Josephine Corcoran varies her subject matter from personal memories to political concerns and her poems resemble houses: each poem connects ideas or themes with a linking structure reminding readers that there is a common connection between the personal and general. These 22 poems touch on remembered houses from childhood, drones, and war, the last through cribbed notes in a school exam room. Everyone understands grief even if they have not lost a child. This is best illustrated in the opening poem “Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum” where the poem’s narrator is tucking her child into bed and thinking about two parents whose child was stabbed in a fatal act of racist violence,
“. There’ll be Rosa Parks
and Martin Luther King for homework,
and someone saying it’s good
we teach them that,
but no-one has a map of South-East London,
and today your teacher didn’t say his name.
I teach you this: He spelled it with a ‘PH’
not a ‘V’. In 1993
he was eighteen.
He wanted to be an architect.
He was waiting for a bus.”
The key lesson is that racism isn’t just distanced by geography and history but still contemporary, still happening on the doorstep. The poem’s success lies in its lack of sentiment and control. The tragedy isn’t detailed but is clearly the poem’s main focus. It’s not all doom and gloom though. “The Housebuilders” shows humour:
“We adore the shells and seaweed ribbons
you’ve pressed into our walls.
But why are you buckling your jelly sandals
and cheering at that chiming van?
Climb down off your father’s shoulders!
He’s stashed your tools in a carrier bag!
We need a plasterer! Why is your mother
showering us with breadcrumbs?
Come back! We need a plumber!
Dead crabs are coming in through our windows!”
A new look at sandcastles and a different way of recording childhood memories. The poet and one of her sisters visit their former childhood home on discovering it’s up for sale. The current owner is a widow. On TV is a video of the SAS raid on the Iranian embassy in London thirty years previously and the images become jumbled with the tour of house in “In Town for a Funeral, We Drive Past Our Old House and See it is For Sale”
“. You feel a kind of love
for someone if you’ve shared a house. When the
hostages saw them, sat on the ground with their hands
on their heads, their weapons thrown down,
saw them shot anyway, they stood between the SAS
and the remaining terrorist.
Our mother died here, I’d like to say, in our dreams
she’s trapped here still. But I say nothing.
We form a quiet procession down the stairs,
following behind her, mourners in reverse,
gathering the strange logic of dreams,
strewn along the route to our front door.”
These poems are clear-sighted and memorable and weave the wider world into personal recollection which makes them engaging and memorable. “The Misplaced House” is available from tall-lighthouse.