‘skin painting’ – review plus 3 book giveaway

Skin Painting by Elizabeth Hodgson

A few weeks back, as part of National Poetry Week we were encouraged to buy Australian poetry, so I got online (as I live nowhere near a bookshop that sells decent poetry) and bought a few collections.

One collection, ‘skin painting‘ by Elizabeth Hodgson, totally blew me away with its deeply evocative and moving poetry. This says a lot, because I have read a number of modern collections by so called famous Australian poets that leave me cold and wondering what all the fuss is about (I won’t name names but it’s no-one from the blogosphere πŸ˜‰ ).

Skin painting‘ was winner of the David Unaipon Award and was highly commended for the Anne Elder Award 2008.

Elizabeth Hodgson is a fair-skinned aboriginal woman (Wiradjuri woman) who lives in NSW. She was taken from her parents at a very young age (as were so many Aboriginal childen – the Stolen Generations) and placed in a home for fair-skinned Aboriginal children in Sydney.

The poetry in this collection tells her story:

my story cannot be painted onto a canvas – it is a skin painting.

The book begins with poems that portray her life as a little girl, alone and abused, in an institution that identifies her by number; to her development years later into a strong and self-reliant adult.

The poems are personal in such a way that allows outsiders to the Aboriginal experience to gain an accessible viewpoint. Basically the brutal honesty and ‘sting in tail’ nature of the poetry had me in tears for much of the reading and I have been going over and over many of the poems in my head (always a sign that a poem is good).

One poem outlines how she again lives with her dark skinned father when she turns fifteen. Here is an extract:

‘he is a stranger to me
he is sober, respectable, employed
he has a new wife; she is white.

I do not know him; I search his face
trying to find myself in his eyes, his skin, his hair.
My arm is pale against his black skin.
I ask him why; he dies before he finds an answer.’ ( p. 40 skin painting)

This poem is heartbreaking on so many levels – that her father chooses to become like the ‘respectable’ white man to get access to his daughter, how it changes him so he is unrecognisable; how it is all too late.

Wouldn’t it be great if ‘skin painting‘ could be widely available in Australian schools, so that young people could gain a greater understanding of some of the issues surrounding the Stolen Generations?

I have bought 3 extra copies of ‘skin painting’ as I would love the book to gain a wider audience. If you want a free copy you can email me (gbryden at bigpond dot com) – first in, best dressed!

Skin painting‘ was first published in 2008 by University of Queensland Press.

26 thoughts on “‘skin painting’ – review plus 3 book giveaway

  1. What a great name for the collection!
    I can’t think of a much more painful event than being grabbed by strangers and dragged away kicking and screaming to be confined in a loveless place for years, a mere number. Except maybe the pain suffered by her parents!

  2. I think we all search our parents faces for likenesses to our own (badly put, but you know what I mean), so that we can reassure ourselves that we ‘belong’.

  3. what a beautiful cover, it reminds me of “le petit prince” de St- Ex.
    The title too is beautiful ,skin painting…
    In Canada also they did the same thing to native kids, putting them far away in schools, so much suffering!

  4. heartbreaking isnt it, wow. similar to the sorts of injustices perpetrated on the natives of this land as well, sigh, what a world, we have changed our minds about prejudice in various degrees now, but the damage has already been done to so many its a great shame. thank you for thanking this writer for her courage and spirit by introducing her. it obviously is an amazing book and very important work.

  5. I often find poetry like this extremely upsetting to read because I feel such sorrow anyone should have to go through that. Having said that though, it is obviously beautifully written. It should be available in Australian schools. I’m going to get Nick to mention it to his English teacher. Thanks for a wonderful review.

    • That would be great Selma πŸ™‚ It was an upsetting read, but also uplifting because she is such a strong and independent person as an adult – sometimes the most resilient people are those who have had terrible things happen to them as a child (but other times they are the ones who are too damaged to live a fulfilled life). It is good to know that some people have the strength to get to the other side in one piece.

  6. “skin painting” – that’s amazing – the human skin does tell a story – the lines, the wrinkles, where they are located, the broken vessels, the tones.

    How terribly sad, that poem. I’ve just searched my uni’s library site and it’s there, so look forward to reading the collection, Gabe. Thanks

  7. Hi Gabe, thanks for bringing ‘Skin Painting’ to our attention. From what you’ve written and the extracts it certainly does sound like a wonderful collection. As to your comment that wouldn’t it be wonderful if books like this were more widely known – yes, is the answer. But I also think that poetry will flourish – at least it will have more of a chance of flourishing – in the digital publishing environment. We can only hope, can’t we!

    • I am sure poetry will flourish in the digital age Nigel – poetry is made for the digital age πŸ™‚ and the age of short attention spans (twitter poems, hyper linked poems, etc.,). Every day I get a famous poem delivered to my email inbox – free and easy – haha – loving it.

  8. Thank you Gabrielle for introducing my poetry. Yours and your readers’ comments brought tears to MY eyes. The book wasn’t easy to write and there are parts that I cannot read in public.

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