Author(s): Jessica Le Bas
Walking to Africa is Jessica Le Bas's second book of poetry, a major departure from her first collection, Incognito (Auckland University Press), which won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry. Walking to Africa is a narrative collection, portraying a parent's experience of coming to terms with the new and frightening world of mental health care, the myriad of foreign ways of diagnosis and treatment. Walking to Africa does not tell the child's story; instead Le Bas writes from a mother's perspective, showing the anguish and complexity of dealing with mental illness. She describes the events of an ordinary family, the numerous visits to doctors, the treatments that don't work, the people who suddenly have answers and heartbreaking histories of their own to tell. At the heart of the book is an outstanding set of poems about electroconvulsive therapy. By the end, Le Bas ushers in an understanding: mental illness may have no solutions but there are ways of living with it. 'In the little room today / she says there was real sunlight on the bed /and a new cat was seen outside / in the shadow of a tree'. Powerful but healing, stark yet illuminating, Walking to Africa is without doubt the most moving collection of poems to appear in New Zealand for many years.
Jessica Le Bas's collection Incognito (AUP, 2007) won the Best First Book of Poetry at the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.