“Bookmarks” is a simple idea: a series of poems about scraps of paper utilised as bookmarks, but subjected to a poet’s forensic gaze, they mark a thread through a life and open chapters of memories. One of the first poems explores this, “The Ticket to the Museum of Time”
“The ticket’s (too long in my pocket) damp,
ruckled, and thought the date’s too blurred to read
it’s pressed inside this book, holding the place
the future will come back to, given time.”
The theme of returning is a motif that runs through the pamphlet. Largely the bookmarks are not in new books that are unfinished, but mark favoured or specific places as reference points, e.g. in “Restaurant Bill” the bookmark is tucked in a guide book,
“First time in Florence, armed with a warning
of polizia fiscale and their powers;
how they wait, street-wise to stop you
after pasta and chianti, checking the receipt –
not on your side, of course, but hunting down
small trattoria dodging IVA.
Keep your receipt, the guide book warned
or risk a fine. The habit stuck
as did the restaurant bills, tucked
into every book that travelled.”
Some of these bills-as-bookmarks carry stains of wines or foods tasted. Whilst the guide books offer visual clues to memories, the bookmarks complement the memory by adding the sense of taste and smell, and possibly touch. This shifts the memory from two dimensions to three, making it more vivid and compelling. Whilst keeping a receipt to avoid a fine is useful advice, some guides are less useful and impersonal. “Tourist Information” is a photocopied map of Heptonstall that fails to give the location of Sylvia Plath’s grave,
“light sieved through trees leaning too close. The day
was chancy memory. She’s buried…? The scour
for likely stone and troubled plot. Dead flowers.
It turns up every January, the time
of bitter Sevilles, in a book half-glued
to half a lifetime’s marmalade – mistakes
at setting point, the splatterings
from all our kitchens and their seething pans –
undated, marks the page and shares the stains.”
The attention in the poem shifts from bookmark to book and widens to previous addresses, “all our kitchens”, giving a lens through which to view a shared domestic life.
“Bookmarks” are not just about looking backwards, however. In one poem an unsent postcard prompts thoughts about a photo of a postcard scene taken on a phone, then sent and how that wouldn’t end up in a book. This, in turn, then questions how memories are kept, will our digital equivalent of bookmarks be accessible to future generations? “Note”, signed “Love” but nameless as the writer knew their handwriting would be recognised, also touches on this,
“as the known hand looped and rose in haste,
slanting into the future and the torn half-sheet
blotched, somehow. Damp has found these books.
A bookmark, maybe, caught up when time ran out
but with this promise: something to return to.
And what’s there to keep except (perhaps) Love?
Why not a text? asks the child,
all thumbs, not looking up from his screen.
There is so much to explain.”
“Bookmarks” asks questions about memories, which ones get discarded and which rise to the surface when prompted, without nostalgia. It also looks at why we keep and mark books – place visited, a favoured recipe, a passage or a poem intended for re-reading. The eclectic selection of what gets used as bookmarks offers a window into journeys made, events attended and relationships. The poems are written with a forensic eye and detailed attention to craft and rhythm, neatly wrapped in HappenStance’s high production values. And it comes with a bookmark.
States of Independence is back in Leicester at De Montfort University on Saturday 23 March 2019 from 10.30am.