This past year or so I’ve been moving house more than is usual. A combination of short-term jobs, travel, and parental flitting has meant that, since late last summer, I’ve had to recalibrate my thoughts about my possessions, my relationships with material objects and with (literal) baggage.
Some former objets d’art, treasured through the years, I unceremoniously dumped between moves from a friend’s sofa to a colleague’s housesit; I discovered I loved them enough to tote them bulkily between living arrangements three times, but not four. It’s an interesting, and unusually quantifiable, measure of affection. I’m surprised at the things I’ve ended up with, whittled down from a collection that had hitherto grown steadily through routine visits to charity shops and junk fairs. Aside from the few genuine, objective treasures, I’ve also ended up with a strange array of sentimental oddments: a lumpen wooden bust of Beethoven; a Benjamin Britten-themed Cluedo set crafted for me by a friend; an assemblage of hand-drawn, Post-it note flick books illustrating the adventures of a hapless stick-man dancer (he jigs about until his trousers fall off). These are the things — once I’d shed myself of excess cushions and can-live-without pictures — that are truly indispensable.
Childhood treasures, too, retrieved from under the spare bed at my mother’s house, awaken a particular magic. In fact, I did as much as I could to avoid unlocking those memory-boxes; the pastness of the past, its utter, dead-light inaccessibility, can be overwhelming. I remember the first time in adulthood that I rediscovered my tiny copy of the Arabian Nights, illustrated so lavishly and Mughally by Edmund Dulac. I’d loved it when I was three and four and five; I’d inhabited the little dark, intricate pictures so totally that as my adult self flicked through the pages I was hit with a strong sense of time-travel, of being tiny and not understanding why this was so powerful, but nevertheless recognising its power.
It is the same, I think, with rereading. Reading a text for the first time presents us with a mystery. This can, in fact, deepen with subsequent, better-informed visits to a text. There is that initial stomach-jolt of recognition which prompts us to hurry back to the beginning of a poem and read it again, knowing what we know now. There is a constant shifting of perspective, of experience; we can start looking for clues earlier in the poem for the ending we know we’ll arrive at.
In my forthcoming course ‘Come Back Early: Revisiting and Revising’ I want to explore some of the layers of experience that we can bring to rereading a poem, whether that’s in the same sitting or with years between visits. How have we changed? Does the poem resonate at a different pitch, or in different places? Does a poem you once loved now ring out of true, or a poem you once despised sound on a frequency you can now hear?
We’ll be writing on the memory of place and on ways to look afresh at familiar spaces. We’ll read and reread published poems and, crucially, our own work, tilting it to different light and noting how it reflects that light back. There will also be the opportunity to revisit old drafts of our own poems that would benefit from a fresh pair of eyes. I’m eager to address those memory-boxes under the bed, to look at their contents both dispassionately and with a susceptible heart. In doing so we’ll discover why old friends are often the best.
Revisit your poems and find a new perspective at Penny’s one-day workshop, Come Back Early: Revisiting and Revising. Call 0207 582 1679 or book online.