Of  Love and War: Vernon Scannell

Of Love and War.    Vernon Scannell.  1922-2007                           New and Selected Poems

 

November 16th is the 10th anniversary of the death of Vernon Scannell.(23rd  January1923 -16th November 2007)

 

This seemed as good as any time to read a self-selected collection of his poetry, some new but most previously published in book or magazine form.  He worked on this collection in his eightieth year and describes in a beautifully written introduction his belief in the art of poetry and its requirements.  Also of his disdain for the written poetry rising at the start of the 21st century and  throw-away performance poetry designed to be ‘disrupted-verse’ ( my ‘word’ not his).

He admitted that poetry had always been performed and ‘performance’ may have included his view of an extravagance that was acceptable for the event but unnecessary for written poetry.   This clashes somewhat with the idea that poetry is best read out loud but maybe it’s the degree.   However he gave no allowance to work turning into the first decade of the 21st Century, which is his perspective, not mine.

I previously reviewed Epithets of War

I read ‘Epithets of War’ not so long ago and was  quite taken up by his style which frequently sought to maintain a more traditional, or at least, Victorian-cum-Tennyson format.  His experiences as soldier at war and boxer may well have helped his appreciation of technique.  His choice of words was no doubt also influenced by a life that was frequented by difficult  physical situations and sights.

A poet of international standing in his day,  numerous prize winnings and often a visiting reader of his work.  From a man who is also known as a soldier from El Alamein to Normandy.  As a boxer both amateur and professional.  Making him a poet of the physical world.

Scannell’s awareness of the subtlety of metre and words can create an unexpected softness from their often terse and blunt meaning.   His poetry, often tough in language, cannot hide the variations of love that filter through.  Vernon Scannell is frequently classified as a war poet (fair enough) but reading his own excellent introduction to this book,  his commitment is to ‘poetry’ and far more can be taken from his poems.  This collection broadens the view you may have of his work.  Two sides of the same coin, you might say with compassion, nostalgia, less than subtle humour tucked in and imagery; all through straightforward storytelling. Each poem a complete entity and leading you onward to the next.

Do read his introduction.

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Waiting for the Echo< 2017 PoetryID Anthology

Waiting for the Echo, A 2017 Poetry ID Anthology

A Graph Review.   45 to plus sixty, good reading

Not yet available in bookshops,  best to purchase  via PoetryID website

978 09542867 7        48pp        Paperback         £5.

(note: there is a same-titled poetry collection by a single author, totally different to PoetryID title in cover and content, listed on Amazon)

This time a review of an anthology from Poetry ID, a creative group based in Hertfordshire.   Here we have fourteen different poets, each with three poems included ( one has four ‘extracts’).

Most of the poets here use a story mode with agile rhythms and chorded words but not so much any connecting rhymes, which I do have an occasional yen for.   Anne Copeland’s first poem has numerous end-rhymes in her Summer Evening and Runner-Up by Rose Salina twists some neatly into her short poem on competition rules.   Apart from that we stick with what might well be called Modern or Free, verse if such terms are still used.

It is a collection that ranges across the world, literally, in place, subject and with styles varied enough to keep the reader keen.  From Brexit to weddings, kangaroos to car crash and with love and many tokens between.  There is much to find and re-read.

I always suggest a few favourites, as below but all forty-three make this a very entertaining and at times thought-provoking anthology.  Always good news for a poetry collection!

The venom of a platypus is not lethal     By Jay Ward

Runner-up        By Rose Salina           Modern Dance  By David Van-Cauter

Vase      By Yuko Minamikawa Adams    Syria: the 47     By Nicola Jackson

Jazz club: Tubby Hayes    By Dick Jones

 

 

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John Clare, The Trespasser: A Graph Review

John Clare, The Trespasser.  

By John Goodridge and R K R  Thornton

A Graph Review:  high marks to 70s

 

 

Published by Five Leaves Publications.      2016.      Paper £6.99

10 pages of notes and 3 on further reading in print and web

Originally an extended essay in ‘ john Clare in context ‘,  Cambridge 1994.   For this current paperback the typescript was extensively revised, corrected and additions of new material. Also with new and updated references, recent and primary included.

Both authors are Vice-Presidents of the John Clare Society, Professors of English and have been authors and academics in literature and poetry, especially of working/labouring-class with particular interest in Clare. (among several others).

A slim volume of 90 pages of which 74 are text.

