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Workshopping the Heart


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A lover-boy Tarzan of the bed-sheets and ancient horses perched ready to flee sharp-toothed predators were the first two images I took from this book. It’s age-old with me, that love of skimming the pages of a new poetry book before actually settling to the real business of reading. Rather than being superficial, one way or another it works.

Here, with Workshopping the Heart (Wakefield Press, $24.95), it gave me an instant insight into the range and scope of the poetry being presented.

Jeri Kroll was born and raised in New York City. She received her doctorate from Columbia University there, and a bachelor’s and master’s from other institutions in the US and UK. She began her teaching career in America’s New England then, following a period of extensive travel, settled in Adelaide in 1978.

The Friendly Street Poetry Group and Kroll soon found each other, and readings at monthly gatherings followed. Kroll had penned her first poems as a young girl, but it was in 1982 that her first collection appeared in print. Titled Death as Mr Right and published through Friendly Street, it was placed second in the annual Anne Elder Award for a first book of poetry.

In the years since, Kroll has published and co-edited more than 20 other books, for young people as well as adults and in fields including poetry, picture books, short stories, a verse novel and non-fiction. Workshopping the Heart is a selected collection of her poems both old and new, the “old” having been drawn from the previous volumes of poetry and the verse novel.

In an age of the struggling, over-priced slim volume of poetry, this book – at more than 200 pages and very sensibly priced – is a bumper offering. And it represents both quality and quantity, in an offering of poetic output achieved over some 30-plus years.

There is a range of work: the witty, the moving, the accessible, the ironic and frank, all as the press release says. It also gives the reader an opportunity to see the advancement through the years; the development of an accomplished writer’s work that can come only with time and craft.

Sampling Workshopping the Heart is difficult. As said, there is so much of it and it is all good. So staying with those first two images, these examples give some idea of the breadth of mood and thought of the collection:

After a night soaring through Tarzan’s sheets,
this was my routine:
1. head home
2. mainline caffeine
3. flip through mail
4. check for pimples, did he notice?

Horses perched on their toes – their hooves –
always ready to flee. Tasty prey,
a meal for wolves, any sharp-toothed predator
that harried their ancestors
still hunts them in their genes.

The extent to which this poet’s work has progressed is attested to by her own personal advancement. These days, she is Professor of English and Creative Writing and Dean of Graduate Research at Flinders University. That would be a long way in time, space and level from the fresh young graduate lecturer at a regional campus in woodsy New England.


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