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Where Zebras Go: Poems5/5

Where Zebras Go: Poems

Sue Hardy-Dawson

Review

'The Weaver of Words' (p.8) is the opening poem in Where Zebras Go. With its delicately orchestrated words, it's an apt overture to this impressive debut solo anthology. In common with the rest of the poems, it is accompanied by Hardy-Dawson's own line drawing. Here, the elegant weaver ('Coarse-fingered / nails, polished / to the points of needles.) is seen with hair streaming and intertwined with words as 'she joins consonants to vowels / whispers them to the wind / and out into the waking world.' It is this attention to the visual nature of poetry that makes the collection so distinctive and gives it special child appeal. Shape poems abound (Old Foxy, p.16, Talking toads, p. 30, Shaggy Dog story, p. 49, Making Tigers, p. 68, Miss Moon, p.87) and, typically, illustrations that enhance but do not overwhelm the poems. A silhouetted owl swoops across the page in 'Who' (p.23) but is not mentioned in the words which draw richly from the tradition of kennings ('moon's soft shape-shifter ... midnight's pale squatter... rude rodent-stealer'). The poem of the anthology's title - 'Where Zebras Go' - offers lilting rhymes and half rhymes and a repetitive structure that children could use for their own writing: 'where the amber river slows / where the alligator wallows / where the cruel acacia grows / where the hippo haunts the shallows /. ' The poet draws from well known narratives but offers a thought-provoking lens: take the 'Ugly Sister Sonnet' (p.36): 'Born plain, we pinch to watch her blue eyes fill, / Buy a cat to kill the mice she adores...' and the Pied Piper's wife (p.42) adds layers to the tale with her opening line: 'No, not the first strange thing / he'd brought back./ Unicorns, rare even then, flocks of dragons/and skulls of red foxes,/ grey mountain wolves...'. In a similar vein, there is the almost inevitable list poem - but it is a list with a difference: 'Twenty ways to avoid monsters and mythical beasts' (p.44) includes the warning 'If your name is Beauty make it clear you hate roses, unless they've come from a shop.'. As well as a rich range of topics (animals, weather, the nature of poetry, dinosaurs, the state of the planet, sport...), the collection offers a medley of moods - from the downright funny (as in 'Twenty ways...' above) to quiet tenderness as captured in the final poem 'The Kiss' (p.92): 'Some things, she said, cannot be owned, / then gave me a kiss. I have it still.' 96 pages / Ages 8-11 years / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant.

Reviewed by: Alison Kelly