Two mynas sit on the cover of this book, above the poet narrator who is bundled into a jacket and scarf, with a woolly hat pulled down over ears – the reader sees them in profile only. Author Jordan Collins’ first performance of ‘Where?’ at a slam poetry gig as a 14-year-old is re-imagined over a double page spread as the title page. The audience, who reflect Australia’s diversity, listen delightedly in a garden setting with another myna perching cheekily on the microphone. The poet has their back to the reader.
Maintaining our sidelong view, the reader next sees the poet with dark-skinned hands turned upwards in jokey supplication to their questioner, frizzy hair and strong features in a half smile. When a glib answer supplied to the title question doesn’t land, their Anglo questioner follows them and their black cat from the playground up a bleak highway. The poet turns the handle to go through a door into another world.
Illustrator Phil Lesnie has poet and cat soar through the stars, fall to earth in a meteor shower and end up rowing to shore – then through a cave and primordial landscape. A double page spread has the pair picking their way ashore from the bow of a weathered boat - a divisive symbol of illegal arrival in Australia.
Throughout the book, images of animal ‘invaders’ and elements of evolutionary history amplify the words on the page pictorially until finally, defiantly, the poet rips open their protective coat to reveal … the universe. The poet’s eyes never meet the reader’s and that is the ultimately most powerful illustrative device to convey their message. Notes from each of the creators affirm that this book echoes their lived experiences.