I don’t know what it is about Northern Ireland culture that results in the creation of so many talented poets. However, it’s my pleasure to introduce yet another, Katy Mahon, to reflect on a poem from her pamphlet Some Indefinable Cord, (Hybriddreich, 2022).
Memory as a form of seeing
Despite claiming in ‘Dust and Order’, the opening poem in my debut chapbook, that I don’t do elegies/ nor inwardly lament the passing of being/ from skin and bone to earth again, many of the poems in ‘Some Indefinable Cord’ contain an elegiac, mourning quality. This would be a nod to myself as musician, if it weren’t for the fact that it was subconsciously done. However, my chapbook title is a purposeful play on the homophones ‘cord’ and ‘chord’, and indeed, either could have worked. In the end I chose ‘cord’ as the essential element of the collection was the importance – to me – of connection with people, despite difficulties that relationships can bring; some of the cords, or ties, which bind us to one another are thicker and stronger than others, but I always hope that even the most tenuous strings hold taut. ‘Some Indefinable Cord’ turns around the lives of people I have known, in particular my late father, to whom the chapbook is dedicated.
The poem ‘I scratch words in the dusk’ is the only poem which directly speaks of him – the word ‘father’ doesn’t appear anywhere else. I wrote dramatically that my father saved my life that day partly to highlight how grand things seem in the eyes of a child. Today, I know that the worst that could have happened was that I would have fallen into the water and doggy-paddled my way to the side and climbed out. I realised after writing this part that I wanted to remember my father for having done something good; he was an often-absent father and left my mother when I was nine.
The poem references a photograph of myself, five years old, which my mother snapped at Naoussa harbour while we were on holiday in Paros, Greece, the same day that I fell hazard to
Photographs are the valuable proof of history while memory fades and warps over time. In the following words, which occur before the lines quoted above, I realise that my memory doesn’t match what the photograph is proving to be true; the rubber ball was in fact absent. The mooring ring was the sole cause of my tripping up, and even that was shaped differently to how I remember:
Death and grief have a habit of rousing the memory, and we cling to stories with a vice grip, we conjure up moments, in an attempt to regain the minute details of events and things said. As time passes, things become cloudy. One grapples with fragments of recollection in one’s mind, one grasps the dangling ropes of memory. According to a study at Boston College in 2019, the visual information that illustrates our memories does fade away. I have found that writing is one way of clinging on to what we think we recall correctly, and while certain events might have shifted, much can remain honest. But photographs go even further, stamping the truth as a static image onto high gloss paper. In the absence of a video camera, however, action must rely on memory.
Four decades on, I still recall my tiny legs swinging up as my father caught me, my white leather sandals with one cracked toe bar, my squinting at the whiteness of the overhead sun. But who knows.
Next week read my review of Katy’s exceptional pamphlet, Some Indefinable Cord.
AVAILABLE NOW ‘UNMUTED‘ by Nigel Kent!
Nigel Kent’s collection of ekphrastic poems, Unmuted (Hedgehog Poetry Press), is inspired by a gallery of famous works by artists from the present and the past. Each artwork acts as a frame in a storyboard which he unfreezes and unmutes to reveal the narrative he imagines lies behind it. Even for those who have no interest in art these direct, accessible and moving poems will stand alone and promise to engage with issues that truly matter.
“Kent’s poetry is succint, never bloated and always delivered with a poignant and very human point of view.” Priss Bliss, Dreich Broad No. 3
For details of how to purchase a copy, click here
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Reblogged this on The Wombwell Rainbow.