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NT Writers' Centre Review – Malcolm – a story in verse by Leni Shilton

AFTER THE SUCCESS of Walking with Camels, a story about the fascinating Bertha Strehlow, you could forgive Leni Shilton for taking a break. Instead, she has produced this powerful collection of poetry that tells the story of Malcolm.

The backbone of the work is its breakdown of a single story into verse form. This provides the reader with snippets of heart-wrenching detail, as the characters narrate the harsh realities of life in Melbourne’s societal underbelly.

The scale of the social issues that are affecting the community are evident, and Malcolm doesn’t shy away from confronting them head on; however, the underlying tone is one of deep respect and a humanising sadness for those caught in the middle. There are some big themes in the work, but the down-to-earth style of language makes it extremely accessible and relatable to those who may not otherwise read poetry.

What is striking is how perfectly Shilton has captured the voices of those who are rarely given the opportunity to speak. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – Shilton has worked extensively in violence prevention programs – but the perspective shift may leave some readers reeling. This is certainly a must-read for anyone living in contemporary Australia.

There is a secondary sadness to reading this beautifully crafted work, and that is because UWA Press will soon close their doors after eighty-five years of printing. The institution has always been a strong supporter of less commercial, but vital, works and now those small, barely audible voices just got a little quieter.


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