflict.

This is a dense, serious read that should make us think more deeply about our preconceived ideas.



REVIEW: Some Luck

some luck feature pic

some-luckSome Luck                            

Jane Smiley                           

Mantle (Pan Macmillan)

On reading the blurbs and beginning to read the book itself, the initial impression was that I was paging through The Saturday Evening Post while episodes of The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie were showing on the television. Not for long however.

Prolific American writer Jane Smiley has given us the first book of a planned trilogy telling the story of the Langdon family over a span of a hundred years. Beginning in 1920, she gently but relentlessly introduces us to the Langdons – Walter, pater familias, of Scottish and Irish descent; Rosanna, the blonde blue-eyed daughter of German Catholics and their five very different children: Frank, the brilliant, stubborn first-born; Joe, whose love of animals makes him the natural heir to his family’s land; the beautiful Lillian who enters a seemingly fairy-tale marriage with a man (a spy?) only she will fully know; Henry, the bookworm who simply does his own thing and Claire, the laatlammetjie.

Moving from post-World War I America through to the early 1950s, each chapter covers one year – a useful device – Some Luck gives us an intimate look at this family’s triumphs and tragedies, focusing on the realities of farm life.  While using all the family members as narrators, the storyline is essentially devoted to Frank as he grows up, leaves the farm to study, goes away to fight in the second world war (in France, Italy and Germany); but Some Luck is not simply an observation of family life on an Iowa farm and the pressures it is naturally susceptible to; it is also a subtle analysis of the idea of family, and of the truths its surface impressions will mask.

Smiley uses the dramatic changes that occur during the first half of the twentieth century to highlight changes in the family dynamics.The extent to which each of these vast events is dwelt upon depends largely on the narrative’s shifting focus: so we find ourselves brought up close to war-time battlewith Frank, who, having spent his childhood on the farm shooting rabbits and foxes to sell the skins for pocket money, becomes a sniper in the allied army. This is one of the novel’s cleverest ploys: its rhythmic unfolding lulls us into the sense that, somehow, we can tell what is going to happen. We can’t; we think we’re in for another tranche of unpredictable corn prices and then suddenly someone’s married a spy.

But, already, stories have gone untold – there are things we never really know much about at all. Family episodes are alluded to and then left hanging, sometimes to be picked up again and sometimes not. So the narrative rolls on encompassing dramatic childbirths,tentative romances, long lives and unexpected deaths, all the while set against the relentless development of increasingly powerful modernity. Written with much compassion and wisdom, Some Luck takes us through the cycles of births and deaths, passions, and betrayals, displaying Smiley’s deep understanding of human nature and the nature of history, but never forgetting the role of fate and chance.





Outgrow? Books? LOL!

"Twas brillig, and the slithy roves did gyre and gimble in the wabe"

Susan Samuel Van Rooyen is a journalist, a teacher and a mother of three children. She will be writing regularly for Not Now, Darling. I’m Reading.

How do you fit reading to your children into your busy life? 

I don’t really. It’s a struggle. We binge-read over holidays and weekends when I’m relaxed and I can sit still for a while and read to the children. But in the week during the term it’s difficult because there are extra-murals and homework and admin and chaos. My children are lucky to have two grandmothers who like reading to them and whom we see often. They take the pressure off me. That’s the wonderful thing about grandparents.

I try, though, to set an example by practising reading for myself as a necessity, not a luxury. My children often see me read – in the car while I wait for them, or next to the sport fields. They have to see that you don’t have to wait for holidays to read.

Why is reading to your children important to you?

It’s important for me that my children realise that if their lives are boring, they can still have fantastic experiences through reading. In a small town, with protective parents and a laid-back community, books will be their saving grace one day. It will relieve them of a boring, grey existence and will make them look forward to the life that awaits them in the future.

So they need to learn to be patient, to give books a fair chance and to experience the value and joy of books. This ability has to be learnt. It doesn’t come all on its own. To read to children is the only way you can show this world to them. It’s so much harder to discover an unknown place by yourself. You might miss the best corners and hidey-holes. As a reader and a citizen of this world, I feel it’s my duty to show my children a lot of the old favourite before I leave them so that they can discover more with self-confidence.

Does South Africa produce good enough books for children and young adults? 

I think so. I often see typical South African books on the shelves and it’s excellent quaility. I do think, though that little attention is paid to local English books, probably because the overseas English market is so productive and interesting. I’ve read a few wonderful English books for which I couldn’t discover a single review.

The market for Afrikaans books for children and teenagers has its very own unique personality and even though the market is small, it’s very active. There are a few local writers who dominate, which is a little disturbing sometimes, but that often happens in a small pool. There are lovely books being translated into Afrikaans and I appreciate the effort publishers go to in order to introduce international writers to Afrikaans chikdlren, especially writers of classics. I just wish they’d make the effort to choose good translators. I’ve recently come across a few truly awful mistakes in translations in children’s books.

