Of a sunburnt country and convoys of dead sailors…

Recently, I was a guest blogger on Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog to celebrate the launch of her new verse novel, Toppling. She is an acclaimed Australian children’s author and reviewer of Children’s and Young Adult novels.

Sally asked, ‘What do you like best about poetry…’


“What I like best of all is how the poet is able to capture so much in a few words – of how images are distilled and poured into those words. That is clever writing!

I haven’t read as many poetry or verse novels for younger children as I have books, but I aim to change that soon especially with Sally’s Toppling and her hugely popular, Pearl Verses the World.

Thankfully, my eyes were opened to the joys of verse novels for older children when I read Steven Herrick’s verse novel, Cold Skin. It was one of those books you cannot put down until it’s finished – and one in which the story and the characters stay in your mind for a very long time. I consumed Herrick’s Lonesome Howl and By the River in the same week – stories that wrung me out emotionally, but left a feeling of peace in my heart, and so glad I read them.

When I was at school, we studied Australian poetry and learned to say many poems off by heart. The ones that stayed with me created such strong images in my mind. I’m not surprised they have been perennial favourites for many Australians even in modern times.

Like Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. Her words could never mean any other country except Australia. I like the way her poem describes all the adversity, the harshness and beauty of this country but it makes no difference, she loves it unreservedly.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains …

Kenneth Slessor’s Beach Burial, written during WW2 is so evocative, so sad and beautiful. (It’s worth reading the whole piece.)

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness; …

It makes me happy to see how children’s poetry books and verse novels are once more popular with publishers. It means that librarians and teachers encourage children to read poetry and to perform it. And that children will discover worlds they may remember forever, with emotions that will touch their hearts.

A loved poem is a friend you can take anywhere.



2 thoughts on “Of a sunburnt country and convoys of dead sailors…

  1. I am ever grateful to the teachers who had us learn poetry by heart. When we’re driving around the countryside, my husband and I often quote appropriate lines to each other – or sometimes totally inappropriate ones, just because!

    Somehow, having lines by heart helps me to experience any situation more richly.


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