A few years ago – I think maybe the summer of 2014, I booked onto a residential poetry course with Ian Duhig and Ruth Padel at Ty Newydd.
It was a great week – and very productive for me – I wrote a lot of my first collection there. I wrote my ‘Curse of the Trumpet Teacher’ in one of Ian’s workshops and my poem ‘That Summer’ in Ruth’s workshop (both in my first collection).
And I wrote this poem – ‘He Was the Forgotten Thing’ I think during Ian’s workshop.
Simon Armitage has a great poem here called ‘Not the Furniture Game’ which I think was one of the poems Ian may have used in the workshop. Simon’s poem reminds me a little of a blazon – defined on the Poetry Foundation website as cataloguing ‘the physical attributes of a subject, usually female’. It also ‘compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects.’ Simon Armitage’s poem isn’t a blazon but it seems to subvert and answer back to the tradition.
What does ‘forgotten mean anyhow?
There are references to other poems in the sequence in this poem. When I was writing these poems, I often wrote a line, and then realised there was something, some story, some partial memory I had to write about. Like ‘he was walking home/through the snow with his arm like a curse/round my neck’ – I had to write a whole poem ‘Followed’ to explain what I meant. Like the birds, who keep returning throughout the sequence. Like ‘he was a fist not an eye’ – see Day 10 ‘On Eyes’. Or the line ‘the language of insects’ from the poem ‘In That Year’ from Day 1. I didn’t know what I meant when I wrote it then. I had to write another poem to understand.
Adrienne Rich said ‘Lying is done with words and also with silence’.
and ‘It will take all your heart, it will take all your breath, it will be short/it will not be simple
He was the Forgotten Thing
He was the forgotten thing, the blackened tree
that doesn’t grow, that doesn’t fall, he was
the car that wouldn’t pull over, the tide coming in,
he was everything I put my heart against,
the low set and turn of heads when he entered a room,
he was buses roaring past like blind heroes,
he was stolen things. He was the connecting parts
of train carriages, he was windows with curtains
to keep out the street, he was a car that drove
through the night, he was a fist not an eye, he was
an eye not an ear, he had thoughts that took over
the day like weather, like the rain coming in,
he was nothing I thought of, he was not
what was promised, he was walking home
through the snow with his arm like a curse
round my neck, he was not black and white,
he was nothing like that. And look at him now,
standing in a field surrounded by crows, one arm
pointing north but his face to the west,
he knows to be still with his black button eyes,
his stitched-on smile. The birds have come
to pull out the straw that keeps him upright.
Look how they carry him home in their
sharp little beaks once again.