t. 94, Ila Selwyn, dancing with dragons.

dancing with dragons by Ila Selwyn.
Auckland: Westridge Publishing Ltd, Titirangi (2018).
RRP: $20. plus postage. Contact: Westridgeprint@gmail.com

Pb, 112pp. ISBN: 9780473440411.
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.

 Poets who write very long lines have to decide early on how they are going to handle this on the printed page: hanging indents? paragraph-like blocks of text? lots of slash marks? Ila Selwyn has solved this matter very simply: her new book, dancing with dragons, is rotated ninety degrees and is presented in landscape, rather than portrait, format.

This allows for smooth passage through a series of right-justified poems which, as well as having long lines, are presented in three different type faces and which incorporate carefully wrapped lines. Here’s an example, as illustration, of the poem ‘food for love’ (p. 90).


above Aotearoa, Dr Seuss clouds change shape before a backdrop of brilliant
blue eyes/ I saw you looking so sad/ without a friend standing by/ where is the
Love’s heralds should be thoughts/ Which ten times faster glide than the sun’s beams/ Driving back shadows
overcoats, woollen hats, mittens, scarves, socks and boots are needed in Winnipeg to keep
you are my guy/ i am your girl/ you are the string/ i am your pearl/ thread
measles, a virus, could become a serious epidemic, but can be prevented by a vaccine
if music be the food of love, play
on-stage for the first time, I froze like a scared rabbit in the foot-
light-hearted and getting a wee bit light-headed…


ending on p. 92 with the completing line:

above Aotearoa, Dr Seuss clouds change shape before a backdrop of brilliant blue


All the poems in the book have one word missing at the end of the first line, and they end with that line completed by bringing up the first word of the second line. This technique holds together all of the poems, and most lines require us to hop over the enjambment into the next line, in order to make sense of what is being said.

Over and above this, the lines in italic are (to quote the Foreword) ‘fragments of poems from deceased poets or from my own’ (p 3). The lines in script are intended to be sung, and they are derived from snatches of popular songs, modified to avoid copyright violation.

The book is illustrated with the poet’s own sketches, coming more or less close to the topics of the poems. “muddy waters” sports a whale emitting “beluga bubbles” (p 50); “life in the round” shows us a wolf baying at what must be a nice, round full moon (p 61).

The poems’ content is wide-ranging, throughout the world and throughout a variety of emotions, observations, and situations – some good, some uncomfortable, but all memorable – and it is presented in such a way that the poet’s voice darts and dashes within the text. To my reading, she has left her unvarnished emotions safely tucked behind several varieties of format – as, indeed, may well have been her intention from the very beginning. In that respect, it’s a very carefully crafted and presented collection.


Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015. Field Notes, a satiric miscellany, was published by Submarine Books Mākaro Press in 2017.