Essentially, this is a first: a guest poet who I met, on a Poetry Business Writing Week in Whitby, who married another guest poet who she met on a Poetry Business Writing Week in Whitby, and who I met on a Writing Week in Spain, tutored by Ann Sansom of…the Poetry Business. Which has a nice sort of synergy, and makes me very happy. As does this poem I chose from her guest post
When you listen to this poem for the first time, you may think you’re in over-familiar territory. You may be inclined to think : nostalgia. But it has a trick up its sleeve.
A red-brick vicarage in a northern coastal town
near the football club by St Andrew’s Church.
My father, taking me to Roker Park,
asked a policeman to stop the traffic
so we could cross the road.
I remember cold winters, hands over gas rings,
velvet curtains drawn, matching blue carpet,
draughts under the door.
Mrs. Donkin boiling sheets, wooden tongs,
struggles with the mangle, steam,
pegging them out in the back yard,
Do you remember holidays in Saltburn,
staying in Marlborough House
on Emerald Crescent, taking Peter,
our cat, how he never ran away?
Always smiling at the flowers
in the window, eating homemade
chocolate cake for tea;
riding my bike in the garden,
no, it must have been a tricycle,
I was only three.
I remember these things because you told me
from your chair in the nursing home,
eyes searching then holding my own.
I do remember these things, don’t I?
Or was it you?
Or was it me?
I like the way (as I read it) the poem invites me to assume the “I” of the narrator who tells me about the vicarage and the policeman, and the old woman doing the washing is the voice of the poet. If it was, then I guess this would just be a piece of nostalgia, which is as interesting to a listener as a stranger’s photograph album. But something happens very quietly in one line which retrospectively made me re-read and re-evaluate:
Do you remember holidays in Saltburn.
Just like that, the poem turns from a soliloquy to a dialogue. Who asks the question? Who’s being asked? Why? I make an assumption that it’s a daughter (because it’s a woman poet; yup, that simplistic) and I know she’s visiting a parent (a mother, I assume, because in my experience, it usually is) in a care home. But the thing is, that I don’t know whose memory is unreliable, who rode the trike, who owned the cat. And at the end I don’t know whose memory is more unreliable. And I find it hugely moving. It’s quiet and unassertive and it won’t let me be..