Self-published: Feather Books, 2007, £3.50 incl. p&p
(Profit goes to fund-raising for the Jakota People of Crow Creek Reservation, South Dakota)

[The pamphlet is available from the author at 27 Headingly Court, North Grange Road, Leeds LS6 2QU]

The underpinning idea behind this group of poems is “the intersection of two cultures”. The author has taught in multi-cultural groups in the UK but also worked as a volunteer on Indian reservations in South Dakota. Editor of the Christian poetry magazine, Gabriel, she has been strongly influenced by the loving relationships she has formed with people of different followings.  Here she brings the different threads together:

          Your faith is not my faith,
          your ways not my ways,
          yet, each day, like daughters,
          you rejoice my heart.

                   (‘Muslim Girls’)

In ‘Footsteps’, it is a little Muslim boy who runs up and takes her hand, drawing her into a circle of teachers and children. The experience has stayed with her:

          Now when old men,
          heavy with their own authority,
          stand on parapets and balconies
          and tell us of our divisions—
          that boy’s footsteps will come again,
          racing across my heart.

The writing is simple and effective in its simplicity—those “parapets and balconies” suggest all the familiar positions of authority and although Laycock is no feminist, it is definitely male authority here that both threatens and comforts, and that gives pause for thought.

In ‘The Killing of Crazy Horse’, Laycock casts the Christian story of Judas in a less familiar background:         

          He was thirty years old and a dreamer
          and they had taught me white man’s ways.
          The night I took him there
          I did not know that they would kill him.

The ‘Chameleon’ in the title of the collection reflects a heightened awareness of skin colour, often a risky territory. But here it’s celebratory:

          Now in the early evening the Mass bell rings,
          a small hand steals into mine,
          the tiny pink nails contrasting with the skin,
          a golden hand, rose-tinted as the sunset.

                   (‘Colours Before Mass’)

Perhaps the poem which most strongly of all recreates that sense of cultural interaction, and also that sense of loss where one culture has over-ridden another, is ‘Glorious He Stood’. It’s a poem about a little boy in an American School. He is shy, wearing jeans, sweatshirt and “a red baseball cap hiding/ his hair’s long darkness”. Then at a traditional Pow-Wow, Laycock sees him “caught in sunlight” wearing his feathered head-dress and tribal clothes:

          He stands in the awesome beauty
          of his tribe, his eyes proud, masking
          the centuries-long sadness.

Later, at school, she sees him back in Western garb “that silly cap upon his head” and remembers him “as he really is”. And what he really is, is no less than “glorious”.

Helena Nelson

What the Common Reader says about Thelma Laycock’s Chameleon Days:

I liked the Foreword (normally I don’t) which explained the inspiration for the writing. I immediately envied this poet who had taught children from so many different cultures. I imagine the children she was so proud to teach would have gained very much from Thelma Laycock.

‘Daughter of the Magi’ ends:

          Be as wise as your forefathers—
          look beyond the shape of mushrooms
          and seek a star.

A truly inspirational poem. The visual description of the children in ‘Muslim Girls’ makes a real visual impact too.

‘Glorious He Stood’ is a strong poem about the Americanisation of native people of the USA—

          I will remember how I saw him
          as he really is:
          in that moment
          in that second
          before the Pow-Wow started,
          before the drum’s first beat
          when glorious he stood.

There is sadness, though, in ‘The Killing of Crazy Horse’.

Don’t imagine that because the theme is a teacher’s experience of working with multi-cultural children it is in any way boring. The writing is very diverse and each poem drew me in. I’d love to meet this wonderful woman.


And the young reader adds:

The cover image on my copy hadn’t printed very well, which made the chapbook look a bit cheap. Inside, the print quality is poor, and the pages have black blotches and lines that sometimes obscure words.

I found it quite difficult to look past the bad printing and actually read the poems, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised. Despite what seemed to be a restricting subject, each poem had its own character. Not all of them were brilliant, but some were lovely, such as ‘The Flute Player’ and ‘Footsteps’.