It is National Poetry Day tomorrow and in light of that I have a special moment from our trip to Orkney and a poem ready to share with you, but today seems like a good day to get into practice and can there be a better way than with the year's annual gift of The Forward Book of Poetry.
I always give a cheer when a copy arrives, this year two cheers because with it came 100 Prized Poems Twenty-five years of the Forward Books, 'a distillation of the 25 annual Forward books of poetry published since 1992.'
As William Sieghart reminded me in his preface, that takes us back to the end of the Cold War, the separation of Diane and Charles, the creation of the Maastricht Treaty and the European Union...and could any of us have guessed that social media was on its way. It all seems to me like three lifetimes ago, though maybe only yesterday for others.
I wonder what you were up to in 1992..
We were still townies (if a rural market town in Devon can be called that) with an eleven, nine and seven year old and I clearly remember thinking what a nice age why can't time stand still. I think we dragged them all on a walking holiday in Switzerland that year, Bookhound was busy running his interior design business and I was back into health visiting full time and really enjoying it.
My reading journal tells me that I managed to finish just twenty books in 1992 including Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, A Dubious Legacy by Mary Wesley, The Choir by Joanna Trollope, Glittering Images by Susan Howatch (how I loved her books...have they stood the test of time I wonder?) And it was the year of the shared Booker Prize between Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.
Jackie Kay took the prize for Best Single Poem, Thom Gunn won the prize for Best Collection while Simon Armitage, a probation officer from Manchester, lifted the award for Most Promising Young Poet (and hasn't he lived up to that prediction).
In selecting the poems for this anniversary anthology William Sieghart talks about 'stayers,'
'I'm no closer to knowing what constitutes a stayer, a poem that will last. All I can say is... that you learn to suspect any poem that goes down too easily, leaving no trace in the memory. Good poems grow in the re-reading...'
The book is bursting with poetry goodness, seriously a very good investment if you are in need of a prolonged and lasting infusion of verse and, for today, I'm staying with this gem from Simon Armitage.
Came we then to the place abovementioned,
crossed its bristled threshold through robotic glass doors,
entered its furry heat, its flesh-toned fluorescent light.
Thus with wire-wrought baskets we voyaged,
and some with trolleys, back wheels flipping like trout tails,
cruised the narrow canyons twixt cascading shelves,
the prow of our journeying cleaving stale air.
Legion were the items that came tamely to hand:
five stainless steel teaspoons, ten corn-relief plasters,
the Busy Bear pedal bin liners fragranced with country lavender,
the Disney design calendar and diary set, three cans of Vimto,
cornucopia of potato-based snacks and balm for a sweet tooth,
toys and games, goods of Orient made, and of Cathay,
all under the clouded eye of CCTV,
beyond the hazard cone where serious chutney spillage had occurred.
Then emerged souls: the duty manager with a face like Doncaster,
mumbling, “For so much, what shall we give in return?”
The blood-stained employee of the month,
sobbing on a woolsack of fun-fur rugs,
many uniformed servers, spectral, drifting between aisles.
Then came Elpenor, our old friend Elpenor,
slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Products display.
In strangled words I managed,
“How art thou come to these shady channels, into hell’s ravine?”
And he: “To loan sharks I owe/the bone and marrow of my all.”
Then Walt Whitman, enquiring politely of the delivery boy.
And from Special Occasions came forth Tiresias,
dead in life, alive in death, cider-scented and sock-less,
Oxfam-clad, shaving cuts to both cheeks, quoting the stock exchange.
And my own mother reaching out, slipping a tin of stewing steak
to the skirt pocket of her wedding dress,
blessed with a magician’s touch, practised in need.
But never until the valley widened at the gated brink
did we open our lips to fish out those corn-coloured coins,
those minted obols, hard-won tokens graced with our monarch’s head,
kept hidden beneath the tongue’s eel, blood-tasting,
both ornament and safeguard, of armour made.
And paid forthwith, then broke surface
and breathed extraordinary daylight into starved lungs,
steered for home through precincts and parks scalded by polar winds,
laden with whatnot, lightened of golden quids.
One half of Tavistock's world famous delicatessan became a pound shop a while back and we were all dismayed at the thought of the town going a bit down-market, bemoaning the loss of something we had perhaps all taken for granted, and only used on Christmas Eve because it was a tradition to go and queue for an hour for ham and cheese, and to know everyone and share seasons greetings. So now, armed with our 'golden quids', we no longer go in the shop on the corner and take out a mortgage on posh cylindrical-shaped butter, clotted cream using milk from up-market cows, fresh-roasted coffee and that unique blend of loose Earl Grey and Assam tea known as Earl's Ass. Now it's for washing up bowls and buckets for indigo dyeing, and rolls of non-slip stuff that stops slippery stuff from slipping, and plastic boxes with lids that we never seem to have enough of, and for those great big chequered carrier bags that get the duvets to the launderette nicely instead of in a bin liner, and it is run by the loveliest people. Even if you have bought a bag they will offer you a bag (free) to put your bag in, so this year we'll probably all be in there wishing them and each other a happy Christmas and buying crackers and angel floss for the tree and party hats.
And talking of poems as 'stayers'...do you have any suggestions...
Any poems that have stayed with you...
What should we put in our own Anthology of Stayers?