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Book Review: Reclamation Song by Jhilmil Breckenridge

Reclaiming the Power of the Feminine

Reviewed by Soni Somarajan

Reclamation Song cover

Title: Reclamation Song
Author: Jhilmil Breckenridge
Publisher: Red River
Pages: (Paperback) 100
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Holding Reclamation Song in my hands is sheer joy – here, at last, is a book of poetry made beautifully, an object of art in itself. Much thought is given to the cover design, the choice of paper, and the font – in this case, a Fell Type. The publisher, Red River, seems to have insight into how poets would love their books to be designed, evocative of the content as well as the fine delicateness of poetry itself. Thanks to Jhilmil Breckenridge, the poet who is also a painter, the illustrations in the book complement a poetic landscape that refuses to wear off days after.

The 55 poems in Reclamation Song are anything but ‘let it be light, it should float’ kind that Jhilmil aspires to, because the personal tragedy and anguish – the crux anchoring this collection – is of an enormous scale. The verse may be light but the effect is anything but floating, the weight of angst becoming our own – threatening to undo the objectivity of a review. For a debut collection, it has everything going for it – including a glowing introduction by the Master himself, Keki Daruwalla, who terms it ‘solid poetry grounded in pain’. Also, add a cluster of luminous blurbs from the who’s who in the world of letters.

Divided into three sections, we can easily say the first, “Overtures” hinges on the autobiographical – a diverse terrain: separation from children, graveyards, being born dusky, the mother’s influence, a lost childhood, abuse, longing, meeting expectations, and relationship dynamics. One begins to picture a comfortable couch, each poem a session of opening up – the release of the memories, vulnerability subject to public gaze, the poetry an attempt in and becoming the catharsis.

In “Letter to Liam”, notice the contrast between ‘I feared for your life and I let go’ and the delicateness of ‘grass and the daisies’. We focus on the poet’s earnest efforts for control over the turn of events as recalled from memory, the loss of her children. In the light of past events, note the second stanza’s ‘I love you more than words can express’ escalating into a superlative trope, ‘like an endless daisy chain’ – the mother’s love rendered in an unusually higher register, disguising a scream of helplessness. In “Love and Other Stories”, love of another kind, bruised by life’s experiences, comes full circle, inwards: ‘So now the safest place for my heart/ is with me. It beats a triumphant song…’

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Bologna 2017: Varied Perspectives from Asian Publishers

And imagination, Huang added, is something that children’s book writers and illustrations have in abundance. Take Julia Liu and Leo Tang’s Tony Bunny: A Rabbit with Short Ears (CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing Company), which has been published in Korean, Russian, Thai, and Turkish. The story is is inspired by the spike of children with microtia (small ears) and a desire to boost their confidence; a follow-up title, featuring the courageous short-eared bunny and his timid elephant friend, has the same goal. “In fact, illustrator Leo Tang created a piggy bank featuring the bunny and elephant to encourage children to save their coins and donate to their peers with microtia,” Huang said. “One cannot help but be inspired by these unique and uplifting titles.”

Picture books, said Huang, “transcend barriers—cultural and societal—and now, it is time for the picture book to transcend its traditional format, to move beyond print into other forms. That is the mission of this pavilion with its 45 illustrator exhibits. We want our content creators, and those from other parts of the world, to think beyond the printed pages, and to think differently.”

Pushing Technology- and Membership-based Programs

For Kyowon, one of the biggest publishers in South Korea, its picture books continue to sell well, especially new series such as the 30-volume World Folktales and 24-volume Smart Science with Book TV (which incorporates QR codes that link to videos, animations, augmented reality experiences, and virtual experiments).

…. Trend-wise, activity, counting, and game-based titles were popular three to five years ago, according to Nonoka. “We had great success with Toshio Iwai’s 100 Stories series. Then the popularity of Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska’s Maps threw the spotlight on illustrated nonfiction, and that category became very popular. This year, we are seeing a return to titles with beautiful illustrations and unique storylines.”

Interestingly, Kaisei-sha has been working very closely with industry counterparts Fukuinkan Shoten, Iwasaki Shoten, and Kodansha to produce a series of tactile picture books with Braille for Japanese children. “We share the technology so as to defray the production costs, and we market the books—currently at around 62 titles—together as a part of our social responsibility and awareness campaign. We believe that visually impaired children should be able to read and enjoy the same picture books that are available to others. While we are not promoting these titles to overseas publishers, we are exhibiting them at this fair to show that Braille can be applied successfully and effectively to picture books.”

Working on Social Responsibility and Beyond

Responsibility is also a major topic at Beijing-based Children’s Fun Publishing Company, a joint venture between Egmont Group and Posts & Telecommunications Press. “We are talking about social responsibility that goes beyond worker welfare and environmental protection. Sustainability when it comes to printing and selecting the correct printing partners is equally important,” said general manager Ao Ran.

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