Plum pickings

4th September 1998 at 01:00
PLUM. By Tony Mitton. Illustrated by Peter Bailey. Scholastic Pounds 9. 99.

This is a welcome first collection, handsomely bound, appealingly and helpfully illustrated in black and white by Peter Bailey. It is stylistically varied, with rhythm and rhyme, ballad, rap and free verse, and subjects range widely through myth, emotions, relationships, the natural and urban world.

One or two of the poems could become classics. The tongue-twisting sounds and thumping rhythms of "Mrs Bhattacharya's Chapati Zap Machine", all 17 verses of it, stay in the mind like a modern urban version of A A Milne's "The King's Breakfast", in which the king only wanted a little bit of butter for his bread.

My only quibble is with the editor, and can be illustrated by two of my favourite poems, "The Snake and the Apple" and "Early Walkman". What a pity the editorial decision was taken to allow the author to insert 22 unnecessary notes into the heart of the text. This means that a clump of small print appears before or after poems. It suggests a failure of trust in the poet to be his own speaker, imaginer, myth-maker, explainer, dropper of hint and metaphor.

"The Snake and the Apple" instantly suggests Eve in the Garden of Eden to anyone from a Year 1 infant onwards who knows the story, and to those who don't, being sent off to Genesis to check it out is not likely to be helpful.

The illustrator has, in any case, done his job beautifully, adding delicate hints, in the former with a little naked Eve, and in the latter a named hominid striding the primeval swamp holding a conch shell to his ear.

What a lovely metaphor links the shell to the Walkman! A perfect example of "Don't tell, show!" The lesson must be: trust the poetry.

Gillian Clarke

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