Packing a Bag for Mars by James Norcliffe with illustrations by Jenny Cooper. Published by Clerestory Press, Christchurch. firstname.lastname@example.org $27
The School for Young Writers in Christchurch commissioned James Norcliffe to write a book of poems for students. This book isn’t just a collection of poems though. It is like a packed suitcase that you can take on your own poetry adventures to the sea, the moon, the city, foreign countries, the zoo, the park, home or school. I think poets are like explorers and our bags are backed with all the books we have read and all the poetry techniques we have played with. So I think this the perfect title for a poetry book.
James has also included an interview where he answers questions about writing; questions about punctuation, new lines, redrafting, whether poems need to rhyme and much much more.
Each poem comes with a poetry-launch pad. James comes up with an idea for you to get started on your poem. They are so good, instead of writing this review I wanted to be writing a poem about what I might pack if I were to travel the length of the Nile in case strange and wonderful things happened to me.
At the end of the book there are notes on all the poems. James tells you where he got the idea for the poem from, what some of the words mean and reveals some of the poetry techniques he uses. It is like he opens a window for you to peek through and get a wider and more splendid view of his poem. Usually poems are places where we get to go exploring on our own (and this great too!)
What I love about James as a poet is that he is prepared to test out all kinds of things when he writes. His poems can make you think about things differently and feel things differently. He writes about all kinds of subjects from sports to celebrations to superstitions to dressing for peace.
James has written a book of poems that is full of challenges so it is a book that will inspire many of us to write more and to write in new ways. As a poet I always like to try things I haven’t done before. I like to set myself new and exciting challenges.
I see this book as a real gift for students from Year 5 or 6 right though to Year 13.
PS James has also written the award-winning The Loblolly Boy (I loved the imaginative stretch of this story published by Longacre Press!) and The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer (I am looking forward to reading this). The Enchanted Flute was published in 2012. The latter two were published by Random House NZ.