There was an e mail doing the rounds last week and plenty of people were moaning about it. A sort of online chain letter; send a poem to the first name, make yours the second name and send it around to twenty friends.
I remember the postcard one at school, this in the days when we all collected them (well I did)
With the threat of eternal damnation if you didn't do it, send a picture postcard to the first name on the list, remove their name, copy out six letters to friends adding yours as the sixth name and address at the bottom of the list and eventually you'd receive however many cards it was supposed to be (someone else please do the maths). I spent a month's pocket money on cards, stamps etc and of course never received a single card in return.
This is why I never do chain letters, let alone emails, but in the wake of more terrorist attacks in Europe and with Easter approaching I decided I would....what harm could a poem do, and if people didn't feel able to join in, well no problem.
The poem I sent to the first name was this one...
The Short and Long of It
Inside of this measuring stick called a line
is the breath of your poem.
See, how you breathe in
your best-washed thoughts at the end
or beginning of letters strung
on a clothesline of air.
The bigger inhale is a stanza,
a crisp paragraph of words,
thoughts stacked as neat as laundry,
folded, ready to wear,
just waiting for you
to say them.
—Marjorie Maddox Hafer
and the next morning my inbox had a soul-nourishing clutch of carefully chosen poems in return which really made my day.
And in that funny roundabout way that the internet sets trails and makes unexpected connections, quite by coincidence did I hear about the collection of poems Washing Lines published by Lautus Press.
I think it was a picture from this sequence that started it over on Instagram..
I had draped the washed shibori over the garden fence and the Kayaker happened to be on hand with his camera. It was one of those beautiful days, just enough breeze to add a little billow rather than send it all flying back off to Cornwall, and it was nice to stand back and admire the handiwork.
Meanwhile, over on Instagram Barbara from Lautus Press asked if I had heard of Washing Lines which I hadn't but soon had, and I instantly bought a copy..
'All the poems in this anthology are about laundry and washing reflecting many human emotions to do with family, relationships and memory.
So whether it is the joy of washing blowing on the line, the smell of clean linen or the rhythmic dance of two people folding sheets together, this revised collection is a continued celebration.'
I was in just the right mood for some new poems, always a good investment and I particularly liked the reasoning behind Lautus Press from its founders Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught..
'A shared love of poetry had already made us friends but then the happy discovery that we also shared a love of washing lines and all things to do with laundry led eventually to the formation of Lautus Press (Lautus (Latin) : washed, clean or refined, elegant ).
We both prefer travelling by train because from trains you can see washing lines in back gardens...'
I was born in a house in Priory Road in Exeter that backed onto the main London railway line and can just imagine the view of the nappies out on the line from the London express.
And whilst I would love a long overhead washing line again, with pulleys and a clothes prop made out of a forked branch, I have to settle for a bog-standard rotary thing anchored in a massive piece of concrete here because it is the only thing that can cope with the south-westerly winds, but I still view hanging out the washing as a bit of a work of art, an installation. I think I might even be a bit obsessive about it, and I always turn and admire the handiwork as I walk away.
Is it only me...
I do like a nice billow and things to be evenly spaced and I even bought some new windproof pegs back with me from New Zealand...that's how seriously I take my display of washing.
The poems are a wonderful mix, varied and full of surprises. Who could know how far or where a line of washing can lead the imagination, and how many of these poems I would identify with. This extract from Domestic by Katrina Porteous could easily be me because I have some right old tussles out there on what I call 'a good day for drying' when I can't resist washing everything that catches my eye...
My knuckles ache to pin them down,
Fresh as they smell. White coluds stream whipstruck
Over the chimneys. In the yard
The loud washing cracks on the line.
They strain to be off, the sheets and the socks...
Many are the days the duvet cover has somehow mummified itself around me and the line, and many are the days the thing gets a major spin on and has nearly taken an eye out, but it is rare for anything to escape, and obviously my new pink pegs will make doubly sure of that.
The selected poets are an eclectic mix and include Louisa May Alcott, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Gillian Clark, Maura Dooley, Helen Dunmore, Vicki Feaver, Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Marge Piercey, Walt Whitman and many others all with something to say about laundry, whilst a nice inclusion are some of those traditional rhymes that many of us grew up with.
Who else remembers singing Dashing Away With a Smoothing Iron at primary school ?
The collection is interspersed with some beautiful and atmospheric woodcuts, this one September Morning by Anne Hayward
But perhaps the painting that resonated most with me as I read Washing Lines has to be Washing Day, my favourite by local Tavistock artist Dorothy Ward. If you know Tavistock you will recognise this loosely as nearby Whitchurch.
Well, that's my latest foray into poetry and if you know of this collection I would love to know your thoughts...
And any other good poetry collections to recommend that we might all enjoy...