This is the second book I read in February, and it was supplied by Sarah with an instruction that I should share it. It is subtitled "Poems for young people". I did try some on Alec because he loves wordplay and rhymes -- particularly rhymes with a song -- but he wasn't terribly interested in John Siddique's verses. I think perhaps the rhyme structure was not rhythmical enough for his taste, the imagery is not concrete enough and he doesn't yet have enough of a handle on the abstract. (Do I sound like an terribly over-ambitious mama? The book is recommended for three and up. Alec might be only two, but I try very hard to avoid underestimating or patronising him and just occasionally these experiments do work out).
I was thinking back to the poetry I read as a child -- mostly anthologies. Off the top of my head I can't think of many books by a single poet -- A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson and the only contemporary collection I had was Gargling with Jelly by the Liverpuddlian poet Brian Patten. This last impressed the young me with its range: from the title you'd think it was a collection of shouty daft poems, but several of the verses are very dark, some are very sad and even the laugh-out-loud poems have a sinister undercurrent.
I went into Don't Wear... assuming that it would be daft. It's not -- not all, anyway -- (even the title poem is (I think, anyway) a warning about managing your public and private identities). There are, of course, poems featuring bums and trumps -- Siddique knows his audience. But there are poems dealing with identity (this theme comes up again and again), with bullying, with complex relationships, with immigration.
When I started reading I felt a bit squirmy -- I was a suspicious child, never quite sure about adults who tried to get down to our level. I suppose I was used to being spoken down to, I think. Some of the poems seemed a bit... simple, a bit odd. 'Apples' in particular sounds as if it had been written by a child -- but as I read on I understood that this is actually the point. Siddique is imitating and raiding children's thought processes and speech rhythms, the way they create poetry by almost by accident. I know how magical this can be: every day Alec reminds me to look again at the knee-high world, and his make-do phrases have worked their way into our household vocabulary (particular favourites are "bubby noses" for nipples and "mucmic" for music.). But as an adult who no longer has a child's unselfconsciousness, to use a childlike voice as your professional voice takes a special kind of fearlessness and as I read I came to value this more and more.
You can order Don't Wear... directly from Salt or you can get it on Amazon by clicking the picture above.