Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Family Albums and the Movability of Memory




Blow the bugles, bang the drums - I seem to have started a new sequence of poems, although I must confess that I am a little scared of looking at them in the cold light of day. The seed of the idea has been germinating away somewhere in deep in my mind for weeks. It started when I watched a film called Stories We Tell - a film that describes the journey of one family (or really one woman) through interviews with family members and friends, interspersed with old home movie footage and photos. It is a fascinating film and a moving story - or rather stories - because what the film highlights is how we all view events differently from one another, and how memory manipulates events over time to suit our own world view.

A few weeks later I went to my Grandma's funeral. One of the things that my aunts had done was to leave out some photo albums for us to look at, and in one were photos of my family (me, my dad and mum and brother and sister) that I had never seen before - as well as quite a few pictures of my father as a child.  Some of the photos in the album were identical to photos in our own family photo albums and this got me thinking about who might have taken the pictures. I had always assumed that it was my mum and dad - but actually it could just as easily have been visiting relatives.  We did have a family camera but I don't remember it being used very much. I guess developing photographs was expensive in the 1970s.  

Things have been busy since the funeral and I didn't think much more about the photos, but yesterday evening, for some reason, the whole idea of family albums came back into my mind. I decided to write a few poems or verbal sketches of photos from the photo albums of my childhood, but rather than get the albums out and look at the photos I would try and write about them from my memories of the photos.  This was an interesting exercise - writing a memory of a memory of a memory. It will be interesting at some point to look at the actual photographs and see if my memory of them is true. I may even write from some of the other photos, but for the moment it is the process that I am finding interesting. 

Another thing that happened was that writing about a memory of a picture led me to realise that I could take a leap further - what if I was to write about a picture that could have been taken but never was. We all have memories of things that happened and people who came and went from our childhood homes, but we don't always have any photographic evidence of these people. Nowadays we have mobile phones with photographic capabilities so everything is much more documented, but in the 70s and 80s developing film was expensive so people tended to mostly take pictures of special occasions - birthdays, holidays, that kind of thing. Human memory is pictorial - I have lots of memories of childhood that are like little home movies or still images that I can call to mind - like the children next door looking over the fence or my aunt coming to visit unexpectedly in her fur coat and bearing gifts of easter eggs and cuddly toys. I found myself writing about the non-existent photos of those memories.  Of course it could be that the poems will turn out to be nonsense - they may be more like small vignettes and be of no interest to anybody else but me. Whether this is the case or not it is interesting writing them and I imagine it may trigger other memories - if nothing else I will have fun. I wrote quite a bit about autobiographical poetry back in 2008. Here is a rough draft.

The Girl from Number 79

This is the girl from next door
who offered to take you swimming,
this is her standing on the top rung of the fence
looking into your garden,
here is your mother explaining how to hold
her hand as you cross the roads,
here you are with your mouth and nose
filled with chlorinated water,
and here you are again
under the wheels of a Morris Traveller,
the driver's mouth an O of surprise,
and here is the girl
whose name you can't remember
wearing her grumpy face
because your mum has changed her mind
and said you are too young to go.

1 comment:

Rose Blackthorn said...

I love your poem.

Captures these fleeting moments so eloquently. Can't wait to see what else you write from these mementos.