You may have read one or more of the now several biographies on Clare, perhaps an academic work such as ….. Clare’s Place in Poetry by Mina Gorji (2009).  (Reviewed on this website).  Or the growing number of texts and collections on specific areas of Clare’s life and poetry.   You will certainly be reading his poetry.  Nonetheless, this little book sums up John Clare’s personality and passions.   He placed himself as an ‘outsider’ and many small pointers throughout the text give glimpses to the make-up of Clare: from a Scottish grandfather who abandoned Clare’s pregnant grandmother to his ‘loneliness’ as a scholar in the village and much leading on from these. Other aspects may be brushed upon in this book but here the authors have hit upon Clare’s core strengths of belief that of ‘every man’s need of liberty’ and Enclosure’ was one large corrosive part of his world.

He may have been shy, awkward and diffident in the presence of those in authority though his pride may also have held him back at times. His writings showed strength of belief and a confidence in himself as a poet.  The awareness of the life of poverty he came from made him desperate to support his family but equally to refine his art and be published, ideally to provide some income to ease his family’s struggles.  A path that was too hard eventually as his health had always been problematic.  A life of hard physical work, often periods of poor or no food, hectic times of too much drink, a growing family and the costs of sudden fame followed by its slow dissipation were too much for him.  His first period in a private Essex asylum, a momentous walk home and a brief time with his family still produced much fine poetry, briefly home in Northborough and the many years lodged in Northampton Asylum produced much more.

Throughout his life he was a naturalist, an observer of all things and wrote about his local community whether from  minutely detailed wildlife, most widely known today, to village life, including satire with scorching caricatures especially in ‘The Parish’.

‘John Clare, The Trespasser’,  does indeed focus on the dire effects of Enclosure on Clare and community-life but uses the definition of a trespasser to travel over the wider fields of his life and work.   He defined himself by his locale and his community. Was compelled to be an observer, a collector, a musician with violin who wrote down words and music traditional of his day from travelling musicians and gypsies.  Gypsy music was so different to his tradition that of he was fascinated by it and spent time with them to study their music. He also found their way of life quite convivial.     His interest was also aroused by the Scottish drovers that passed through, likely as a link to his grandfather.  His liking of Burns another connection to Scotland, including the lowly origins of Burns himself and his poetical style and songs.  Clare was a man without a place in his own village for more than his writing and his spent fame that leaving him floundering, but he could assimilate much that caught his passionate nature.

The last section,  Enclosure, gives the strongest description of Clare.    For me it confirms him as a radical, political poet whose passion is shown in his work though frequently undermined by his poor circumstance and his own diffidence (shyness, almost speechlessness) in the presence of  moneyed people.  Some might say he had an inferiority complex, or more likely a class-complex.  Perhaps his behaviour was partly due to his keeping himself in check as angry outbursts to the wrong people would have severely harmed his ability to retain any employment.  The poor-house loomed large at these times for all labourers and Clare’s father would end in one.  It also seems he felt more able with his village peers when enjoying drink and music at the local ale-houses or celebrations.

Whatever his outward manner, his heart and writing were fixed on the damaging effects of enclosure on nature and the labourer and  Community.

Mentioned in this book, these are poems to read with a fresh eye:

The Mores,    The Lament of Swordy Well,   The Cellar Door,    The Progress of Rhyme .                           

The Lament of Swordy Well is highlighted as Clare’s depiction of the result of Enclosure leaving nothing but dreams of the past for the labouring poor, among much else.

The book in total is a fascinating short study of John Clare.  It may appear to focus on a small aspect but this is a core description of the man and uses choice selections to illustrate his ideals and his skill in writing more than poetic studies in natural history.  The authors explain the realities of Clare’s words and the use of poetical reference and political sub-text in particular poems.  Highlighting his use of counterbalanced language within an analysis of lines of poems, noted above, brings a strength of understanding not only to the meaning of the work but to the fire and sensibilities of Clare himself.

No doubt the ‘Conclusion’ of this work puts it more clearly….. ‘it is no longer enough to read Clare as a simple observer of nature in transparent descriptive verse,……’

And a quote from the back cover, from another reviewer:  ‘At last a label has been found that fits Clare almost perfectly’. : Roger Sales, Literature and History.

For me Clare will now be thought of as a man who dared to trespass, in a multitude of ways, throughout his life and writings.

link to another comment on Clare as labourer and Enclosure:

John Clare, The Trespasser is a ‘must read‘ for Clare enthusiasts and students of the labouring classes and landscape in the 19th century.

