Vasanti Unka reviews On We Go


‘This little book, on we go, with its title in lower case as if it’s making a quiet announcement, takes me home to the countryside of fields and small forests of my childhood but also makes me drift to a place somewhere far away.

Catherine Bagnall is an artist; her usual work involves the making and wearing of costumes that look like other-ly creatures, complete with furry ears and tails. They are the very same costumes worn by the characters illustrated in this book. Rendered in watercolour, whether wandering or sitting with birds or weeping, the characters are one with nature. Their faces are barely there. The furry costumes are exchanged sometimes and the characters become cats, rabbits and bears. The watercolours are tender.

Sometimes the colours blend in splodges, or thin outlines are delicately painted. The images evoke light and scrumptious, shadowy mystery like the feelings you have as a child wandering through nature.

Jane Sayle usually writes about art and this is her first book of poems. The words are brief yet they charm me. A secret unfolds with each reading. It’s difficult to pin down the meanings but each page evokes sensory and emotional feelings, perhaps from childhood memories.
The words capture a childhood immersed in nature.
An ember-winged monarch
Breathes in and out
The shadow of daylight

I love the small size of the book — it fits in one hand. You can carry it in your bag to bring out whenever you need a touch of joy. It’s intimate and winsome. The atmosphere evoked by the words suits the pictures and vice versa. They were meant to be with each other. Sometimes white space is a clear deep breath, while the book characters take rest. There are a few pages where the image takes up a whole spread—these images are subtle and careful. I find these pages the most poignant.

The book is a journey, sometimes taken with friends.
For me:
It’s like going home.
How things wait
for us to come back
how they mutely love us
as they fade
from Going Back.’ 

Review originally published in Magpies, May 2021.