Book of the Month: Everything All At Once

Everything All At Once (by Steven Camden AKA Polarbear) is a riotous ride that plunges the reader right into the world of secondary school where, as the title implies, everything happens all at once.

Steven Camden’s CLiPPA Award-Winning poetry collection certainly lives up to its title, delivering blistering changes of pace, focus and personality from one poem to the next. A distinctive and believable cast of narrators animate this world of hopes, fears and dreams – and the reader is often left to infer who’s who from sharply observed details and turns of phrase. There are rumours that the reader is not let in on, opaque relationships and politics that must be worked out. This process is rewarding, often funny and sometimes poignant.

A focus on contrasting perspectives runs throughout the collection – but Camden never passes judgement on the preoccupations of his protagonists. There is conflict, but there are no villains, no absolutes, simply “different versions of the world swirling in a thousand heads”.

The heart of Camden’s collection is its cast of characters, each so memorable and well-drawn. My heart ached for Michael – having an internal argument with himself about trying to fit in, in Michael vs his brain (again). The Year 8 boy and Year 10/11 girl who share a tender moment from different perspectives in the pair of poems It happened this morning, now everything’s changed and Vending Machine. The fighter who has grown tired of fighting in Fight and the student who perceives ‘Cracks’ in the world, their home life and their chances of success.

Although there is no doubt that the school Camden depicts can be overwhelming, frightening, even dangerous – its pupils are so human, with their daydreams, wishes, flights of fancy treated with respect and recognised for their intensity. I particularly enjoyed Goal, as a pupil basks in the ‘pure bliss’ of having scored the winning goal in the last minute of PE, complete with epic imagery (‘my forehead meets the ball like a perfect piece of destiny’) to capture the drama of the moment. One that will resonate with many is Snow, which is a kind of ode to the joy of a brand new exercise book! Throughout their tribulations, conflicts and moments of whimsy, you find yourself rooting for them all.

For teachers, there’s an especially powerful reflection on the moment of meeting a new class for the first time called Those Who Can’t. I won’t spoil it for you but it certainly tugs at the heartstrings.

Classroom Approaches

There are many ways this book could be approached in the classroom – especially as a way to engage younger teenagers in poetry. There is enough ‘meat’ to productively analyse almost any of the poems in the collection, with a huge range of techniques employed.

Camden’s style of writing, and background in spoken word, mean his poems demand performance. You can watch him in action on Youtube performing some of his poems and some more here on CLPE’s Poetryline.

Challenge your pupils to perform some of the poems, capturing the voices of the characters. The poems that take the form of conversations could work especially well – see Michael vs His Brain (Again) and D4L (parts 1-4) – as well as poems that play with conventional formatting for effect – see Gazelle and Cracks.

Everything All At Once and Steven Camden (aka Polarbear) will feature in Pop Up Festival’s new programme later this year.