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.
I’ve been thinking about this phrase. It seems potent to me. A relief. Especially for someone who has hungered for resonance.
I think about how it says – on the back cover of The Girl Who Cried – ‘Gann’s poems, which tackle risky subjects, do so quietly.’ (John Challis, Poetry School.) And of how small some of those poems are, crouched there on the page.
I think of growing up the youngest of a big family, and how my two earliest cherished memories are of being alone in the quiet: once, in our sitting room, watching a spider plant cascade into the dusty sunshine; another time, when I was very young, out on the pavement watching snow fall by streetlight.
I think of the relief I felt finally living alone in a flat in my twenties in London – after that full house of childhood, and multiple shared flats and houses.
Of how much I’ve sometimes talked as a way of coping with awkwardness and empathy. How instinctively I mistrust ‘social media’, at a visceral level.
How much of my life I’ve spent invisible, and silent about the things that have really hurt and shaped me.
How difficult it is for me, at times, to trust silence – and not reach out across it.
But how the Quiet trusts me – with its pillows and cat and light falling through a window. And how I trust it back: the gentlest, safest thing I know. Where work gets done.