Sunday 2 September 2018


Limelight by Solli Raphael (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143793762

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

At 12, Solli Raphael is the youngest winner of the Australian Poetry Slam held annually at the Sydney Opera House. A budding humanitarian, he aims to become an inspirational leader among his peers. Now, at 13 and with this book published, he is using the platforms of performing and writing to tackle social issues.

There are two parts to this book: the first introduces Raphael’s ideas about poetry, writing and performing and what slam poetry is; part two is a collection of his poems. Raphael says he was nine when he learnt his first technical style of poetry, the haiku (some of which are in the book). As a high schooler, he is home-schooled, learning about rapping and slam poetry through YouTube clips. Taking part in his first slam poetry competition at Coffs Harbour (competing against his mother), he won, followed by second place in a state final – by one-tenth of a point (a fact he is keen to point out). At the national finals he won. So here we have a clever and accomplished child who now performs in front of thousands – and tells readers how to write and perform poetry!

No doubt the sight of a small boy in the spotlight in front of thousands impresses audiences. The first poem of Raphael’s in this book, read at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, shows a strong sense of rhythm and internal rhyme, and a genuine connection with athletes. Part of this verse reads, ‘I’m here because of you, I’m here because of me, but together we are greater than/what we could ever individually be.’ Overall, ‘To Unite, Like Uniting is a Sport’ is appropriate for the occasion and no doubt impressed the Games’ athletes and spectators.

There are over 30 original poems here in different forms, with the book featuring the viral video sensation 'Australian Air', which has been viewed 3.5 million times via Facebook. Raphael's work often tackles current social concerns for his generation, such as sustainability and social equality, all the while amplifying his message of hope. Other poems have titles such as ‘The Candle Flame’, ‘Drips and Drops’ and ‘On the Rainbow.’ Most of the poems rhyme and some are mere verse with cliched lines like ‘Life is for living’, ‘spread your wings’ and ‘get with the times’. The poems which work best and show Raphael at his best are those with strong beats and regular rhythms.

It’s wonderful to read of a young person who takes messages around the world which are meant to inspire, but it’s difficult to decide if the poems in Limelight would have been published if they were by an adult poet, or indeed a teenager who didn’t have the spotlight on him. Doubtless many of the messages will excite young readers with words such as ‘The future needs you and me to create equality across all levels of humanity.’ Typical of his ‘rap’ poetry are these lines: ‘I am a gamechanger. / I am a gamechange, a change game, low age, no rage, onstage arranger.’ 

It will be interesting to follow the boy’s career path.

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