 

 

 

 

Efficiency versus liberty to roam.      Profit and productivity, cost of enclosure and policing.

 

 

 

The cellar door,     Themprogress of rhyme……. in Scottish drovers, gypsies and other clarean trespassers.

 

 

 

Clare: the times of his life

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Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.

 

April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.

 

April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.

 

A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.

 

Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.

 

April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.

 

I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.

 

A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.

 

 

 

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poems JJS

 Poem 

The grizzled old man looked at me

with the morning sun glistening on bristled chin.

His eyes sunken, not hooded like crows

but sprawled-over by lank eyebrows; and his nose!

Thin commas red-lining the beak and you see

the grey from his nostrils peek.

There’s a finite crease in each lobe of each ear

and the duct in his eye predicted a tear, or sleep.

The fine hair cast thin and lopped to one side

hiding the patch where the thatch had died.

Back to his jaw where the line has sagged

and the lips drawn in.

The rhythm is missing, it’s not me nor him.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m seeing his twin.

 

 

Poem

The hawthorn, once budded and blossom-smothered

So smooth and supple that she waved to and caressed the breeze

Twisting with light to loose her petals and covered

To spell the ground white with flattering ease.

As branches arched, grew wide and reached for sun,

Beneath its shade in dappled light grew nature’s young

To play and grow and shelter as young shoots

In the founding nest among the hawthorn roots.

But time, the tides of man, an unknown thing in hawthorn’s course

Seeks recompense for seasons’ gifts

And bends and wreaks with gales that force

The gnarled and ancient roots to lift

And skin the branches clean of bud and leaf

To leave a memory and make a willow weep.

 

Poem….                                                                          28.march17

Recollection slips into gear when sitting in my quiet place

And the setting sun brings into view a distant face

That has never aged with signs of wear.

This time it’s red-eyed Henry who heads the line

With his solemn look.  Always hid behind

BIg-foot McCluskey but now he has the shilling

His penitent father gives for sweets

and he’s always willing

To share his treats with those who fold him in.

So there he is, is Big-foot, as heavy as is tall.

With Shiny-face and cheerful smile for one and all;

Unless you mock his mother, striving hard to keep together

A house of children by working the only way she could.

And then beware, big-foot.

 

I sip my thermos’ tea and hough quietly as childhood ghosts

Drift across the rows of red and white-stringed beans;

Canopies of leaves that point and flutter and boast of ripened seeds

That twist and burst and fall on fallow soil, on forgotten scenes.

Big Mary, Little Jane.  Oddly sisters a year apart

Who always dangled off each other’s arms as if alarmed to part,

Except when chased by Quickey-Tom and then would dash across the lane

To squeal in unison on opposing sides and feign

Surprise or anger amid delight.

And Mickey, Smiff and then there’s Jim.

What became of him, I wonder absently, sipping tea, still steaming

Into rheumy eyes.

He had big plans. Dressed like a mannequin for any occasion.

Always scheming, planning, looking for a reason

Not to be him.

 

Time, they say, is a great healer.

Glasses, they say are always rose-tinted.

Beds, they say, are of your own making.

But I wonder, in my quiet place,

Of the stories they would make of me;

Of my face that never ages,

Of my eyes, one, two, three.

 

for Jean, Poet.                     JJS.    9jan.2017

Spindrift.

A gossamer.

One hundred threads

of finest silken line.

A spiders web of steel

in summer through winter’s grip

and yet a sip of wine

that weds your world to mine.

 

 

Three Poems               J Johnson Smith

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Dandelions Poems by Arthur Berry

Dandelions     Poems

By Arthur Berry

Paperback, self-published

Introduction by Arthur Berry dated as 1993 so  reckon publication same year or one after.

No isbn and I can’t remember what price I paid about four years ago.    I bought it in a small art shop in Longton or Burslem, I believe, one of the ‘Five Towns’ round Stoke on Trent.

Cover probably drawn by the author, an artist, lecturer in painting and also playwright with productions at Victoria Theatre, Stoke on Trent as well as this collection of poetry and two other titles.

87 poems over 131 pages, including frontispiece and index.

I haven’t labelled this as a Graph Review as it is most unlikely copies are available easily.

 

Arthur Berry, born in Smallthorne, North Staffordshire in 1925, son of a Bricklayer and a Publican’s daughter.  The blurb on the back cover offers, plus a brief resume of his working career, as an artist, lecturer in painting.

