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New poems from Siobhan Harvey explore the world of autism


Monday 5 May 2014 2:32pm


Siobhan Harvey’s new poetry collection, Cloudboy, is a deep-mulling, richly sensitive account of a mother’s adjustments to the needs of an autistic child.

Harvey’s collection won the prestigious Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2013.

Cloudboy is a personal story about a child with a label, an excluded child, says Harvey. ‘

“More broadly the poems are a response to how our most vulnerable members of society are treated.”

This prize-winning collection grew out of extremes of love and frustration, as the poet introduces a bright, unpredictable, markedly individual boy to the rigid, often airless routines of the school system.

Cloudboy writes his own version of Genesis; he invents a new language; he sketches intricate maps; he reads Aristotle and develops an obsession with Dr Who; he interrupts; he sways; his “fists come clenched and swinging”. To onlookers, Cloudboy seems troubled, trouble.

Cirrus, cumulus, arcus, stratus: cloud forms speak to Harvey of the phases of the mother–child bond; the mood-swings and leaps of her child’s mind; the mutability of personality; the attraction and evaporation of human kindness; presence and absence; reverie and forgetfulness; the intensity and yet bittersweet transience of early childhood.

This book is a tender and detailed atlas of a child’s imaginative potential. Yet one of the most remarkable gifts it reveals for us readers is Cloudmother’s own finely calibrated perceptions.

‘Harvey’s work has heart as well as skill, anger and compassion as well as verbal felicity,’ says Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, judge of the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2013.

Siobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection Lost Relatives (2011) and a book of literary interviews, Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand writers in discussion (2010), as well as editor of Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand poems about animals (2009). Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies at home and internationally. In recent years she has been runner-up in Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize (Aus), the Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition and Landfall Essay Prize, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize (US). The Poetry Archive (UK) holds a ‘Poet’s Page’ devoted to her work.

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