The Forgotten Works of Australian Poet C. J. Dennis

I recently stumbled across the works of Australian poet C. J. Dennis (1876 – 1938) and have been enjoying his poetry and writing from The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson. You may have come across his most well known work, a humorous verse novel called The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, first published in 1915. Selling an astonishing 65,000 copies in the first year of release, Dennis was the most prosperous poet in Australian history.The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke cover C. J. Dennis

In 1922, he began writing for the Herald in Melbourne, and wrote daily pieces until his death in 1938. He wrote about the bush, farming, small towns, cricket, horse racing, football, local crime and of course politics. Dennis wrote a prolific variety of poems and prose, many of them about ordinary Australians and which included slang and phrases of the day.

Reading his work now, it does take a little while to acclimatise to his phonetic spelling, particularly his work through the character Ben Bowyang, “rural filosofer and spelin reformer… from the bush.” (Page 5 of The C.J. Dennis Collection edited by Garrie Hutchinson). Having said that, once you adapt your reading to his writing style, you’ll no doubt find his rhyming verse addictive.

Dennis clearly had a love of words and language and was an impressive storyteller, capturing every day characters with humour and precision. His work around the ANZACs and ANZAC Day (such as A Song of Anzac and A Message) is touching and really captures a time gone by.

C. J. Dennis also wrote for kids, including A Book For Kids and A Bush Christmas, still funny today.

During his career, Dennis worked with Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and despite being just as successful, his name isn’t as well known as his two contemporaries. If like me, you’d like to re-discover the works of this legendary Australian, you can begin with The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (click here to purchase), or with his children’s books mentioned above (each in print and available for purchase).

For some of his more obscure writings though, you might need to do some digging. I managed to source The C.J. Dennis Collection – from his forgotten writings edited by Garrie Hutchinson (published in 1987) through my local library. Your efforts will be well rewarded, I guarantee.

Do you remember reading books by C.J. Dennis as a kid? Do you have any of his books on your bookshelf at home? Let me know if you have your own connection to this ‘lost’ Australian poet.

Review – Lilli-Pilli’s Sister

Lilli Pilli's SisterNot another Zombie story! Well, not that I don’t mind a dose of eye-bulging, brain-slurping fun now and then, but, “When was the last time you read a really nice story about fairies?”, so asked my other half when reading Lilli-Pilli’s Sister for the first time.

“It’s full of heart and joy,” he added. “And I really like the illustrations.”

What else is there to say? End review. But wait, there is more.

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister by Anna Branford and Linda Catchlove is one of Walker Books Australia’s first, new sparkly picture book releases of 2014. And how it shines.

Anna Branford Anna Branford of the adorable Violet Mackerel series has spun and woven her word-magic into a beautiful tale about a strawberry-blonde haired young fairy named Lilli-Pilli, who is eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new sibling. Lilli-Pilli is convinced the new family member will be a sister, because she ‘can feel it in her wings’.

As Mum’s belly swells and the day draws nearer, Lilli-Pilli helps her be-speckled Dad make a crib for the new baby fairy. Regardless of their time shared together, Lilli-Pilli is impatient for her sister’s arrival. She can’t wait to have someone new to play with. She is also a tad concerned that the crib will be too wide for one little fairy baby, so on her Mum’s suggestion, she flies off in search of soft things to put inside the crib.

Kookaburra, the painted apple moth and the white-winged triller all come to her aid but each adds to her growing uncertainty about the new baby for each of them ‘feel a brother in their wings’, and their wings are seldom ever wrong.

Crestfallen and laden with doubt, Lilli-Pilli returns to her red-gum home with her bounty of soft things just in time to discover a tree-full of squeaking and squawking. It’s exactly what she has been waiting for, or is it?

Lilli-Pilli’s Sister is an appreciatively longer picture book than we’ve become accustomed to in recent times. However each of Branford’s carefully crafted word-images creates a pleasing sense of homeliness, warmth and fun. It is hard not to be swept along by the melodious narrative all the way to the delightful twist at the end. Primary aged readers will find the story full of allure but it’s the luscious illustrations that will captivate the very young (and 50 somethings as it turns outs).Linda Catchlove

Linda Catchlove has created a collection of water-coloured mini-masterpieces, each oozing with soft dreamy detail, reflecting all the charm of the Aussie bush and its characters in much the same way May Gibbs managed to capture their very essence with her pictures and stories.

Lilli-Pill’s Sister is definitely a picture book the whole family can and will enjoy and a cracker of a way to start off the New Year, unless you’re still more into zombies than fairies.

Available here from February 2014.

Walker Books Australia February 2014.