Wednesday 8 April 2009

Autobiographical Poems

Within my collection of fictional autobiographical poems I have tried to create, through use of language and imagery, a sense of alienation and displacement. I wanted to subtly show how the sense of being an outsider that the narrator feels as an adult is echoed in her experiences as a child growing up on a small town housing estate, and that this in turn is echoed in the experience of her family as a whole. Although these poems are not directly autobiographical they do naturally have definite echoes of my own experiences within them. I would hope that I am not as unsettled and alienated as the character in the poems but I have experienced some of those feelings at different times in my life. I was also bought up on a small town housing estate and can trace a sense of displacement and alienation through my own family’s experience. It may have begun with my mother’s grandparent’s move from Southern Ireland but for me it really began with my parent’s move from London to Thetford in the nineteen sixties. My mother was from Ealing and my father was from Acton – both busy centres with a lot going on. They had both been brought up in London. In 1969 they moved to Thetford due to availability of work and housing. They were part of the first wave of what was known locally as “London overspill”. Thetford couldn’t have been more different from London. It was a small rural market town surrounded by pine forest. They had moved themselves away from everything they knew and all their friends and family. It must have been a hard time for them, they did not know a single person in Norfolk and although my father had his job, my mother was isolated at home with a small child. They did not have a car or a phone and had little money for travelling home to visit relatives. There was only one busy road in Thetford – the A11 and that gave the impression of passing the town by, especially when in 1970 the route was diverted from passing through the town centre.

As a bright child who was often bored in school I spent a lot of time gazing out of the classroom window daydreaming about who might be inside the colourful cars and lorries and where they might be going. Cars held an extra mystery for most of the Redcastle Furze kids because in the early 1970s very few families actually owned one. The only person in my family who owned a car was my dad’s mother who would come and visit us once or twice a year. On the day of her visit my sister and I would wait all day by the tall landing window vying for first sight of her yellow mini as it rounded the bend. We lived on the main road in and out of the estate but there was little traffic – maybe five or six cars a day.

There must have been some sense of animosity or alienation between the incoming Londoners and the native Thetfordians, which my parents might have noticed – but as a child I was blissfully unaware of such things. I was however acutely aware of my own sense of “otherness” which partly stemmed from the fact that though essentially working class my parents were fairly intellectual. The house was filled with: books, music, craft objects and the walls were colourful and covered in large French posters. My mother was large and to cover this she wore floor length homemade dresses (a source of acute embarrassment to me as a teenager). They also enjoyed a fairly active social life – they were involved with CND, Thetford Against Missiles, a local arts centre and gallery and later on ran a folk club. This may all sound fairly exciting and idyllic but it was coupled with a precarious and volatile relationship.