Quill & Quire
Anything But Hank
aims high, attempting to combine Lewis Carroll’s whimsy with Robert Service’s sense of rough adventure. Or so says the jacket blurb. The cover art hints at action and weirdness, with a baby racing through storm clouds and mountains on the back of a pig. The story turns out to be a cool take on the classic dilemma of naming the baby. In this version, the parents can’t think of what to call their crying son, so their cat takes matters in hand, and on a magical night the baby is transported, by piggyback, to a wizard with a lizard and – well, away we go. Sounds like goofy fun, right? Wrong. The poetry too often limps and staggers, failing to live up to the billing, the art, or the story. I make no claims to being a real poet, but I have some experience with doggerel. What the best children’s poets – from Edward Lear and Hilaire Belloc to Dennis Lee and Loris Lesynski – all have going for them is a strong sense of rhythm. You can skip to their rhymes – indeed, at times you can hardly help yourself. Here, in contrast, is the second stanza of Anything But Hank
: “The cats they arched their silver backs,/ Raccoons crept through the hedge,/ The sky was blackest of the blacks/ And the full moon’s name was Reg.” That third line clearly exists only to fill in the metre, and the last one simply stops you in your tracks. Still, Eric Orchard’s paintings are lush, strange, and evocative throughout. And some phrases really resonate. The pig beautifully sums up the theme of the book when, speaking of the unnamed baby, he says: “He needs a word, a quiet space/ That he can call his own.”
About the Author
Zachariah Wells (www.zachariahwells.com) is the author of one trade collection of poetry Unsettled, as well as several chapbooks, broadsides and multimedia publications. A prolific and sometimes controversial critic, he is the reviews editor for Canadian Notes and Queries magazine and has twice won the Arc magazine Critic's Desk Award. Forthcoming works include a children's picture book, Anything But Hank (co-written with Rachel Lebowitz, illustrated by Eric Orchard); a poetry collection, Track & Trace; a collection of reviews and critical essays, Career Limiting Moves. (All of which are forthcoming with Biblioasis.) Originally from Price Edward Island, he now lives in New Westminster, BC, where he works seasonally as a passenger train attendant.Rachel Lebowitz
is the author of Hannus
, which was shortlisted for the BC Book Prize and for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction. Zachariah Wells
is the author of Unsettled
, a collection of poems about his experiences in the Canadian Arctic. They live in Vancouver, British Columbia. Anything But Hank!
is their first book for children.