I really enjoyed talking with Peter Kenny, for the Planet Poetry podcast recently. He asked great questions, including are readers to be trusted, and is poetry a place I feel I can enter safely? Together we took a spin around ‘Gannland’, a term Peter coined originally when reviewing Noir in 2016.
Both my poetry collections – all three, if I include my pamphlet, The Long Woman – tell what I’m increasingly thinking of as my ‘understory’. There’s the public account we generally give of ourselves – the ‘how are you?’ ‘Coping, thanks’, ‘how’re the kids?’ version. The job. The family. The background. The how we look – ‘The smile I wore – my kind of clothes’ – as I put it in one poem inThe Girl Who Cried. So, there’s this public face – our LinkedIn Profile. And then, well, for me certainly, there’s been a totally other story.
It’s funny isn’t it, how individual photos can really move us? A photo that’s in no way spectacular: an old blurred print, only 3½ by 4½ inches, taken at a no-particular moment. One we’d have discarded as uninteresting when the holiday snaps came back from the chemist.
Here’s one such, for me. Taken, I know, in summer 1981, when I’d just done my O Levels. We’re in Denmark: I’m standing; my sister Sarah (who was then in her mid-twenties and living in Amsterdam) is seated, in a white T shirt; her Australian flatmate Anne, in yellow beside her.
I’ve no idea why this photo so stirred me when I found it yesterday, but it did and does. Something about it looking like a film still? I really like the brown and yellow, almost sepia, colour scheme. I find it touching to catch this glimpse of us so much younger. (What am I even doing? Maybe putting a cassette into a tape recorder? Or opening a bottle of wine? Gawd knows…)
A photo we just stumble on, in an old bag, stuffed between pages of a book, one of a bunch in a torn brown envelope, out of focus – not even taken in a place that means much to us.
And no one smiling into the camera, not posed; just caught in some random moment. Three people. Being alive. Thirty nine summers ago.