poetry friday

Myra here.

I am glad to be joining the Poetry Friday community this week with a poetry book that fits our current reading theme quite nicely: Scarred Souls and Bloodstained Memories – Tales of War and Poetry, Refuge and Peace.


Our host this week is Margaret from Reflections on the Teche.


I first heard of this book during the AFCC Masterclass session that I moderated on Talking Books conducted by Leonard Marcus and Marjorie Coughlan here at the National Library in Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content this year. And I know I have to find this book for myself.

There are 26 poems in this collection written by acclaimed poet, Tony Johnston. Each page is filled with luminous paintings by Susan Guevara. In the jacketflap of the book Tony Johnston noted this:

Over three days and nights, the poems in Voice from Afar came pouring out. Though some are poems of grief, most are poems of hope.

This is a book that has moved me deeply. We have been featuring quite a number of posts that deal with the devastation of war, the plight of refugees, and the constant fear and uncertainty brought about by being in the thick of armed conflict. In just a few carefully-selected words, with a deft turn of phrase, and a plaintive question humming through his verse, Johnston managed to capture longing, helplessness, and despair with burnt ashes, a jaunty greeting “Salaam”, and sweet lentils.

What I find particularly powerful in this collection is how seemingly-mundane and innocuous imagery such as “Plastic Shoes” or a resilient little rosebush as seen in the poem “Survival” can evoke such depth of compassion. There is a flutter of a singing bird in the heart, nearly imperceptible, but a quiet peep nonetheless that trills Hope.” There is blue feathered magnitude in the poems here that can not be contained as Johnston cries out “Let none of them go unsung” as seen in the poem “When a Bus Exploded.”

I was also struck by how Susan Guevara described her paintings here as found in the jacketflap of the book:

“It was an act of trust to paint this book, trust in Tony’s powerful words, trust in the creative process.”

The muted colours, the texture, the subtle shades, the jagged lines, and the amorphous imagery all serve to make Johnston’s voice even more translucent in this book. I took a photo of two poems that resonated with me deeply to share with you dear friends this week, as I felt they captured that sense of peace quite distinctly.


If you have not read this book yet, I hope it finds its way to you soon in feathered wings and fairy dust.


Voice from Afar: Poems of Peace by Tony Johnston and Paintings by Susan Guevara. Published by Holiday House, 2008. Book borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.



Reading Challenge Update: 157 (25)

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

11 comments on “[Poetry Friday] Voice from Afar: Poems of Peace

  1. It looks beautiful, Myra, and touches us today with the news recently. There was a post on FB about a girl retrieving her books from the rubble of her home-so sad to see & think of her life now. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Myra. Thank you for sharing this beautiful book. What else can save us but poetry and art like this?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Written in three days? Whoa. Those are gorgeous paintings — a perfect pairing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for introducing us to Scarred Souls and Bloodstained Memories. I will definitely look for this important book. = )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. margaretsmn

    The poems are gut wrenching and timely, yet hope-filled. What we need for today to carry us through.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing such moving poems–the words and art help lessen the distance of “people are dying in far places.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Karen Edmisten

    This book looks amazing, Myra. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You find such special books, Myra! That artwork is stunningly beautiful — the cover especially.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Laura Shovan

    It looks like a beautiful book, Myra, and a timely one. “Among the Sequoias” reminded me that we can sometimes find peace when we get outside, in the woods and wild places.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve just caught up with this post, Myra – I think I was on holiday when you published it! I remember you were taken with this book and I love how you’ve written about it. It is so, so special.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: [Poetry Friday] Waiting for Something while “Winter is Coming” – Gathering Books

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