Review: If The World Were Upside Down by John Englezos

I like to think that every poem or collection has a ‘hook’, or a ‘way in’ that reveals itself gradually to its reader or listener. When reading John Englezos’ collection If The World Were Upside Down, it seemed important to honour that John is a poet whose words need to be heard as he performs them, rather than to be read off the page.

Thankfully, there’s lots of clips online of John performing many of the poems in this collection. I wanted to start with the one that personally ‘hooked’ me in – ‘The Proper Way to Make a Cup of Tea (YouTube)’:

I admittedly giggled cheekily at the beginning words, because I am a tea-lover, and also may still fall in love with not-just-men:

Young man

If you wish to learn the proper way to make a cup of tea

meet a girl

fall in love

and get married

John preempts the feelings this might bring up in the reader/listener – perhaps ridicule, amusement, excitement, inward groaning as the poem continues:

Hear me out

In an age where gas was lit and fire burned

a kettle would whistle to you the constant reminder of its boiling brew

Now he’s captured our full attention, and we feel like we need to know what has to follow – he’s mentioned things that are common to many of our everyday lives, and we want to know: what does making tea well have to do with love, with care, with intentional acts shared?

This collection is full of poems that celebrate the wonder in the ordinary, in those things we might take for granted in our lives. I especially like that ‘The Proper Way to Make a Cup of Tea’ can also be taken as an exercise in mindfulness. From a mental health perspective, the act of listening to or of reading a poem that talks to you the way John does is incredibly comforting, or downright amusingly raucous.

An example of his playful, more surrealist take on life is in the title poem ‘If The World Were Upside Down’. It starts off in a setting familiar to most of us in modern life:

There was a man aboard the train,

Onlookers thought he’d gone insane,

For as the carriage forward sped,

The man sat balanced on his head.

Passengers stared with confusion,

Just what had caused this man’s delusion?

So as the blood rushed to his brain

The man would smile and then explain.

In the world of this poem, we’re asked to connect with our inner child, rather than be childish:

What if we used our ears to see?

And eyes to hear? How strange that’d be.

To hear all colours warm and bright,

To see with musical delight.

But there’s serious points to be made, too:

(…) we’d teach adults to undo,

The tangle of this social goo,

To replace Gossip, harsh and petty,

With kindness, thrown around like confetti!


So much pain would disappear

if men drank Truth instead of beer.

We’re not being preached at; just as the reader/listener might feel that that’s the case, the poem offers a suggestion that its speaker can take the charge, alone if need be, to enact the extraordinary in our ordinary lives:

Do you think that I’m a clown?

“The world cannot turn upside down!”

The world can’t change with rules and laws,

The heart must step up to the cause,

“The world will change, just wait and see,

I want that change to start with me.”

I want to recommend this book, and seeing John perform these, to those who think they’re not smart enough for poetry (note: it’s not true!), for those that need the reminder not to neglect that child-like wonder we all have and suppress to get through bill-paying and for those of us that need the permission to revel in daily goofiness. This is poetry for everyone, everyday.

Gem Mahadeo
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