I include the last paragraph of his own words of introduction: (I was advised by the shop  that I should read, or be read to, in the local accent of North Staffs.  I fear I failed on both counts but nonetheless having visited the towns of his area I have a fair mental picture of the places if not the accent…… and to be honest the need for accent never worried!)

………….

“This then is a rough account of the times I have lived in, and I recognise it as the main theme of my work.  I did not consciously think about it at the time, as I wrote my poems but it must have seeped in – as did various bits of daft, thank goodness.”

Arthur Berry 1993

……..

First observations on reading is the good humour touching much of the verse, though dark.  The humour is filtered within far darker tones such as disillusion, disappointment and even anger at what his surroundings had become.    Observation in spades as to be expected from a painter with a quickness and lightness of touch for words that carry the scene in a bluff and gritty manner.  The poems move around many places and sights though characters are often in the limelight and everywhere is the same gritty, eloquent, matter-of-fact delivery.

Rhythm, rhyme and half-rhyme aplenty though nicely balanced in poems of differing levels of scheme and length.  (Acres of solid rhyme-schemes are not my favourite so Berry suits me well!)  No date-order given to the poems.  The variation in lengths is appealing for  the reader (me).  The shorter poems may be 16 lines and the longest about 90 lines while many sit comfortably on a single page, more or less.   No glossary but most local words are obvious in meaning.

Time, change, levels of sadness, maybe at the losses of lifestyle and a touch of bitterness through the telescope of time where hardship-visible has been turned into hardship almost invisible but certainly more complicated, are all there.  Especially where community/society has been eroded by change industrial change.   Demolition and ruination run from the start of the collection but all are progressed through his verse with the spotlight of a painter.  In his own introduction he points out that he discovered his overall ‘theme’ while reading through the verses some years after they were written.  ‘Change’ weighed heavily, maybe the failure of it to improve more so.

I have been visiting this area some twelve years and the regeneration of the last few years has been enormous.  Arthur Berry must have lived through the years when the pottery kilns stopped smoking until even the great china factories, distribution warehouses and painting shops slowly declined and closed.  Whole areas collapsing into disrepair and streets in neglect.  He wrote particularly of the old and loss of, a community, its housing and livelihood.  Some names, some workshops still exist and the few surviving seem to prosper but his view was different, earlier than mine. He saw the decline happening, I have only seen at its lowest and its recovery.   Many of the old terraces he would have walked around are gone and now replaced with new housing although some streets of terraces are being rescued, refurbished slowly to honour the history of the place.  He saw their terrible decline and demolition, wrote about the losses but within his verse was the parallel of his own losses of youth as well as his memories.  I have to say that very few of his memories seem to be rose-tinted, just remembered for what they were.  What replaced his icons of memory will now have to wait for another time, another writer or painter.

His poems cite street and pubs, it is a very local book but with sentiments that many people will recognise if they lived in a seriously declining neighbourhood.  He is sometimes harsh in his depiction of people, of the labouring, working class and their environs, the drinking and the mess, but times and lives were often hard.  Maybe his eye caught only the jaundiced side of his world.

The very first poem.  In This Place,      Creates a sombre mood yet bodes well for the collection.

Memorable others are:   How to Paint a Picture of Nile Street        and:

Dandelions                       Title poem:  p18

Where the end of the wall

And the waste ground meet

At the back of the canal

And Navigation street

Dandelions bold as brass

Grow among the bitter grass

In this place of empty chapels and aborted kilns

By the still smouldering fires

That burn the mattresses of the recently dead

These sour yellow flowers raise their heads

Damp rags suns that shine

On the sides of a lost loop line,

Among wild lupins and cinders

Fed on the dried excrement of dogs

Among the canals wet clinging fogs

Hard flower suns that gleam

By the edges of the poisoned stream,

Where the hiss and slip

Of a rat, nuzzles against the dead body of a cat

Among the slime and burning lime

And down in the flattened cemetery

Where my drunken uncles lie,

Over the iron gate

Into a bland white sky

Ghosts of these rag suns are blown away

Into the passing traffic of the day.

 

Another, The Procession, page 19, leaks nostalgia

The Hoppo and The Bus Shelter are party to several others that show bleak caricatures of people.  Often, descriptions are highly focused but bleak.   Nature frequently creeps into his poetry but is often succumbed or overridden by the smoke of urban exhausts, hardship and disrepair.  Arthur Berry highlights the last section of his collection saying the moorlands, countryside, outside his towns had some effect in the following poems but even here they tend to suffer an overspill from man, even the countryside itself!….. except for  Wrong Category,  and  The Apple Tree,  which have a gentler touch.

