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Belonging Street: Poems

Belonging Street: Poems

Mandy Coe
Otter-Barry Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781913074807

Years ago I attended a poetry workshop led by Mandy Coe. She asked us to think of as many words as we could that associate with 'snow'. We did this with enthusiasm. Then she suggested we write a poem on the topic without using any of the words! A great idea that I have shared many times. And it's this 'tricksy' way with words which is one of the distinguishing features of her work. Just look at the word play in 'Two Autumtime Puzzles' (p.42): 'Let's pick sweet cobberries, / where spiders weave their blackwebs' and the playful collocation in 'Watch out for the Whistler' (p.68): 'He whistles to my giddy ant / he whistles fish and ships'. Such word trickery encourages scrutiny of language in a natural and unforced way.

There is much more to celebrate in Mandy Coe's second anthology. As the title suggests, a strong sense of identity permeates the book, never more so than in the emphatic opening poem: 'You are here' (p.8). The feisty 'Take the Leap' (p.10) with its repeated refrain of Ready, steady, set? You bet?' offers encouragement in the face of challenges. Children could develop the poem adding their own challenges to the refrain.

Many of the poems cry out to be performed. Take 'City Seed Song' (p.36) or 'Speed up, slow down' (p.56). As the title suggests, the rhythm drives the pace of this sprightly poem.

For sheer ingenuity, you can't beat 'Beginnings, A Million Middles and an End' (p.74). The reader is given suggestive elements of a story beginning 'The robber pulls on his magic capeā€¦ a yawning shepherd boy, half asleep'. An anxious mother bids the boy farewell as he sets off along 'a rocky path vanishing over a hill'. But this is a story without a middle. Coe drops hints of what might happen and these are deepened by her illustration of a story map.

Coe's beautiful line illustrations complement and enrich the poems. Note the dragon barber in 'First Haircut' (p.18), hinted at in the poem but fully revealed in the image. Such juxtapositions also feature in her words such as the counterpointing images in 'Wonder of the Everyday' (p.11): 'a new star formed, shirts dried on the line'.

The book's finale is the mesmerising 'The Children's Song' (p.78). It's a beautiful celebration of childhood across the world with the same lyrical, gentle touch that characterises so many of her poems.

80 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant


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