Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Don't Wear it on Your Head, Don't Stick it Down Your Pants by John Siddique

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.


  1. Hi Claire - John Siddique here, thank you for reading Don't wear It On Your Head. The 3+ thing is the publisher's doing. I think it may be more 5 or 6 up really. It is so kind of you to talk about the book so generously. I did work very hard on it, pieces like apples are written so that a young child can enjoy saying them aloud in their own kind of language, not the imposed one of some bloke who thinks he knows a child by standing over them. I work a lot with children and young people, so I wanted to give up any idea of a fixed voice and serve the poem and the reader with the best of my abilities as. After all the child or adult reading the book is the person the book is for. The writer's job is to serve and record the world the best they can.

    Again my thanks to you.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, John!

      Once I 'got' the poems like Apples I enjoyed them a lot more. I'm glad I had the time and the headspace to work my way in (I don't know if you'd picked this up, but I read Don't Wear... as part of my mission to really properly read a poetry book a month. I don't have much experience with poetry so I'm feeling my way a lot, and I'm definitely not an expert reader).

  2. Interesting insights into the writing process.
    Patricia McKissack says that writing for children is the most difficult and most valuable writing. It's hard to tell a good story or poem with the necessarily careful vocabulary choices. Her _Flossy and the Fox_ is one of my all-time favorites, and the day I brought my copy into my high school classroom, it reached out and won over my very toughest student.
    I found my very tall students would also open up when I brought in a bit of Shel Silverstein or Doctor Seuss, and in a language arts class, it wasn't that hard to find an opening in the assigned works in which to insert happy memories pieces from their early reading . . . really, administration, we're just discussing alliteration and onomatopoeia . . .
    Now to go find a copy of Don't Wear . . .

    1. Sorry Mary, I forgot to put the links in to get hold of it! I'll do that right away.