14 Sept 2009

Anthologies for Aussie Kids

Oh yes! This is a new book that has me really excited - an anthology of classic Aussie poems written for children. I like it. I like it a lot.

Studying poetry the Charlotte Mason way generally means studying one poet at a time. The exploration of the works of individual poets allows the child to encounter a broad range of poetry, from the wonderful nonsense of T S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to the imaginative, mystical and subtle works of Walter de la Mare. (I wrote about our experiences with the enigmatic poet here.) This exploration helps our children to broaden their poetic horizons - their poetic 'taste' as it were. Just as we present our children with a variety of tasty but healthy dishes at table, not content with their choices of what is called in our home 'yellow food' - chippies, pastries, crumbed food, over-processed mush, so we must consciously introduce our children to the best of poets. As they become familiar with the best, so they become more discriminatory, able to distinguish fresh vegetables from packet; substance from twaddle; good verse from doggerel.

This process of studying poetry one poet at a time allows our children to encounter many different types of verse in a structured way, providing them with enough each poet's work that they can form an intimate link with the thoughts of the poet - with the way he thinks, feels and acts, as well as how he writes and what he believes. Hopefully some poets will become life-long friends.

Poetry anthologies, on the other hand, provide our children with a range of poets, introducing new styles, word patterns and rhythms, new subject matter, images and feelings. The same feeling occurs when we change from one term long poet to another - our change from Banjo Patterson to Christina Rossetti a few weeks ago is an example in point - but an anthology provides this change much more quickly - at the beginning of each new poem. To broaden our food analogy, anthologies are like a wonderful buffet table when we can wander along trying a little bit or this and a little bit of that until our plates are full. If we really like one dish we can toddle back for a larger portion next time.

I've written about Australian anthologies before. It's quite a good post actually. Humbly, I think most of my early posts were. Then I realised that they took too much time, and I had to settle for writing scholarly posts less often. Sometimes I write twaddle now. Thanks for putting up with that.

In that old post I write the following line:

Modern anthologies often include far too many twaddly poems for my liking, and I prefer older books. Never-the-less good modern anthologies are available.
You'll notice, though that I don't give you any examples of good modern Australian poetry anthologies, mainly because at that time I couldn't actually find any!!

Fortunately, during the past year 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know, edited by Jamie Grant and with a foreword from Phillip Adams, was published by Hardie Grant Books. This is a great anthology for adults and for older children. It is a beautifully presented book, and in it Grant has arranged a collection that ranges from the early 19th century work of Francis Macnamara and Adam Lindsay Gordon, through the nationalistic years of C J Dennis, Dorothea Mackellar and Henry Lawson, and then finally to the modern era of Clive James, David Malouf, Stephen McInerney and Kathleen Stewart. Now the latter group are names I've never heard of, most of them. They're the creators of free verse. There is no iambic pentametre here; no ballad metres. There is humour though, and that is not surprising, because editor James Grant says that a large proportion of the poems he chose are distinctly funny. We Aussies have a great sense of humour - a wonderful ability to laugh at ourselves, at our delicious eccentricities.

I like this poem of Kathleen Stewart's:

The boys get together and do what makes them feel good.
The girls drift along the street writing.
The boys get successful.
The boys leave the girls for the other girls.
The girls drift along the street writing.
They have more to write about now.
Story of my teen years really...

I like this poem too. It's by Les Murray:
The Quality of Sprawl

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farm work by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten dollar notes:
that's idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million dollar deeds.

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says, Why not?, with palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That's Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official's desk with a chain saw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal,
though it's often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know His own.
Knowing the man's name this was said to might be sprawl.

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings.
I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings.
Turner's glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl -
except he didn't fire them.

Sprawl gets up the noses of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don't include it.
Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

Sprawl is really classless, though. It is John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours' best bed in spurs and oilskins,
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum, who, in the loud hallway of our house
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it's Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, no Hitting Animals, no Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would that it were more so.

No, sprawl is full gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed,
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
And thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.
This is a beautiful collection, and I thoroughly recommend it...however it comes from a moral world view different from my own, and therefore I recommend it only for children old enough to discern.

Which brings us back to the new book. the one I mentioned right at the beginning of the post. 60 Classic Australian Poems edited by Christopher Cheng and illustrated by Gregory Rogers is perfect for young children. It's great for everyone really.

In it you'll find the best of the best of Australian poetry: C J Dennis, P J Hartigan, Banjo Patterson and Thomas E Spencer. This is clichéd Australia, one full of swagmen, dusty plains, drought, sheep and horses. It is kangaroos, cockatoos, dingos and koalas. Wattle and waratah. It is my Australia, the Australia I love.

