From Morag Fraser, ‘Best Books of 2008’, Australian Book Review, January 2009:
It is odd, and oddly salutary, to have the fifties of one’s childhood revived with astringent affection instead of condescension or picket-fenced nostalgia. Yes, there was enviable and unfettered time and space then. Yes, a child could be lonely without the benefit of counsellor. And yes, there was angst and international conflict enough to provide the distant thunder every child registers without the ambivalent balm of understanding. John Jenkin’s sustained poetic narrative Growing up with Mr Menzies manages a double perspective: a transparent and guileless child’s view of an Australian world occasionally interrupted by the detached assessment of an era, given through the tone and actions of Robert Gordon Menzies. It is the extraordinary, open-eyed detailing of childhood that makes this work so memorable.
From Jill Bamforth, Cordite, March 2009, http://www.cordite.org.au/reviews/jill-bamforth-reviews-john-jenkins:
John Jenkins’ narrative verse, Growing Up with Mr Menzies … introduces a world of strange possibilities and serious questions.
The poems which recall the language and place of Felix’s boyhood do more than provide local or period colour. They also illustrate Jenkins’ on-going discussion about the nature of memory, our consciousness of time, and the difficulty of representing human experience in language. Jenkins uses original and startling language to outline the problems of representation.
At the end of the narrative, Felix’s life is darkened by events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and wars in Korea and Vietnam. […]It may be that his name is an irony, and that his future life on “a vanilla atoll” will be a precarious or restricted one, as the phrase suggests. Yet this is not the whole of the story, as readers of this complex, layered and original work will discover.
From Geoffrey Lehmann, ‘Poetic Intimacies to be Shared’, The Australian, December 2008:
While not being at all nostalgic, or trying to disguise the tedium and mild oppression of that era, Jenkins manages a nuanced and complex portrait. . . . [H]e is one of our most underrated poets and has a formidable technique.
From Peter Pierce, The Canberra Times:
Jenkin’s book is a triumph of characterisation. . . . [An] expansive performance.’
From Heather Taylor Johnson, Overland (195), winter 2009, p.118:
Jenkins plays with and examines memory. He is at his best when he deconstructs this process, as in ‘Grain’ and ‘Push This Wall Back’. In poems such as these, he allows his readers a glimpse of the speaker as a man who is trapped in history and in his childhood. We relate through a vicarious nostalgia, so that even if we do not recall the Menzies era we can share in the experience – his memories become our own.
Conceptually, the work is outstanding . . . the opening baby-looking-up poems and the closing man-looking-back poems are snapshots of quiet brilliance, and the he-says/she-says pieces of pure vernacular are inspired.
[T]his is the sort of poetry that traditionalists would love, and it is playful enough to capture a younger, more restless audience as well. Growing Up With Mr Menzies is a distinctive work.