I Talk Like A River

I Talk Like A River
Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith
Walker Books

The transformational power of just a few words can sometimes be truly amazing and so it is in Jordan Scott’s autobiographical story. He’s a poet and this is reflected in his lyrical prose wherein he reflects on his childhood stutter and how a conversation with his father after a particularly bad day at school made all the difference.

That day gets off to the usual kind of reflective start but it’s in the classroom where things really take their toll.

When his dad collects him after school, the two take a walk beside the river. It’s quiet surrounded by nature, and having watched his son finally let the pent up emotions of the day flow from his eyes, “They don’t see a pine tree sticking out from my lips instead of a tongue.”

dad sits beside the boy and together they watch the water. “See how that water moves? / That’s how you speak.” he says.

The boy sees ‘bubbling, / whirling, / churning, / and crashing’ and then, keeping his dad’s words in his head he wades into the sunlit water. (shown behind a glorious gatefold) …

Next morning at school the narrator is able to recall these words and ‘to think of the calm river beyond the rapids / where the water is smooth and glistening. … Even the river stutters. / Like I do.’’
No, there’s no instant cure, but this experience does enable the narrator to find a way to tell the class about his favourite place. One cannot help but feel tearful at reading his final few sentences.

I can think of no better artist than Sydney Smith to illustrate Scott’s often painful language. Smith’s wonderfully atmospheric paintings are simply exquisite capturing not only the gut-wrenching pain the boy feels but also the power and energy of the river and of nature itself.

Following the story is a moving ‘How I Speak’ note by the author. Herein he gives additional details of his own childhood experience – his road to self-acceptance and finding a context in which to place his own stutter: ’he (dad) gave image and language to talk about something so private and terrifying.’

This reviewer was absolutely swept away by this awesome collaboration.

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