Herrick, S 1996, love, ghosts & nose hair, University of Queensland Press, Queensland.
love, ghosts & nose hair is the first verse novel that I read when I was in high school. It is one of those novels that I read in school which really stuck with me. We read it in English and I remember enjoying the sexiness of this verse novel. I had to do a music assignment which involved students selecting a book and choosing songs that would be ideal as the soundtrack for a movie adaptation of the chosen book. I thoroughly enjoyed imagining this novel as a movie and choosing angsty songs as the soundtrack.
Being a verse novel, love, ghosts & nose hair follows a linear narrative, exploring the story of the main character, Jack, and providing a glimpse into the lives of those who are closest to Jack. The novel begins with Jack trying to establish a sense of self. He’s “…a normal guy. An average sixteen-year-old. [He] think[s] about sex, sport, & nose hair. Sex mostly” (Sex, sport, & nose hair). Early in the novel, Jack decides, “I’m going to be a writer / beat the typewriter / not my mates / no more change-room jokes on muscles / or competitions for the smelliest socks. I’m retiring / joining the guys on the outer. / I’m going to wear dark clothes / and an intense expression” (A Writer).
Body hair is used to explore gender and develop characters in this novel. Jack describes his sister as, “tall, dark eyes, long black hair, and this faint trace of soft light hair on her top lip!” (My family [the truth]). He goes on to say, “that’s what I like about her she’s upfront other girls might wax it but not Des” (My family [the truth]). However, just as Jack is self-conscious about his nose hair: “nose hair is my destiny. Nose hair will prevent me from having sex until I’m too old to care. Nose hair is the first thing I check in the morning… Nose hair keeps my mind off girls, maths, and the adventure of sleeping” (Another poem on sex, sport, & nose hair); Desiree also goes through stages of being self-conscious: “It’s Jack who’s to blame his obsession with facial hair has got me looking at my moustache… I’m keeping mine despite my hairdresser mentioning it every time I see her” (Desiree on facial hair).
The rhyme and repetition in:
I’m going to be a writer
beat the typewriter
not my mates (A Writer).
draws attention to the socialisation of young boys that teaches that boys are meant to be rough. Boys are taught to play sport, to wrestle each other, etc, and yet Jack is challenging this.
Herrick uses imagery to establish the characters, for example, “…her Baxter boots flung over the lounge with the rest of her attached” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door). He also uses a conversational tone, “the lock on the bathroom door… when I want to write and the TV’s on / where I’m sitting now / in the bath, writing this, / thinking on day, to please Dad / I’m going to have to wear / those bloody Batman socks!” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door).
In Catherine Bateson’s verse novels Jinx and His name in fire, as well as in love, ghosts, & nose hair the teenagers are explored by comparing them with or writing about them alongside adult characters, for example, “Dad’s golf shoes on the washing machine / Desiree’s work shoes on her wardrobe … Dad’s socks, as he walks to the bathroom / Dad’s socks, soaking in the sink / Desiree’s stockings hanging from the shower rail / the run in her black ones. / My football boots, shiny, worn once / in the garbage…” (Shoes, socks, the lock on the bathroom door). A poem that perhaps even better explores the complex relationships that are established between adults and young people in these texts, and the idea that we never stop trying to figure out who we are or what we want from life is, ‘Dad didn’t come home last night’. In this poem, Jack says “I thought I was the one / supposed to be out all Saturday night / not my fifty-year-old father! / why am I alone in bed / with my sensible pyjamas / and a good book? / why is Desiree snoring / when our father’s out on the town / and we’re home by midnight”.