A Sonnet Sequence

John Elinger

Illustrations by Peter Honey

The subject of love, in all its forms, has interested poets in every age and culture: its common consequences, namely marriage and parenthood, less so. John Elinger, author of this collection of poems on the challenging theme of how to be a ‘good enough’ parent, is an exception to the rule. This sequence of one hundred sonnets (with footnotes) is based on his own experience as a father of six children (and now a grandfather and step great grandfather), extensive study and reflection on what he has come to understand as perhaps the most important, and certainly the most challenging, role of our lives: parenthood. He writes: ‘Good parenthood is best expressed by three / Core qualities, acceptance, care and trust, / The key components of what’s meant by love.’ (4) And: ‘More care (not extra cash) is what the world most needs: / A parent, whose priority is love, succeeds.’ (96)

The poems range across a number of topics related to parenthood: nurture and nourishment, exercise, stimulation and sleep, time, talk and tenderness, love (of course) and listening, the home and environment, and the importance of parental devotion to the duty of care. The poet argues that, while parenting is a lifelong responsibility, its nature and demands alter over time, and good practice changes during the ‘seven stages’ of parenthood. The analysis of ‘good-enough’ parenting is both instructive and entertaining, written with, compassion, wisdom and poetic verve. 

Not everyone will agree with all the views expressed, and some may disapprove strongly of some of the assertions; but if the book serves to stimulate a public debate of the nature and importance of the principles and practice of good parenthood, it will have served its purpose.

John Elinger is the pen-name of Sir Christopher Ball, sometime Warden of Keble College, Oxford, Chancellor of the University of Derby, and Director of Learning at the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce; he is the author of the influential report, Start Right (RSA, 1994). The collection is warmly endorsed in the Foreword by Wendy Ball, the poet’s wife, and mother of their six children, who writes, ‘This is the book I wish we had been able to read before we began to form our own much-loved family.’

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November 2023
124 pp, 60 b&w ill