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Susan Crossan: The Weight Of Water (Bloomsbury)

Getting schoolchildren into poetry is a tricky business.

What's the best method? Having them learn it by rote? Well, it's effective. There are people well past retirement age who can reel off poems which were drummed into them before they'd seen their first Anderson shelter. But drilling poetry into children parrot-fashion can also put them off the stuff for life. Alternatively, one could analyse a poem, take it apart and tease out the varying levels of meaning along with the techniques used, but that runs the risk of making a poem seem like a cryptic crossword, a puzzle or exercise rather than an intimate means of communication.

The Weight Of Water suggests another approach. Basically, it's a novel in which every chapter is a poem written by a 12-year-old Polish girl named Kasienka, who has arrived in Britain with her mother in an attempt to track down the girl's errant father. They live in poor accommodation and Kasienka is bullied at school. Her only bright spot is the school swimming team.

The pleasure and ease of The Weight Of Water comes from the fact that we have a consistent narrator living through a linear plotline so the job of interpretation is kept to a minimum. At the arrival of each new poem, Kasienka is already known to us, and everything we learn about her life – the way that her mother tramps from door to door clutching a photograph of her husband, for instance – already has a context to slot into.

In the normal scheme of things, adopting a persona for the sake of an individual poem is just another rhetorical device a poet might employ. But, by limiting herself to telling Kasienka's story, Crossan brings a solidity and reliability to her verse that might be reassuring to those who are less familiar with the form, and introduces a narrative drive and ongoing emotional connection with the subject. It may not be a new idea, but in the context of the times it's a refreshing one, and it will be interesting to follow the fortunes of this book over the coming years.


Sarah Crossan

Bloomsbury, £6.99

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