Can I Touch Your Hair?


Irene and Charles are dismayed to be partnered in ‘The Poem Project’.  Irene ‘hardly says anything. Plus she’s white… [with] stringy, dishwater blonde hair [and] stutter steps’. Meanwhile Irene is working with ‘you-never-know-what-he’s-going-to-say-Charles’ who is black.

This real-life pair seem to have nothing in common. Their hair is different, their churches are different; even going to the beach is different. Charles is chosen first for ‘a game of basketball‘ only for the team to realise that his race and lankiness are misleading. His head and heart are filled with books and words. Irene dreams of giving ‘the reins a gentle tug‘ and feeling the ‘stomach somersaults’ when horse-riding.

However, they are both rejected in the playground; Irene seeks to join the freeze dance, but is told, ‘You’ve got the whole rest of the playground. Can’t we at least have this corner?’ Meanwhile, Charles’s only two friends  say, ‘C’mon man, stay away from us‘ and ‘Your mouth is like a race car that never stops to refuel.’ Their writing project becomes a refuge. Charles and Irene share home, meal times, punishment and experiences of learning and forgiveness.

‘Can I Touch Your Hair’ is a verse prose chronicle of a learning friendship. It emphasises tolerance, open-heartedness and taking opportunities to step inside other people’s rainbow laced shoes. Bookwagon recommends this title for reading in one take, sharing and using as a writing motivation. It is a strong, meaningful, thought-provoking book.

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Can I Touch Your Hair?

A conversation

Irene Latham & Charles Waters Sean Qualls & Selina Alko

(Rock the Boat)

‘Can I Touch Your Hair’ is a conversational verse poem. Charles and Irene are dismayed to become writing partners in ‘The Poem Project’. Irene says ‘my body freezes like a ship in ice’, while Charles considers, ‘Now I’m stuck with Irene?’ .Charles and Irene have nothing in common. Charles says, ‘We stare at our trainers’. It seems this lull before proceeding offers Irene inspiration, for she suggests ‘shoes’ as their first writing subject. Thereafter two poems from two different experiences emerge. While Irene desires ‘ruby shoes/ with heels to click/ me to another land’, Charles wants ‘neon high-tops/ with tie-dye laces like … the commercials‘. Irene and Charles have different hair experiences. Irene’s is long and straight and blonde, while Charles is asked by Dennis, ‘Can I touch your hair?‘ He feels his difference and the curiosity furiously.
Irene and Charles are real people who catalogue their writing experience alongside a discovery of their differences and a growing friendship. Irene writes, ‘At church/ we sit stand kneel’ while Charles’ experience is ‘Our Sunday service is like setting a reset button‘. The pair write of differences in race, with Irene’s expectations of Charles, and Charles’ experience of racism, as on the bus, or at the beach.
Initially, I was concerned this book might approach race issues in a tokenistic manner. However, reading it through as a complete piece reveals it as an experience of friendship and respectful discovery. We are proud to recommend ‘Can I Touch Your Hair’.


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