Ford St Publishing, Australia, 2021
Harry Laing’s poetry and Anne Ryan’s illustrations marry perfectly in this collection, exuding energy and a delight in the wonders of the everyday. Indeed, the poet’s intent is to ‘normalise’ poetry, to make it an easy, accessible vehicle for ideas, observations and feelings.
The poems in Rapperbee are for the most part rollicking, fast moving and lots of fun. They flaunt the captivating qualities of words, sounds, rhythm and rhyme, inviting the reader or listener in (and they are meant to be part of the age old oral tradition of the travelling minstrel).
Silliness is a perfectly acceptable entrée to the delights of verse and a super way of engaging children and young students in the art of poetry writing and reading – think Edward Lear. Tapping into the child’s ear for the ridiculous, liltingly told, is a winner.
There are, however, a goodly number of poems in this book of a more serious bent, especially those about the natural world. For example, Regent Honeyeater is a passionate homage to this beautiful and endangered bird; The Lord Howe Stick Insect also reminds us of the fragility of many a species and gives us hope of the possibility of returning from the brink; The Greatest Heart in History uses Phar Lap’s heart to impress upon us the value of never giving up; Stingrays, in Attenborough fashion, extols the virtues of this marvellous sea creature. Here is a poet whose respect for nature is worn very clearly on his sleeve.
Harry Laing’s passion for the spoken word and the power of language to amuse, inspire and to influence thinking is potent. Adults and children will read this work with equal pleasure – The Wave You’ve Waited For will please children with its pictorial representation, and adults for its strongly evocative language conjuring up the physical and spiritual pleasure of surfing on a ‘green body of glass’.
Young readers will also find much to smile about in Anne Ryan’s lively drawings. There’s so much pizzazz, movement and fun in them, along with a high level of interpretive skill.
School visits live or on ZOOM are part of Harry Laing’s métier and one can well imagine the impact he has on students and teachers in imparting the love of the written word. This book will be a welcome addition to home or school libraries and I hope, an encouragement for students to be open to poetry as a form of expression equally as accessible and powerful as its sister, song.
Thank you to The Book Cow and Ford St Publishing for my review copy and to Harry for such an enjoyable conversation about the joys of poetry.