When your children have outgrown books, how do you choose which to keep and which to pass on?

Outgrow? Books? LOL!

Which books from your childhood do you remember most vividly and why?

house by mouseI especially remember Bill Peet’s books. He was an illustrator who worked for Disney and many of his books were translated into Afrikaans in the early eighties. One of these books, Woempe, is about pollution and selfishness, and I recently discovered it in our local library and often take it out for my children. Two others, also translated into Afrikaans, that I remember are Mamma en Die Wilde Baba and Mirabella Muis who designed houses. I could look at the pictures for hours.

What do you think the marks of quality are in children’s literature? Do you actively seek out books that have these qualities or are you of the any-book-is-a-good-book-as-long-as-they-are-reading school of thought? 

Illustration is very important and not all illustration works equally well. To be able to draw well is not necessarily the same as drawing in an interesting way. A child is not necessarily engaged by ‘n pretty picture, but rather by an interesting picture. I buy books with good illustrations and where they story works well, but not all the books I buy my children are of equal quality. But I don’t just by any book. Some publishers are sloppy. Sometimes the drawings irritate me. So I stand at the shelves for a looooooooong time and look before I buy something.

Older children are influenced by trend reading and read what their friends are reading. In this instance a library – especially a school library – is invaluable, because I don’t necessarily want to go out and buy all 64 books in the Geronimo Stilton range.

I seldom throw books away and choose well what comes home with me.


Ontgroei? Boeke? LOL!


Susan Samuel Van Rooyen is ‘n joernalis en ‘n onderwyser. Sy’t drie kinders. Sy gaan gereeld vir Not Now, Darling. I’m Reading skryf oor kinderboeke en jeugliteratuur.

Hoe pas jy lees vir jou kinders in ‘n besige lewe?

I don’t really. Dit is ‘n stryd. Ons “binge-read” oor vakansies en naweke – wanneer ek ontspanne is en kan stilsit vir ‘n ruk en kan voorlees. Maar tydens die week in kwartaaltyd is dit moeilik, want dis buitemuurs en huiswerk en admin en chaos. Aangesien ek smiddae en saans by die kinders is, beteken ‘n ruskans vir my juis om sonder die kinders te wees! Om alleen te sit en lees, net stilte om my te hê. My kinders is gelukkig om twee oumas te hê wat graag vir hulle voorlees en wat ons gereeld sien. Hulle haal nogal die druk van my af. Dis die wonderlike ding van oumas en oupas. Ekself prober egter altyd ‘n voorbeeld stel deur lees as ‘n noodsaaklikheid vir myself te bedryf, en nie ‘n luukse nie. My kinders sien my gereeld lees – in die kar as ek vir hulle wag of langs die sportveld. Hulle moet sien dat ‘n mens nie hoef te wag tot vakansies om te lees nie.

Hoekom is lees vir jou kinders belangrik vir jou?

Dis vir my belangrik dat my kinders besef dat indien hul eie lewens vervelig is, hulle steeds fantastiese ervarings deur boeke kan hê. Op ‘n klein dorpie met beskermende ouers en ‘n rustige gemeenskap gaan lees en boeke eendag hul redding wees. Dit gaan hulle verlos van ‘n vervelige saai bestaan en dit gaan hulle hopelik laat uitsien na die lewe wat vir hulle voorlê.

Hulle moet dus leer om geduldig te wees, om boeke ‘n regverdige kans te gee en om die waarde en lekkerte van boeke te ervaar. Hierdie vermoë moet aangeleer word – dit kom nie vanself nie. Om vir kinders voor te lees is die enigste manier waarop jy hierdie wêreld vir hulle kan wys. Dis soveel moeiliker om ‘n onbekende plek op jou eie te ontdek. Jy mis dalk van die beste hoekies en gaatjies. As leser en inwoner van hierdie ‘lees’wêreld, voel ek dis my plig om my kinders ‘n klomp gunstelinge te ‘wys’ voordat ek hulle loslaat sodat hulle met selfvertroue verder kan ontdek.

Is die boeke wat in Suidafrika vir kinders en tieners gepubliseer word van ‘n goeie gehalte? 

Ek dink tog so. Ek sien gereeld tipies Suid-Afrikaanse boeke op die rak en dis van baie goeie kwaliteit. Ek dink daar word ongelukkig bittermin aandag aan die plaaslike Engelse boeke gegee, waarskynlik omdat die oorsese Engelse mark so geweldig produktief en interessant is. Ek het al wonderlike plaaslike Engelse boeke gelees waarvan ek nie ‘n enkele resensie kon opspoor nie.