Maybe you might see mostly depression in these poems, in all areas and meanings but there are lighter moments, touches of beauty in the drab; humour in the seemingly continuous difficulty he sees.  Or rather I read memory and nostalgia and humour tucked into some outrageous descriptions.  All images seem ‘true’ as they are drawn by a painter who only describes the backstreets, the ‘kitchen sinks’ or the Dicken’s-like scenes that should have gone years ago but in fact never will.

Cats

If all the kittens

Our cats once had

Grew into cats

By now they would have

Found their way to London

And in the tall white houses

Round the squares

Distinguished men

Passing on the stairs

Would say to each other

With some concern

Where are all these

Damn cats coming from.

 

After finishing this collection, the above poem and between its lines, says a lot about the man I imagine him to be.  Perhaps his brush is aimed elsewhere!     Thank you, Arthur Berry, for poems with many layers like a painting, much to see and more to explore.

 

 

 

 

Copyright remains with copyright holders of Arthur Berry.

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Too Afraid to Cry, A Graph Review

Too Afraid to Cry;     A memoir in prose and verse    

by     Ali Cobby Eckermann

Published by Ilura Press.

978 192132524 3         Paperback

Recently announced as one of the two  winners of the Australian 2017 Windham Campbell Prize for poetry.

Each year two prize winners in each category of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction;  in its fifth year each winner receives US$165,000.

Link:   www.windhamcampbell.org.

A Graph Review:     average of 70 all through with touches of more for emotional connections!

A memoir but listed as poetry.

She has five other collections of poetry in print.

The book is series of prose sketches from the early childhood of Ali Cobby Eckermann interspersed with almost haunted verse and through teenage to adulthood and closing with a celebration of family.  As an aboriginal baby, born in 1963, she was among the many ( approx. 33%) forcibly taken from the mothers soon after birth as part of  the Australian social policy of the time.  She was adopted into a German Lutheran farming family already with children, where she was loved, as was another adopted child.

However  with growing awareness of being different in a family of differing skin tones, and being subjected to various levels of abuses outside the family situation she developed assorted emotional problems and addictions as she grew to adulthood.   Her writing is beautifully simple, descriptive and at times lyrical yet often fearsomely matter-of-fact.  By jumping from scene to scene we watch the events through her eyes and begin to be informed of the abuses she suffers and the complications they set in train.  Time and tensions move on.  Throughout she does maintain some friendships and family albeit tenuously at times.

The poem ‘Black‘  offers a step-change affirming her ‘Self’.   Returning to the brief ‘chapters’  of prose, where life goes on and bullying is amplified: she finds a form of relief in friendships with other adopted and non-adopted indigenous people and families but with an evermore self-destructive life style.  Her writing style throughout continues as simple and matter-of-fact in telling her tale.

Maybe at her lowest point in the story, halfway-ish through the book, there is a subtle change in outlook.  She reports, still concisely, of feeling connections with ‘the earth’, elements of scenery around her and of a bigger emotion as the landscape expands into the wilderness she travels through.  Perhaps a degree of comfort from the expanse and open-space lifestyle.  Reading this section, of her growing awareness, created a surprising feeling of empathy on that connection.  From here the style of blunt and non-critical writing continues while her life improves and collapses episodically.

The writer begins to describe scenery as it infiltrates into her.  She is, almost unknowingly, absorbing her heritage of ageless culture and wisdom.   A smooth and subtle change while her language is still beautifully simple.  (I say simple.  I suppose I really mean excised of all unnecessary words.  If only I could write like that!!)

Blame is never considered by Ali but the reader surely can.  The story may read as a philosophy of:  ‘life happens’  but the reasons why need to be addressed, especially the ‘happenings’ of now.  That particular may have been but Social Engineering for good or ill does have serious consequences in countless forms, mostly, it seems against women and children.   There, I’ve gone off-track and have only the direct result of reading this book to thank.   Yes, it is of a specific person but many aspects of her story are not only of the indigenous Australian but should resonate around the world in support of all who are nudged or beaten to the peripheries of society.

Ultimately this is a personal story of a baby, a child growing into adulthood and surviving a system of abuse and almost self-destruction to discover herself, her blood family, heritage and her own landscape.  A woman who has finally become whole.     Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book deserves international recognition.

This is one to recommend to all your friends and everyone else.

 

This item slightly edited from being recently published on ‘wordparc’

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