Red hardbacks
by Virginia Lowe

On my tenth birthday
my best present ever
all bound in red
The Australian Encyclopaedia
Ten volumes
packed neatly in a box
I’ll never forget the smell
the thrill

Now my favourite
is another bound in red
Red solid covers
but big, foolscap
and not even printed
My sloppy speedy handwriting
Volume twenty one
nineteen seventy eight
February to

Finally treated with respect
The reading journal
no longer in scrappy
ephemeral exercise books
Now solid, made to last
Two children to record
the responses of
and more and more
as they grew

Five thousand
handwritten pages
in twenty six volumes
Completely irreplaceable
My favourite possession
A labour of love
or just plain crazy
The reading journal
of the books we read
to our two children
from birth to eight
Their responses
meticulously detailed
Indexed under author
and theme

Blue ink for daughter, red for son
Now delightful thoughtful

A reminder
never to underestimate  —
development of mind

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken by my daughter of me with the red hardback, beside the other 25 volumes (September 2016).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The reading journal is eleven years’ work — or more, as I continued to keep it spasmodically up until the children left home at 19. It is the basis of my PhD thesis (1996, Monash University) and my book Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell (Routledge 2007), also my numerous academic articles and regular column in Books for Keeps. The volumes are truly my most precious possession (given that I don’t “possess” lovely husband John, or the two children or the grandson, or the cats, for that matter), the only object that I would try to save in a fire. I thought it deserved a poem of its own.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Virginia Lowe has been writing poetry for about 40 years, and is currently working on a collection — a sort-of autobiography with a poem for each year, tentatively entitled A Myopic’s Vision. She has been published in several anthologies and literary journals.