Die mark vir Afrikaanse boeke vir kinders en tieners het ‘n eie persoonlikheid en hoewel die mark redelik klein is, is dit baie aktief. Daar is ‘n paar plaaslike skrywers wat oorheers wat soms nogal steurend is, maar dit gebeur maklik in ‘n klein poeletjie. Daar is lieflike boeke wat tans in Afrikaans vertaal word en ek waardeer die moeite wat uitgewers doen om oorsese skrywers ook in Afrikaans aan ons kinders bekend te stel, veral die klassieke boeke. Ek wens net hulle wil moeite doen om.goeie vertalers te kies. Dit mag dalk kinderboeke wees, maar ek het al gruwelike foute opgetel in onlangse vertalings.

Wanneer jou kinders boeke ontgroei het, hoe besluit jy watter boeke om te hou en watter om weg te gee?

Ontgroei? Boeke? LOL!

Watter boeke van jou kinderdae onthou jy die helderste?

house by mouseEk onthou veral Bill Peet se boeke. Hy was ‘n illustreerder wat destyds by Disney gewerk het en sy boeke is taamlik in Afrikaans vertaal in die vroeë 80’er jare. Een van hierdie boeke, die Woempe, wat gaan oor besoedeling en selfsug, het ek opgespoor in ons plaaslike biblioteek en ek neem dit gereeld vir my kinders uit. Ek kon egter niks anders van hom weer opspoor in Afrikaans nie. Die ander boek is Mamma en die wilde baba, wat ook ‘n vertaalde boek is. Daar is ook ‘n boek oor Mirabella Muis wat huise ontwerp. Ek kon ure na die prentjies kyk.

Wat is die kenmerke van goeie kinderliteratuur?

Die illustrasies is baie belangrik. En nie alle illustrasies werk ewe goed nie. Om mooi te teken beteken nie noodwendig dieselfde as om interessant te teken nie. ‘n Kind word nie noodwendig deur ‘n mooi prentjie geboei nie, maar eerder ‘n interessante prentjie. Ek neig om boeke te koop wat vir my mooi is en waar die stories vir my werk. Nie alle boeke wat ek koop werk ewe goed vir my kinders nie. So dit bly ‘n uitdaging. Ek koop egter nie sommer enige boek net omdat dit byvoorbeeld Afrikaans is nie. Sommige uitgewers is slordig. Soms irriteer die illustrasies my. So ek staan laaaaank daar by die kinderboekrakke en kyk boeke deur voordat ek sommer net koop.

Ouer kinders word weer deur “trend-reading” beïnvloed. Hulle lees wat hul maters lees. Dis hier waar ‘n biblioteek – veral die skoolbiblioteek – van onskatbare waarde is, want ek wil nie noodwendig al 64 uitgawes van Geronimo Stilton of Reënboograndtieners gaan koop nie. Ek gooi selde boeke uit (sien Vraag 4) en kies dus baie mooi wat ek by my huis indra. Biblioteekboeke is egter altyd baie welkom en ons pas dit baie mooi op.


When the language is music

IMG_20150125_085153 copy

IMG_20150125_085153 copyEvery now and again you open a book and the language sings. It rockets off into unimagined word galaxies. Images pump through the pages into your veins like a transfusion of hot syntactic blood.

Like this stuff, found now in Richard Powers’ Orfeo – a scene early on when the protagonist, Peter Els, hears Mozart’s Jupiter for the first time when he is a child. Listen to this:

“Three movements of Symphony 41 pass by: destiny and noble sacrifice, nostalgia for a vanished innocence, and a minuet so elegant it bores the bejeezus out of him. And then the finale, its four modest notes. Do, re, fa, mi: half a jumbled scale…

Young Peter props up on his elbows, ambushed by a memory from the future. The shuffled half scale gathers mass; it sucks up other melodies in its gravity … At two minutes, a trapdoor opens underneath the boy…

Five viral strands propagate, infecting the air with runaway joy. At three and a half minutes, a hand scoops Peter up and lifts him high above the blocked vantage of his days. He rises in the shifting column of light and looks back down on the room where he listens. Wordless peace fills him at the sight of his own crumpled, listening body. And pity for anyone who mistakes this blinkered life for the real deal…

When silence sets him down once more, he no longer believes in this place.”


QUICK REVIEW: The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology


sol plaatjeThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

Volume IV


ISBN: 978-1-4314-0985-3

Jacana Media

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

The thorough selection process that results in this annual anthology means it has come to represent a “best of” collection showcasing some of South Africa’s most dedicated poets.

What I always admire about it is that it is so democratic. Well-known names and completely new names in poetry all live alphabetically alongside one another. This is because the winning poems are selected blind. The judges – Ingrid de Kock, Johann de Lange and Goodenough Mashego – do not see the names on the poems entered into the competition.

As always, the poetry is uneven: clichéd in theme and phrase in many places, but in other places rising like cut and polished precious stones on a rocky plain. In this issue, the poems by Thabo Jijana stood out for me because of their brevity, clarity and humour.

