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Who Asks the Caterpillar

Quirky, imaginative, original and immensely appealing, Jeanne Ellin’s poetry collection is packed full of lines you will find yourself reading out loud to the person next to you.


Jeanne Ellin
United Kingdom
Date published
27 Sep 2004

Finding inspiration in things as diverse as a turkey sandwich, plastic bath ducks, Trisha and the mythology of ancient Greece, Jeanne is particularly struck by the way the old myths still mirror the truth of modern women’s lives. She subjects these myths to a richly humorous, womanist, mass cultural reading, set in the world of celebrity, daytime television shows and pop counselling.

Jeanne Ellin writes consciously as an Anglo-Indian, part of an ‘invisible’ group that has generally sunk its identity in a general Britishness. She, by contrast, has used her work to explore her sense of Indian origins, but finds her real source of inspiration in the ideas of anomaly and placelessness, themes she explores both directly and obliquely in her poetry. She writes of being ‘cell deep... an elephant’s child’, but also that ‘home is a land/ whose texture my feet have forgotten’. But this sense of placelessness also offers the strangers’ right ‘to a place at every table’ and the challenge of living without ‘family hand-me-downs’, when each day must begin with a naked newness. More obliquely, she uses the mythical figure of the merchild/merechild to explore this sense of inbetweeness; and focuses, in the title poem, on the pleasures and pains of transformation, where after ‘a lifetime of voracious consuming’ the caterpillar suddenly finds itself as ‘an ethereal being’ and complains ‘I didn’t sign up for this spiritual stuff’.

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Jeanne Ellin

Jeanne Ellin is the author of a well-received book on counselling, 'Listening Helpfully: How to Develop Your Counselling Skills'. 'Who Asks the Caterpillar?', published by Peepal Tree Press in 2004, is her first collection of poetry.

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