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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Another Book from the Backyard

Updated: Aug 21, 2022

Getting the word out about our wonderful homegrown books, Backyard Tales features titles from my local colleagues, some of whom don’t write in my usual genres. Today, I'm reviewing Inside: Outside, the debut poetry collection of Connie Diamondaras (Te Arawa).

Inside: Outside

Connie Diamondaras

When I was ten and she was seven, Connie Diamondaras and I were childhood friends. Weekend mates, who played in the sand dunes, making forts, waving sticks, and orchestrating mock battles with our siblings at Pukehina Beach. Our dads would fish together while our mums would drink tea. Irene and my sister, that giggly toddler twosome, were thick as thieves, while the boys—my two brothers and Connie’s brother Stavros—outdid themselves with their battle cries. I have other memories, too. Flashes of Connie singing while we jumped in the bouncy pohuehue bushes. Of Connie writing in the sand with a stick. I remember the two of us turning cartwheels. Collecting shells. Eating scones on the wooden stairs that led down to the beach. I remember Edna Mae too, a beautiful soul who followed the rest of us with her eyes, lighting up at the sight of Connie when we traipsed our armies inside to guzzle cups of water.

Children build

sandcastles by the sea

that grow with them

to complicated designs

constructed for

an imaginary world

(in “Nightmares” p14)

A year or so later, sports and other activities intruded, and our weekends at the beach slowed. My parents rented out the house, and Connie and I lost touch as is often the way with childhood friends. Then four decades on, we met again at a work-in-progress meeting of Tauranga Writers, and I learned of some of the struggles my friend had faced in those intervening years. This book, Inside: Outside, Connie’s debut collection, offers readers glimpses into her extraordinary journey, a study of personal trauma and mental illness and also of recovery, because, for Connie, the battles have been real. In her poem “Go catch a blue train!” (p46), she explains:

Catch the blue train,

in the blue of the sky.

Here my mind talks to me,

And the ride is insane

Inside: Outside comprises 44 poems and six story-reflections, many of which pay tribute to members of Connie’s family: her parents, siblings, and nieces. These works display her deep conflict and unbreakable connection with her family, emotions which are common to all families—a source of both hurt and healing. Blending fantasy and faith, Connie’s story “Heaven” is especially poignant, telling of a magical afterlife encounter with her beloved sister, Edna Mae. In this place, unencumbered by her physical self, it is Edna Mae who leads them, offering companionship, and also solace, to Connie, who must go on alone.

Is it real?

Can you share my fantasy?

Do you comprehend me?

(in “Is it Real?” p13)

There is a strong dose of whimsy in Inside: Outside. In fact, at first glance, “Jellybean”, “Tara the Toad”, ‘Spooky Monkey Rap”, Mollie Mophead”, and “Monkey on the Wall”, might appear like frivolous ditties, but a closer read exposes the harsher truths that accompany mental illness and despair, the humour and whimsy of the poems providing a welcome counter to the darkness. Themes of otherness and exclusion are prevalent. A favourite piece, “The Goatyard Clan”, reflects on the heartlessness and indifference of society, and in particular the false friends who desert us in times of need. And front and centre to this collection is Connie’s faith, apparent in poems like “On the Inside” and “The Most High”.

With a cover design by Kay Lister based on Kaleidoscopic 1923 Kadinsky art, and a foreword by my own writing mentor, Jenny Argante—who has nurtured and formed Connie’s work in same way she has shaped my own— Inside: Outside is a wonderful debut, the first, I hope, of many more collections from Connie.

Copies of this title are available from Sonshine books in 2nd Avenue, Tauranga, direct from Red Hen Books, through Wheelers Distributors, or ask for it at your bookseller or library.

ISBN 978-0-473-63365-3


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