QUICK REVIEW: Reflections



Heinrich van den Berg

HPH Publishing

From the lion’s eye that coruscates on the front cover, to the final vivid double-page photographs of colourful birds in colourful surroundings, there is not a single page that doesn’t surprise the viewer, nor a single dud photograph in this spectacular coffee table book.

These wildlife photographs move from black and white through intensifying shades to arrive finally at vivid colour – an interesting and arresting choice of arrangement which succeeds spectacularly because of the intrinsic drama in the progression.Reflection inside 3D

Van den Berg’s eye for detail and composition, an ability to exploit light to luminescence and a natural understanding how the theatrical in nature can best be captured to share with a wide audience, make this a breath-taking book.

The accompanying text, however, is distracting. Where one expects information on species and geography, we get obscure philosophical ponderings that detract from the very intimate impact each sensational photograph makes. – Karin Schimke

Eighth Day: History poetry

eighth day

Poems and history have coexisted since before writing began—as part of the remembering and passing down, from generation to generation, of oral histories. And today poets continue to explore people and events and retell those stories as poetry. MOIRA RICHARDS shares her thoughts on five collections of poems with history.

DLDAn Elastic State of Mind: D.L.D.’s Autobiography in Poems

Ren Powell


Published together with Eirik Lodén’s Norwegian translation, this collection dramatises the life of 19th century champion of the indigent insane, Dorothea Lynde Dix – personal friend of the 13th president of the USA – who supported herself as author from age 22. Her first book reached its 60th edition in just 45 years.

Powell bases the poems on biographical studies, divides the book into three acts with a cast listing, and background notes about the subject – my favourite way to learn history, and to enjoy poetry.

Two sestina convey a sense of some of this redoubtable woman’s underlying ambivalences but the villanelles… oh, the villanelles. Two close the first and last acts, a third lies midway in the second; all are in first person, in the voice of Ms Dix and sooo effectively bring to life, the woman, her determination, and her sense of self.

CloudPharmacyCloud Pharmacy

Susan Rich

White Pine Press

Central to this collection is the small group of poems that portray the work of Victorian photographer, Hannah Maynard who, employing the alchemies of mirrors, montage and multiple exposure settings, created fantastical self-portraits as means of coming to terms with her life after the death of her teenage daughter: “Look! I’ve learned to slice myself in three / … / three women I’m loath to understand—”

Around that core, Rich spins ephemeral images of her own (sur)realities in which memories, appetites and the ambivalences of half a lifetime swirl among almost tangible disquietudes: How to move beyond the compass of the past, its dead and its obfuscations to best live the dubious half a life left? “How to write your one blue life?”

FrancoisVaseTales of the François Vase

Julia Older

Hobblebush Books

Imagine, if you inhabited this world for two and a half millennia, what you might witness and experience! Older writes a variety of voices to recreate and dramatise the “birth” and life of a famed museum piece—ancient Greek wedding bowl used to hold wine for guests. In the opening poem, the vase herself sings an ode in celebration of her charge, as heady now as 25 centuries ago.

The poetry continues, narrating witness of the travels, diverse contents, and the three smashings and putting together-agains in the life of the vase… until at last she is set down quiet and secure in a light that shines upon all her stories: five bands of pictures depicting dozens of scenes and hundreds of figures from Homer’s Iliad.


Kathleen Flenniken

University of Washington Press

Horror seeps gently yet relentlessly from the words in these pages—as uranium might from an underground contamination plume. The poems pick through the 70-year history of the USA’s Hanford nuclear production site that, inter alia, manufactured plutonium to build nuclear weapons during WWII.

Flenniken crafts images of the nearby dormitory town where she grew up, populated by government employees and their families in identical houses—all infused with the same patriotic pride, untruths about the river in which they swim and fish for food, and with stray bits of the radioactive waste of their labours; the tragic irony that many of them, too, become ill as did survivors of the Nagasaki bomb. Poetry of betrayal, dread, and helpless understanding of fathomless consequence.

TheEyeBbThe Eye of Caroline Herschel: A Life in Poems

Laura Long

Finishing Line Press

Sister of the more famous Sir William, German-born Caroline Herschel was a respected mathematician and astronomer in her own right and lived to see her (also more famous) nephew, John, sail to Cape Town to chart the skies of the southern hemisphere in 1834. Long introduces this fictional autobiography as “imagination steeped in historical siftings and the breath between the lines”—my favourite way of learning about the people of the past.

Like a tiny constellation, these 21 poems (most of which contain at least one star) illumine the inner life of an unmarriageable former scullery maid who, enthralled by the Milky Way galaxy in her telescope, lived from clear night to cloudless night to read nebulae, catalogue stars and, perchance, divine a comet—or eight.