Po­ems cap­ture world of clouds

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By LAU­REN PRIESTLEY

Ac­claimed poet Siobhan Har­vey no­ticed her son was dif­fer­ent to other chil­dren when he started school and be­came fas­ci­nated with the sky.

‘‘Af­ter class he would take me by the hand and lead me down to the play­park and while all the chil­dren were run­ning around he would make me lie down and look up at the clouds with him.’’

Her son’s autism spec­trum di­ag­no­sis and the fam­ily’s jour­ney through his first years of school be­came the fo­cus of the writer’s lat­est col­lec­tion of po­ems Nephol­ogy for Begin­ners.

The Glen Innes mother has just been awarded the Land­fall Kathleen Grat­tan Award for Po­etry, New Zealand’s rich­est po­etry prize.

Nephol­ogy is the study or con­tem­pla­tion of clouds.

It was the per­fect way for Ms Har­vey to ex­plore the is­sues of autism, she says.

The 50-poem man­u­script took about two years to put to­gether.

Much of it was writ­ten while she lay be­side her boy gaz­ing sky­ward.

The po­ems tell the story of the ‘‘cloud boy’’, his jour­ney through school, his mother’s per­spec­tive and var­i­ous other is­sues in­clud­ing med­i­ca­tion.

Ms Har­vey says the works speak to other par­ents with autis­tic chil­dren.

Re­ac­tions have been heart­en­ing and gave her the mo­men­tum to fin­ish the man­u­script, she says.

‘‘What has been amaz­ing is the num­ber of times I have par­ents com­ing up to me say­ing ‘I get your po­ems, that was my child 10 years ago or five years ago or now’.’’

The AUT tu­tor says cre­ative writ­ing can be a strong av­enue to talk about real-life is­sues.

She writes in a way that is ac­ces­si­ble to the largest num- ber of peo­ple so it can spark de­bate, she says.

‘‘It’s hard to write any­thing about real life. You ex­pose your­self.

‘‘I wouldn’t have ever been able to do it had I thought my son some­how didn’t want me to but ev­ery night he asks me to read him a poem from the col­lec­tion. He’s proud.’’

Ms Har­vey’s col­lec­tion was one of 90 en­tries judged by writer and lec­turer Jef­frey Pa­paroa Hol­man.

He says the col­lec­tion ‘‘pow­er­ful and brave’’.

‘‘Her work seemed to come out of life it­self as well as lit­er­a­ture and asked things of the reader,’’ he says.

Nephol­ogy for Begin­ners will be pub­lished by Otago Uni­ver­sity Press as part of the Land­fall prize.

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Photo: LAU­REN PRIESTLEY

Word power: Siobhan Har­vey says writ­ing about real life is daunt­ing.

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