Letters to the Zoo

Adventures in Blurry Culture

Words: Just after 5 on a Friday

A poem from a document entitled ‘responses to creative prompts’. The ‘prompt’ is lost to history. Written 13 March 2015.

Just after Five on a Friday

Polyester slips swollen with air,

make skirts flap like kites, their pleats tugged skyward.

Below the horizon of skirts

legs the colour of milk and tobacco,

Stand in clumps.

Leaves and gutter-sludge

morph the Marks and Spencer loafers,

cling to the snapped stiletto.

I watch wisps of hair


The local newspaper flops among the pedestrians,

dodging the edge of the footpath,

a headline intermittently declaring a recent deluge of rain.

The footpath is mottled with stains,

of yesterday’s puddles.

Beyond the bent heads, the umbrellas stowed under arms,

the squashed butts and whirling gum wrappers,

is the warm interior of a bus,

a mottled seat in burgundy,

a patchwork of roads winding out of the city,

a number 15 bus stop,

and a sunset.


Reading Poetry to the Under 2s

Dear Zoo,

This is a very good day. This is the last day of winter. Good things are happening. The air is rich with possibility. I like it a lot.

This month, my library spotlighted poetry as New Zealand celebrates poetry on the 25th of August (National Poetry Day). Events around the country, and region, bring poetry to the fore for a day, or maybe a couple of weeks. One of the things I did this month, in recognition of this, was read poetry in my weekly Small Time sessions, which is a session for under 2s and their caregivers that involves rhymes, stories, music and bubbles (the best part!). This month, I also read a couple of poems at each session. Mostly fun, rhyming poems from books in our collection targeted at young children.

Say what you will about poetry – people tend to either adore it or think its naff – but it works well for babies. It’s short (compared to reading a full length picture book), it plays with language, both vocab and syntax, and it’s fun. It also opens caregivers to a new way of engaging their children with literature, which is an important aspect of the session.

You might say – but there are no pictures! Au contraire. Poetry books for young children contain fun illustrations and even exciting elements like lift-the-flaps (such as in Rumble, Roar, Dinosaur! by Tony Mitton). The crawlers and walkers in our group do respond to pictures, but the words on a page can also be embellished with actions and sounds. And the babies in our group mostly benefit from hearing you speak, and the diverse vocabulary and sounds in poetry is perfect.

Yours ready for spring,



Dear Zoo,

A “quick” post today. I wanted to tell you about the book I’m halfway through because it’s so interesting! I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it but all in good time, right?

I’m reading ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks‘ by Rebecca Skloot. The book is a non-fiction/ semi-biography type book but it’s written like a good story. It’s hard to put down. The book tells three stories: it tells the story of the author writing her book and learning about Henrietta Lacks, and in that way tells the story of Henrietta (like a story within a story). It also tells the story of some of Henrietta’s cells, known to the science world as HeLa.

Henrietta was a black woman from a poor family in Baltimore who died in the 1951 from cervical cancer. At the time of her treatment some cells were taken from her body and used for experimentation in cell culture. It’s not clear whether she knew about this before she died. Henrietta’s cells were the first ‘immortal’ cells and because of this were grown and used in thousands of science experiments in the 50s. They were used, for example, in the creation of the polio vaccine. Her cells benefited science in innumerable ways. But of course, her family knew little about what was happening and were not compensated for her contribution to science (I haven’t finished the book so I could be wrong about this, they were certainly never compensated at the time).

To me this book is an absolute gem because it tells the story of race and science intersecting – two topics I’m fascinated by. Despite these lofty topics being the centre of the book, its accessible to a general audience and very readable. I’ll write again when I’ve finished!

Yours the procrastinating student*,


* I should be studying for my exam right now  but my brain started feeling fury and I needed a break! Also cake, I need some cake.