Versed in travelling

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Catherine Byron suggests children's poetry which will also be appreciated by adults.

As the summer holidays begin, you may well be feeling like the boy in Robert Sparrow's poem: People's voices were wrapped in cotton wool.

My own rattled in a closed tunnel.

When his ears get a good syringing from Nurse, the world comes alive: In the waiting room, Opened newspapers cracked like thunder.

Footsteps on the floor were bells ringing.

Poetry is an excellent treatment for soul and body, and here are two new anthologies and two single-poet collections to think about putting into your first-aid kit this summer, either for travelling or for staying home.

Whether your vacation will be a holiday with kids, or a holiday from kids, pack poetry. Take Jennifer Curry's A Noisy Noise Annoys (Red Fox Pounds 3.50), from which Robert Sparrow's poem comes. What a brilliant theme for an anthology - and how useful its emphasis on listening to the sounds of silence as well as on celebrating the pains and pleasures of every sort of noise, from the "noises abdominalI something phenomenal" as the Duchess takes tea, to "the trample of robins and woodlarks on the brown leaves" (John Clare).

It is an anthology with several poems from well-published writers - and even a few dead poets such as Clare and DH Lawrence - but many of the poems are previously unpublished ones, some by children as young as seven and eight. Jennifer Curry has put it all together so well that every poem feels right. Their takes on sounds made and sounds heard make this anthology just the thing for - well, anywhere you or the children need to let rip, or (preferably?) keep still and listen.

There's fun and true re-creation in poet John Agard's Why is the Sky? (Faber Pounds 8.99), but there is far more wonder, and far, far more nourishment to store against summer's end - and the autumn term. Agard has taken children at their word, their own infuriating and relentless word "why?", and assembled a rich collection of poems that put questions both teasing and profound. He finds "why?" and "what?" and "where?" being asked by poets from Lorca to McGough, in 15th-century Bengali love songs and in Langston Hughes's "Harlem (What happens to a Dream Deferred?)": Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore - And then run?

An anthology "for younger readers"? Count me in too, please. This pleasingly handsize hardback is one I want to keep.

Reading a poetry book that is all by one poet can be like a wet weekend with a stranger, as opposed to the come-all-ye of a good anthology. But Sandy Brownjohn is no stranger to teachers of poetry, especially in the primary classroom. Hodder has just brought out a first collection of her own poetry, Both Sides of the Cat Flap (Pounds 3.50). Her relish for words and sounds and exact sense impressions is as apparent here as in her indispensable how-to books. These are funny, serious, surprising poems, that show that she can do, as well as can teach - and teach teachers: a living contradiction of that tiresome (but often true) saying.

I commend in particular "A Norfolk Haiku Bestiary", which offers a wonderful structure for a writing exercise, but outgrows and outflowers any trace of exercise itself. And yes, there are plenty of cats, all most originally monikered. (See The Ability to Name Cats, Brownjohn's 1989 book for teachers. ) John Mole, already a Signal Award winner for his 1988 collection Boo to a Goose, also has a new book from Hodder: Hot Air (Pounds 3.50). Title and jolly balloon-race cover are a bit misleading, for this book offers something very precious and almost endangered in contemporary poetry for children. Peter Bailey's half dozen pen-and-ink drawings within the text are wonderfully in tune.

There is solitariness and melancholia in these poems, words for sad times and for days of drifting, of necessary daydreaming. They offer spaces for stillness and separation, such as "Next to Nowhere": "No oneSeems to own itI and that's whyI like it, why it's getting betterAll the time." Holidays are for days like this, as well for noise and laughter.

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