voices from the past **

My past has caught me up: this afternoon
I checked my e-mail, as I always do,
and found a message from an old flame who
I hadn’t seen since school. Out of the blue
a bolt that sends me tumbling through the years
to adolescent angst and teenage tears,
to poems scrawled in chalk while classmates jeer
and playground fights that fade when Sir appears.
I was his One True Love, there’d be no other.
At sixteen I was far too young: I fled.
But now he’s tracked me down; who needs the men
from Pinkerton’s when Google is your friend?
(Though Google’s failed me time and time again
in my attempts to trace his younger brother.)

When I was growing up in the UK, most girls still expected to get married and to take their husband’s* surname when they did so. Back then, mandatory grants for further education enabled many of us to leave home for good at 18. And, of course, it was a time before Google and other online systems had us all labelled and linked. It isn’t particularly easy, then, to trace the friends I was at school with.

Still, I use the relatively uncommon name I was given by my parents and, although this blog is mostly anonymous, it isn’t too hard to find me.

Yesterday I had an email from someone I hadn’t been in touch with for nearly 40 years. She said she has a notebook of my poetry and quoted from memory the first lines of one piece. I am a bit concerned now that someone other than me not only remembers my teenage angst poems but has hand-written copies.

As a writer, though, I am taking some small comfort in the fact that I can remember the poem she quoted, but not the circumstances, nor even the name of the guy who inspired it. Apparently even doggerel is more lasting than love. Which may be a good reason to keep writing.


* husbands/husband’s/husbands’? We’re talking serial monogamy, so each girl would only have one husband at a time and most husbands would have had a single surname. I suppose I could have said “a girl expected…”, but that sounds no more natural to me than using the more correct “whom” at the end of the third line of the poem quoted here.

The apostrophe question reminds me of the anecdote of the haughty lady on the train announcing “I’m one of the Director’s wives.” The version I heard was the Sir Thomas Beecham story quoted here (about two thirds of the way down the page; search for Beecham.) But even if true, if Beecham was born in 1879, this version from the Sausalito news 1902 might predate that.


** The poem that starts this post doesn’t count as adolescent angst, but seemed appropriate. It dates from 2001, I think, when I was first experimenting with sonnets. I am well aware of some of its more glaring deficiencies. (Filler phrases, sloppy rhymes, clichés… I doubt if 100 of the 142 syllables are really pulling their weight.) The problem with sonnets is that every change has a knock-on effect, so once you start tinkering, you have to rewrite the whole thing.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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