In a year as bleak as 2016, I’ve been especially grateful for those books that have given me laughter-induced belly ache, leaving me shaking my head at their wonderful playfulness, outrageous wit or simply their zippy positivity. These have included Super Rabbit by Stephanie Blake, Girl Out of Water by Nat Luurtsema and, just squeezing in with a few days to go before I can finally say good riddance to a year that has filled me with more despair than just about any which has gone before, along comes I Don’t Like Poetry by Joshua Seigal.
Not that this books hasn’t given rise to frustration, though: Every time I’ve come to write my review of this fantastically funny collection of poetry, I haven’t been able to lay my hands on it because the kids keep stealing it, to read and re-read and giggle over, under duvets and in cosy corners.
I put it on my desk, turn my back, and it’s gone again. I find it under a pillow and return it to my desk. I go and make a cup of tea and…. IT’S GONE AGAIN. Blimmin’ kids! Blimmin’ Joshua Seigal! What does he think he’s doing writing a collection that is so good my kids disobey me, flout the rules I’ve laid down and steal MY STUFF!
Ach. I guess I’ll forgive Joshua. And my kids. It is, after all. the season to do so. And to be honest, whatever inconvenience I’ve had to put up with when it comes to my thwarted reviewing goals, they pale into insignificance when my kids are so enthusiastic about a book that they they squabble over who gets to take it to breakfast, to bed, and everywhere in between.
With 50 poems covering everything from dogs to doo-doo, fast-food to football and teachers to toys this collection is packed with poems reflecting children’s experience of life, school, what they enjoy doing, the people they interact with and what’s important to them.
A good number of poems in the collection are also about poetry and writing more generally, filled with lots of showing rather than telling how poems can work their magic. Tools which, to young writers, can sometimes seem like chains to drag them down, are here liberatingly revealed as means to have some fun and fly. Several of Seigal’s poems, such as ‘A Cross Stick’ and ‘Lonely Little Poem’ also show how poets and poetry can be mischievous and subversive. Poetry isn’t just fun, it’s cool.
If you know a boy who isn’t into poetry, I’d suggest this book to them. Please don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a book for boys to the exclusion of anyone else – Far From It. But for a collection, I do think it contains a good number of poems that might appeal especially to boys. Having read a lot of poetry published for children in the last few weeks I can safely say that the voice of trees is heard more frequently than the authentic voice of boys and so it is fantastic to find that in I Don’t Like Poetry there’s a refreshing number of poems giving boys in particular a voice and a visibility in poetry that is sometimes lacking.
One of the things which can make a book meaningful is when we find something in them which reminds us of ourselves. And for our family this is certainly true for I Don’t Like Poetry; my kids rushed breathlessly up to me when they first read ‘Wally’, a poem which makes great use of the a word I apparently use far too often, and in ‘Zombie Poem’ both I and the kids can hear the voice of my dear Dad, their Grandad saying “BRRRRRAINS” in a Frankenstein sort of way even though he’s hundreds of miles away.
Many of the poems have a clear rhyming verse structure that might make them easier for young people to memorise (if they so wish). Silliness combined with a strong beat will add to the pleasure readers will hopefully find in saying many of the poems out loud. I think a class could end up in stitches putting on a performance of ‘Addicted to Chicken’.
In amongst the poems ringing with bright laughter, there are some hidden and unexpected moments of quiet seriousness, made normal and unthreatening – perhaps – by their wrapping between layers of delight and giggles. ‘Not A Care in the World’ and ‘Eating Stars’ may initially slip under the radar, but I know they will speak volumes for some readers.
Surely a strong contender for the Laugh Out Loud Book Awards next year, I Don’t Like Poetry is a cracking cornucopia mixing riddles, rhythm, rhyme and revelry. If ever you’ve thought that you or the young people you know don’t like poetry, please allow yourselves an early Christmas present and treat yourself to this. It will change your mind and brighten your heart. We all need reasons to laugh and smile this year, and this is an excellent source of lifted spirits.
Today’s review of I Don’t Like Poetry is in honour of the fact that the poem my kids will find in their Poe-tree (Advent) calendar today is the poem from which the collection takes its name, ‘I Don’t Like Poetry’ by Joshua Seigal. You can read the poem here.