How could you raise a true blue Aussie without them knowing this gem for example:
How M'Dougal Topped the Score by Thomas E. Spencer

A peaceful spot is Piper's Flat. The folk that live around -
They keep themselves by keeping sheep and turning up the ground;
But the climate is erratic, and the consequences are
The struggle with the elements is everlasting war.
We plough, and sow, and harrow - then sit down and pray for rain;
And then we get all flooded out and have to start again.
But the folk are now rejoicing as they ne'er rejoiced before,
For we've played Molongo cricket, and M'Dougal topped the score!

Molongo had a head on it, and challenged us to play
A single-innings match for lunch - the losing team to pay.
We were not great guns at cricket, but we couldn't well say, "No!"
So we all began to practise, and we let the reaping go.
We scoured the Flat for ten miles round to muster up our
men, But when the list was totalled we could only number ten.
Then up spoke big Tim Brady: he was always slow to speak,
And he said - "What price M'Dougal, who lives down at Cooper's Creek?"

So we sent for old M'Dougal, and he stated in reply
That he'd never played at cricket, but he'd half a mind to try.
He couldn't come to practise - he was getting in his hay,
But he guessed he'd show the beggars from Molongo how to play.
Now, M'Dougal was a Scotchman, and a canny one at that,
So he started in to practise with a pailing for a bat.
He got Mrs Mac. to bowl him, but she couldn't run at all,
So he trained is sheep-dog, Pincher, how to scout and fetch the ball.

Now, Pincher was no puppy; he was old, and worn, and grey;
But he understood M'Dougal, and - accustomed to obey -
When M'Dougal cried out "Fetch it!" he would fetch it in a trice,
But, until the word was "Drop it!" he would grip it like a vice.
And each succeeding night they played until the light grew dim:
Sometimes M'Dougal struck the ball - and sometimes the ball struck him!
Each time he struck, the ball would plough a furrow in the ground,
And when he missed the impetus would turn him three times round.

The fatal day at length arrived - the day that was to see
Molongo bite the dust, or Piper's Flat knocked up a tree!
Molongo's captain won the toss, and sent his men to bat,
And they gave some leather-hunting to the men from Piper's Flat.
When the ball sped where M'Dougal stood, firm planted in his track,
He shut his eyes, and turned him round, and stopped it - with his back!
The highest score was twenty-two, the total sixty-six,
When Brady sent a yorker down which scattered Johnson's sticks.

Then Piper's Flat went in to bat, for glory and renown,
But, like the grass before the scythe, our wickets tumbled down.
"Nine wickets down for seventeen, with fifty more to win!"
Our captain heaved a heavy sigh, and sent M'Dougal in.
"Ten pounds to one you'll lose it!" cried a barracker from town;
But M'Dougal said "I'll tak' it mon!" and planked the money down.
Then he girded up his moleskins in a self-reliant style,
Threw off his hat and boots, and faced the bowler with a smile.

He held the bat the wrong side out, and Johnson with a grin
Stepped lightly to the bowling crease, and sent a "wobbler" in;
M'Dougal spooned it softly back, and Johnson waited there,
But M'Dougal, crying "Fetch it!" started running like a hare.
Molongo shouted "Victory! He's out as sure as eggs,"
When Pincher started through the crowd, and ran through Johnson's legs.
He seized the ball like lightning; then he ran behind a log,
An M'Dougal kept on running, while Molongo chased the dog!

They chased him up, they chased him down, they chased him round, and then
He darted through a slip-rail as the scorer shouted "Ten!"
M'Dougal puffed; Molongo swore; excitement was intense;
As the scorer marked down twenty, Pincher cleared a barbed-wire fence.
"Let us head him!" shrieked Molongo. "Brain the mongrel with a bat!"
"Run it out! Good old M'Dougal!" yelled the men of Piper's Flat.
And M'Dougal kept on jogging, and then Pincher doubled back,
And the scorer counted "Forty" as they raced across the track.

M'Dougal's legs were going fast, Molongo's breath was gone -
But still Molongo chased the dog - M'Dougal struggled on.
When the scorer shouted "Fifty" then they knew the chase would cease;
And M'Dougal gasped out "Drop it!" as he dropped within his crease.
Then Pincher dropped the ball, and as instinctively he knew
Discretion was the wiser plan, he disappeared from view;
And as Molongo's beaten men exhausted lay around
We raised M'Dougal shoulder high, and bore him from the ground.

We bore him to M'Ginniss's, where lunch was ready laid,
And filled him up with whisky-punch, for which Molongo paid.
We drank his health in bumpers, and we cheered him three times three,
And when Molongo got its breath, Molongo joined the spree.
And the critics say they never saw a cricket match like that,
When M'Dougal broke the record in the game at Piper's Flat;
And the folks were jubilating as they never did before;
For we played Molongo cricket - and M'Dougal topped the score!

