Australian writer of books for younger readers, young adults, verse novels and poetry.

And that’s a wrap

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Finally read Margaret Atwood’s Testaments which has been sitting on my shelf for the past two years. I know that the joint Booker Prize win was controversial, but I find it hard to begrudge Atwood anything. Her poetry has been such a constant presence in my life. I bought her first Selected poems at the women’s bookshop which used to be in Gertrude Street and read it cover to cover. In the year of memorising poems,  her poem ‘Habitation’ was one of the poems I learnt. I love the details of the unpainted stairs and the popcorn, the acknowledgement that marriage is rarely comfortable and the measured optimism of the ending.

I also read Jordie Albiston’s Jack and Mollie (& Her), another book which has been sitting on my bookshelf for some years. It’s a verse novel? a verse narrative? a poetry sequence? Does it matter what it’s called? The poems are moving, technically interesting and offer all the hallmarks of an Albiston poem (interest in form, precise language, playfulness) within a narrative form that is not absolutely novelistic as there’s little plot, but almost like a journal if a journal could be kept by two dogs and a third person narrator. It is also a study of depression.

I loved it.

I warn all students off trying to put words into the mouths of animals. I’ve read so many bad student stories that have attempted that and failed miserably. Albiston’s dogs, however, have their own diction and rhythm and as characters they simply work. This is helped, I reckon, by the strict formalism of the poetic structure. These are syllabic poems – each line is ten syllables and the poems are formed of five line stanzas. This – and the use of the third person for the poems which are not written from the point of view of either Jack or Mollie – help to create a distance from the emotions, in particular J’s love for the dogs, who both, in different ways combat ‘the Boss Dog’, the clinical depression that threatens to overwhelm J.

As dog owners will attest, there’s nothing like the unbridled enthusiasm and affection of a dog. My husband and I ‘rescued’ our dog, Winter, in February 2019. Prior to meeting her, we’d agreed on three non-negotiable conditions. I wanted a dog I could carry, if I had to. This was because our much-loved golden Lab had had bad arthritis and I’d not been able to lift her by myself into the car. Keith wanted a dog who didn’t shed. And we both wanted a dog who didn’t bark other than a brief warning shout should there be anything untoward.

Winter who weighs 28 kilos and is as leggy as a supermodel, has long, lustrous black fur with a soft undercoat. Our pale carpet has puddles of dark fur on it. When we had her DNA tested, she turned out to be fifty percent Maremma. You can see it in her ears. She barks at cyclists, motor bikes, other dogs and walkers. She barks at the horses that graze in the paddock at the back of our property. She barks at our neighbours. She barks at cockatoos. She barks at us to get attention. She barks if we gesture too wildly or move unexpectedly. We are trying to train out of this – with limited success at the moment. We all may have to undergo some one-to-one training to defeat this habit.

But as soon as we met her, we knew she was ours. We are hers. And so it has been.


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