26 January 2012


I've been getting in too deep again. I wrote about them for a little project, and I thought it would be OK this time. I thought I'd move on quick, pretty well unscathed. But Ted and Sylvia always get me. Before I know it I'm listening to him read Lovesong over and over on youtube. I have a compulsion. It's the spider bite smiles, the promises that take off the top of his skull which the lover makes into a brooch, the heads like halves of lopped melons. It's Ted's voice free from any finalising tone, just stopping in the air, at the last line: In the morning they wore each other's face. I had to find the antidote to this heart-wrench.

So from lopped melons to moon-whales. I went to the children's section of the Poetry Library and took out a copy of Ted's Moon-Whales to pull myself out of the myth and just be a kid who likes words and weird things. I also wanted to look at some pictures. I picked out the version that is illustrated by Chris Riddell. His artwork is so distinctive and immediately takes me back to me being the dorkiest of kids, nicking The Edge Chronicles that were ostensibly bought for my brothers, my favourite being the Twig trilogy. His full-page Moon-Whales illustrations that spread out and into Ted's poems are rather moon-magnificent.

Who couldn't escape from an overwrought Ted rut reading about a Moon-Haggis with its 'crazy/Cruel hiccup'? Precisely. There is a moon counterpart to everything. Moon-flowers, moon-weather, moon-illnesses, moon-witches. Everything a kid can see and hear and feel and imagine. The Moon-Hyena shrieks 'laughter of dark hell,/Mad laughter of a skull'; it is wild and a little scary 'yet it is so full of love and joy that sing it must, or bust'. Interestingly, John Burnside wrote that his totem animal is the hyena only this week. Ted's totem has come to be the fox, though I think he has much more of the badger about him.

Moon-Whales is all about horrors. Perhaps not quite the antidote I foresaw. But Ted forces these horrors into rhymes, into songs. They don't all have happy endings but they are undauntedly, unwaveringly curious and quick, celebrating the odd and fantastical. The world is seen through a moon-mirror. It is dark and mad and funny and peculiar. It is not just for children. 


Ma said...

Well, who knew you read the Edge Chronicles? I never did. They were always, in my mind, N's books.

anna said...

Nope, devoured the lot. Bookthief by nature. Rip-roaring reads.

mike said...

I love the pictures - Chris Riddell has done even better here than in the Edge stuff.

For some reason I always thought that Hughes's totem anaimal would be a crow - why did I get that wrong?

EPSibley said...

Well, he wrote the crow poems, in which the crow is like a metaphor for all his personal demons and buried feelings, so I guess it could well be seen as his totem. But The Thought Fox is such a prominent Ted poem that I think the fox has now become kind of synonymous with him. But yeah, great pictures!