Right Way Down and other poems
It is something of a job perk to sign up for a book review only to find oneself thinking about one’s own writing and creativity. But then, Right Way Down is that kind of book. Edited by award-winning authors Rebecca M. Newman and Sally Murphy, it’s a kaleidoscope of voices, styles and structures with one precise aim: to remind children aged nine to twelve how much fun it is to play with words. Loosely structured into sections such as ‘Creative Thinkers’, ‘Creature Features’ and ‘Heading Home,’ the book takes poems of a type or number of types and gives kids something to sink their teeth into. Some poems rhyme, and some don’t. Some, such as Birak by Cass Lynch, delightfully play with spacing to best elucidate the sensory aspects of poetry, whereas Cricket by Rebecca M. Newman utilises the Fibonacci sequence so that the number of syllables in each line equals the total number of syllables in the preceding two lines. Some of the best poems are also the shortest; Michael Buckingham Gray’s efficiency with words in Cloudy Day makes for a poignant, wistful reveal, while Meg McKinlay’s Fremantle Harbour turns working cranes into giraffes, creating a metaphor so apt that once seen, you cannot unsee it.
Why create a collection such as Right Way Down and other poems? The most obvious answer would seem to be as a literacy tool, as these are the kinds of poems that could be read or performed for optimal enjoyment for the audience. As a father of two young boys, I’d also argue that one of the greatest strengths of Right Way Down is its ability to create curiosity about the form in children increasingly raised within a digital media environment. Indeed, poetry is one of those rare literary forms that seems ideal for adaptation into the digital realm. This particular collection is also graced with the stunning yet accessible illustrations of Briony Stewart, so in that respect, the work is half done. I would love to see this work rendered in a televisual or online format where the typography, wordplay, and voices would be given a new way to shine.
In the meantime, Right Way Down is worthy of merit as a print book and literacy tool for primary school children. Here, it’s essential to note the value of collections in poetry for this age group, as this encourages early readers and writers to find a voice that resonates rather than being given a single poet’s work and being told to learn from it. It’s also wonderful to see a project like this come to life in Perth; by honouring WA’s current generation of writers, we can, in time, inspire that next generation, who may at this point understandably wonder if indeed writing’s a career in which they can truly invest. While Right Way Down does not prove the financial viability of the writer’s life, it showcases how words, voice, and language can give wings to creativity, wonder, and imagination in children at the right place and time.