Joseph Coelho reads excerpts from The Girl Who Became A Tree

Published on: 7 Medi 2020

Poet and playwright Joseph Coelho reads aloud from his newest collection of poems, the Greek-myth inspired The Girl Who Became A Tree. Watch the video or read the transcript below.

Joseph Coelho on The Girl Who Became A Tree

Video transcript:

Joseph Coelho here! BookTrust have asked me to give you a rundown of The Girl Who Became A Tree, a verse novel – a poetry collection.

I’ve called it a story told in poems, because I was very conscious when writing this book of making sure that each part of the story was a poem. There are pantoums in here, there are limericks, there are rondels, there are even concrete shape poems – poems told in shapes – in this collection. One that I particularly like, which took quite a while to do, is this one called Key – which is in the shape of a key.

So there are definite poems, individual poems, that tell a story of a young girl called Daphne, illustrated by the wonderful Kate Milner. Daphne is dealing with the loss of her father. She’s a latchkey kid, which means she’s often home alone after school, her mum’s a nurse, so her mum’s often working late. But because of that, Daphne often finds herself in the library where she finds comfort in the books, where the librarian knows her and saves books for her.

I’m going to read you the first poem in the story, called The Story of a Girl. It goes like this…

 A story of a girl
with a hurt she can't express.
A tale of a creature? 
A tail of deepest red.

 

A journey in a library
where a forest lurks.
A message that is stolen.
A fable of growing hurt.

So on this particular day, in this particular library, Daphne realises that her mobile phone has gone missing. And so she starts a journey searching for this phone which takes her into a sinister, dark, magical forest hidden in a hole in one of the bookcases of the library where a creature lurks and is waiting to keep her there.

She reflects a lot on her relationship with her father. I had a lot of fun writing this because I got to play with dialogue. I used to work a lot with dialogue in my history as a playwright, so it was nice to bring dialogue into this collection as well. This poem is called Daft Knee:

My father was a tree surgeon
"Loves trees more than people," said Mum
"Not true," he'd say
"I've never hacked a limb off a person."
 
"Daft-knee!"
was the name the kids teased me with at school
they never knew
I was named to crown emperors.
 
"Daphne was turned into a tree
in Greek mythology."
My father tells me this story
"Trees are blessed with longevity," he says.
 
"You wish I was a tree,"
I tease
"Then you could chop off my limbs
whenever I chat back."
 
He always laughed
like the sun
"You've got it all wrong,
I protect trees."
 
"With a chainsaw?" I giggle
(He was always sharpening that thing)
"That's just for those tricksy trees,
the trees that are dead, dying or dangerous."
 
He'd come home smelling
of the trees he had healed.
Fresh as pine, earthy as oak. 
We'd eat dinner to the aroma of the woods.

So Daphne is reflecting back on her father, trying to process her grief. It being about a girl who has turned into a tree, there are obviously a lot of connections with the Greek myth of Daphne and in this collection I’ve also retold that myth on black paper, so you can see the poems that are the retelling of the Greek myth. This is the first of the retellings, Daphne and her father Peneus:

"You are growing older,"
said Peneus to his daughter.
Soon you'll run your course without
the comfort of my waters.
 
"I'll always meander near,"
said Daphne, to her father.
"I'll deluge the course you carve,
my cascade will never falter."
 
"Just as my current winds
from tiny trickle to the sea,
you too must flow my love,
run your course without me."
 
"I'll never grow O-daddio,
our course will never change.
Daughter runs with father forever,
mirrored waters must stay the same."

 

So we get a sense in that poem that she is struggling with the idea of living without her father in her life.

When she’s in this dark sinister forest, she comes across a creature – a squirrelly-type man called Hoc, and she confronts him, telling him what she wants. This poem is called I Just Want My Phone:

 I don't care 
about monstrous things,
ancient things,
things that bite, scratch or growl.
 
I just want what's mine.
 
I don't care how dark the forest,
how tall and gnarled the trees.
No matter how cold,
I'm brave, I'm bold.
 
I just want what's mine.
 
I'm not put off by sharp teeth,
no matter how long or yellow.
No mean sharp claws
will keep me indoors.
 
I just want what's mine.
 
I'll follow night into the forests.
Chase the mountain when it drowns in the sea.
I'll scale a mountain
all the while shouting...
 
I just want what's mine.

But does she get what’s hers? That’s for you to find out.

 

The Girl Who Became A Tree is published by Otter Barry Books and is available now.

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