I thoroughly and whole heartedly recommend this book. I love the poem too.

In fact, I love this book so much that instead of buying one copy when I was in Readings at the weekend I bought two. One for me, and one for one of you. Yes, 60 Classic Australian Poems is The Great Aussie Living Book Give Away #3.

I'll give away a brand new copy of the book valued at AU$19.95 to one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter the draw is leave a comment on this post telling why you would like to win this book. That's all. I'll draw a winner at the end of Tuesday next week - that is, when it is no longer Tuesday anywhere in the world. Be sure to enter before then. As before, you get a second entry for following my blog - be sure to leave a separate comment telling me you've done so - and another for advertising this give-away on your own blog.

And so, to end this post I'll quote Christopher Cheng. In the forward to 60 Classic Australian Poems he writes:
Read the poems and laugh.
Read the poems and be moved.
Read the poems to recite.
Read the poems to enjoy.
Read the poems, and then why not write your own!


  1. And I nearly went to bed without checking the computer. A great post and you know I love those true blue Aussie poems. Rollicking yarns! Aahh...
    As I was reading Sprawl, I thought, these free verse pieces may be humourous but they are not made to be learned and recited. Give me a good ballad.
    Thanks Jeanne. You made my day.
    Definately put me in the draw. And should I loose I just might have to buy myself a copy :-)

  2. We love to bathe ourselves in poetry and with this anthology, we could actually wallow in it.

    Win or not, thank you for introducing us to yet another living book.

    Will be posting by next Tuesday. My pic has been knocked off by all your other lovely friends but I am along for the ride.

  3. You two girls are just two funny! Can you imagine if the three of us were in the same room sitting around a table drinking coffee? What a thought!! (Do you both actually drink coffee?)

  4. We have not done poetry as yet because I simply couldn't find a good book so I hope win! lol

  5. And I decided to jump aboard for the ride too!

    Sorry, Richele for putting your pic even lower by following too! :P

  6. Hi Jeanne,
    My daughter would love this book, as she spends much of her time reading poetry, so could you please enter me into the draw for this one? Thank you.

    Have a wonderful week.
    Love and blessings,

  7. As I was reading your post I thought I was going to comment that I'm going to nominate you for Australian of the Year 2010!
    Then as I got to the end I realised it was about your give away number 3. Oh, please, I would so dearly love to have one of these so I can learn more Aussieness:)
    Does that give me one entry? :)

  8. And yes, I do follow your blog and have been for many moons, so does that give me another entry? :)
    Please say yes!

  9. Now, I'm getting greedy! I've done a post about you on my blog, so do I get a third entry! oh, I'm getting so excited!

  10. I feel a bit greedy putting my hand up for another freebie but Please put me in this draw too. I prefer a ballad too - it's the story that makes it interesting. With a poem like Sprawl, I don't really understand it and it's not interesting enough to want to try too hard. A poem like Life is very easy to understand but it's a bit depressing. On the otherhand the poem 'How McDougal topped the Score' is fun to read.

    I once had a lovely self-published poem book, but I can't remember the author's name. He had a wonderful poem about a fireman who saved a baby in a Sydney fire while losing his own. Does anyone know the poem I might be thinking of? - if so I'd love to find it again.

  11. What wonderful poems! We are just beginning our journey with poetry... my boys and I are walking with Robert Louis Stevenson and they love him! The poems that you listed are just wonderful and entertaining. I would love to have this book. If I don't win I will also have to add this book to my "wish list".
    I am really enjoying reading your blog!

  12. Oh man I hope I made it!!! It is Tuesday night here in Australia and I would love a copy of that book!!!!!!!!!!!! hehehehehe

  13. It is Tuesday next week, Pauline, so you're certainly in the draw!!

  14. Don't put me in the draw, because it sounds such a wonderful book for mums with young children. Just chiming in to say I love poetry, love Australian bush ballads as vehicles for aussie yarns. Not Australian, but do you know The Golden Treasury of Poetry, selected Louis Untermeyer, ill. Joan Walsh Anglund? Eclectic, enticing - wonderful!

  15. Ohh...this looks delicious. Just the thing to make a perfect Poetry Teatime.
    So glad you have told us about it, I'll be getting it somehow.

  16. More fond memories of learning Banjo Patterson's poems while at school in Geelong! I think I still know some of "The Man from Ironbark" off by heart. A few years ago, I found a lovely little harcovered book of his poems on sale at a bookshop, I couldn't resist it. It includes beautiful Australian paintings and lino prints by Bruce Goold.

  17. hi :) i would like to win this book because i have two little aussies with one ex pat aussie lit illiterate mum :)

    looking forward to this weekend!

  18. Just wanted to say we are enjoying this one, thanks!

  19. Thanks for sharing the blog.keep wiritng blogs such like that it will increase our knowledge


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