Skinny Dip: Collected Poets edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris
An absolutely novel and tremendous read is this collection of poems from New Zealand poets set in the context of a school year.
The collection is divided into four terms - as any school is - and discusses elements of school life through the lens of a poet. Each has its charm as they navigate the experience typified by students both now, and in a reflective vision of the poet’s past. The ingenuity of the task, but also of the response is wonderful.
New Zealand poetry has always been a force going back to the days of Baxter, Mason, Tuwhare and Curnow. We punch well above our weight when it comes to international poetic might, and the future is safe in the hands of these poets exploring those formative years of school.
As one would expect, there are the usual suspects among the described, the love interest, the teachers (both bad and good, of course), the friendships that come and go, the school work itself, the seemingly endless and pointless rules, and even the groundsman gets a nod from Tim Upperton. There is a particular line in that one that really captures the spirit of how caretakers must truly feel: ‘What is make / Is soon unmade.’ These characters seem universal in the experience of all people - let along poets.
Don’t be surprised to find yourself nodding at the scenarios laid out on the page through these poems, or feeling that inevitable pang of regret that the year is over by the end of the text. School days do mean something to all of us. This collection of poems transports you right back to face the good, the bad and the adolescent.
As a teacher there is much in here to both muse at and use in the classroom. Knowing that others have had the same experience as you brings a sense of unity and a shared resignation to some of life’s inalienable truths - and so many have been captured by this collection: Nits are an ever present threat; lunch time will always cause conflict; girls’ skirts will always be worn too high; homework will always be a constant; and teachers will always be tyrannical dictators. That’s school for you.
This collection brings such joy as a lover of poetry and a lover of education. It brings the highlights and lowlights of the experience we all share in. It is a treasure to read over and over again.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Massey University Press, RRP $29.99