Poems capture world of clouds

WORD POWER: Siobhan Harvey says writing about real life is daunting.
WORD POWER: Siobhan Harvey says writing about real life is daunting.

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 number 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 is "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.

Go to otago.ac.nz for more information.

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