A witty, creative and nostalgic collection, Natalya Newman
Various edited by Kate de Goldi and Susan Paris
Massey University Press
February 15, 2022
Split into four terms to mirror a school year, this collection looks into the minds of student poets who float around the fringes of every school, observing the world around them and letting their imaginations carry them into the sky.
Skinny Dip is a collection of poetry from the perspectives of those in a school environment. Edited by Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi, it was published by Massey University Press last year. The book brings together a group of established NZ poets reminiscing about their own school days.
There are a few poems that evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in me. It’s not the type of nostalgia that feels like the warmth of the sun, or perhaps the feeling of plants growing, but rather the type that feels like a gentle rainy day. I am familiar with the frustration of heavy rain at school, soaking through folders and papers that I can’t quite fit in my bag. But the type of rain at school that is the nicest is the type that puts a slight chill in the air and reminds the sun to give us a break in summer. The type of rain that places smiles on the faces of poets as they tilt their faces, eyes closed, toward the sky.
Interestingly enough, while I am writing this, that exact rain is falling. Soft rain, sometimes frustrating states of humidity, and student’s glasses fogging up with the combination of rain and masks. Although unplanned, this is a book I only seem to read when it is raining. Sitting on the school bus and watching water run down the windows and wondering how many of the words I am reading are reflected in the minds of the students around me all resting in their seats.
An interesting theme explored by a few of the poems is the difference in how people will talk and write when they are around others compared to when they have no witness but the paper they are writing on. It can be freeing to create and imagine when nobody is watching, but the presence of other people can render you mute or cause a stutter to invade your voice that has not made itself known before.
What I love about this book as a high school student, is that it didn’t transport me into a different place. Instead, it pushes me to look at the people and the world of myself and all the other students in a new and refreshing way. Looking at other students, meeting their eyes, and wondering if I looked a bit deeper, would I see a poet staring back at me?
I love the scattered range of experiences and little snippets of memories contained in Skinny Dip. It presents a huge variety of human emotions and how different our lives are. Although this whole book is nostalgic, ranging from humour to sad speculation, the little snippets of different experiences really push my mind back and make me experience the later poems completely differently. Remembering past school years and what I would get up to was comforting and relaxing and put me in the right kind of mindset to receive the messages and experiences of the poems that came after.
I particularly enjoy the witty and humorous dissection of poetry form in the back of this collection. It certainly proves that you can’t simply stop reading the book when you’ve finished. I ended up going back and picking each poem apart as directed in the explanation of poetry form, and I loved finding everything I had missed. It is incredible seeing the challenges that the poets assigned themselves, with all the intricate footwork of rhyme schemes, word counts, syllables, number of lines, and all the weird and wacky rules that characterise every type of poem and poetry style. Rest assured that my fascination with the poetry forms described in this collection will have me trying many new poetry forms and probably failing many others!
Adding to the wit and creativity outside the poetry in this collection, I also find great enjoyment in how ‘The Poets’ section is written. I suggest that if you read this collection, don’t put it down after finishing the poetry. There is still a lot to discover beyond the page where the poems end!
The cover of this collection is gorgeous and eye-catching in a soft, simple, and carefree way. It depicts flower petals reflected in rippling water, with a sweet contrast between pale pink and yellow. The colours are both gentle and strong when paired together, drawing attention to the book without being glaringly bold and bright, which would deter some readers. These colours feel nostalgic and serene and attract the reader without being forceful.
Art is featured throughout the book in bold strokes of black, and the illustrations are all simple and stark in a way that keeps readers actively interested and engaged with the poetry. The artwork reminds me of what I do in my own schoolbooks and have seen in many others, little doodles and ideas that may relate to what I’m doing or might just be products of a wandering, idle mind. This blend of poetry and art is enthralling and reminds readers that visualisation is just another way to experience poetry, rather than just reading the words or listening to them be spoken aloud.
Poetry is boundless and can captivate emotions that writers may not even realise they are feeling. Skinny Dip shows that the overall human experience cannot be summarised. We are all bright and different and wonderful, and I love that this collection of poems really explores so many different visualisations and perspectives.
If you are a fan of Nina Mingya Powles, whose poetry collection Magnolia 木蘭 I have read and reviewed in the past, then you will love this book. In fact, Powles’ poetry is included in this collection and is just as magical as I remembered.
A few writers whose poetry is featured in this collection make an appearance in Out Here, which I also reviewed and loved. Each of these three collections feature beautiful, soulful poetry that offers a bit of something for everyone, whether it be experiences you may relate to or certain emotions that are brought back to the surface. If you enjoy soft, nostalgic poetry and exquisite writing, I’d definitely recommend giving Skinny Dip a read!
- Natalya Newman is a student in Whangarei