Who made what? Or what made who? Still reading Denise Levertov

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The large trough, Calderstones Park

I’ve been reading Denise Levertov’s poem, ‘A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England’ for the past couple of days. Picking up  at the line ‘Pergo Park knew me ther’, but just going reread the whole thing to get myself in it.

I don’t know if people running Shared Reading groups ever read long poems over a few weeks – tell me! I’ve done that in the past and it is surprisingly easily – partly, as Reader Leaders know, many group members are really surprised to find they love reading poetry. Partly, it is oddly easy to pick up concentration like picking up your crochet and just getting going again,  or like keeping an eye on the league positions without realising you are stopping and starting that activity.  So a poem can settle back into focus very quickly.

Don’t be afraid, or rather, you may be afraid, as I was on Tuesday when I decided to start reading this poem. But don’t let being afraid stop you!  It’s natural to be bothered by not knowing or not getting it.  The answer to that anxiety is to ask questions, to not be bothered if you can’t find a definitive answer, and to notice things. Soon you’ll be lost in the thick of feeling and thought response and anxieties will disappear.

So let’s read it:

A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

What most strikes me as I reread today is something to do with the personality of relationship between the nouns and verbs: these places are like people – are they?:

Cranbrook Wash called me…Valentines heard my resolves…Roding held my head…Pergo Park knew me…Stanford Rivers lost me…Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home…Wanstead drew me…

This is a rhythm, perhaps first and foremost a rhythm, built from the most simple of syntactical structures (subject/verb/object) (in this cases: the place+verb of action +me). I bbelieve – now I have noticed it – that this structure matters. But why? It does something to me as I read – but what? I want to understand that something. I reread:

Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,

I think what is happening is that ‘me’ (coming in each line) is being made, created, called into consciousness by these places. You remember yourself in a place. ‘Pergo Park knew me’ – in prose-speak that would be ‘I knew Pargo Park’.  But this word order, making the place the subject of the sentence, puts the ownership of the action away from the child. The child  is the product of the place, not simply its memory-repository.

I think of a memory of Neston Park in my childhood. Purple and gold bearded iris growing somewhere near a stream. My grandfather Syd Smith loving them. A small bank, a sandstone wall, gravel, sun, the colour of purple and gold, the velvet of petal. Him, loving the iris.

That memory may have been made in very early childhood, probably before I went to school.

I (subject) remember (verb)  it (object).

I’m the owner, the maker the creator,  in that sentence. But did it make part of me?

Iris (subject) made (verb)  me (object).

Suddenly our roles and  powers are reversed.  And that’s what Denise has done her, with the whole of the Western Part of the Country of Essex in England… she has made it make her.

Going to London today. Time to go.

iris.jpg

”A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” By Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965,1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

Slip-stiching into the past, with a shipyard & some crochet & Denise Levertov

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Entrance to Cammell Laird in River Mersey mist, 19 September

Yesterday I started reading a poem new to me, which I’ll come back to later, see below.

Also visited the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead and took an hour’s early lunch to get a crochet lesson  with Alma from the Calderstones Knit and Natter group.  While learning how to crochet (‘It’s all pattern, mathematical pattern is the basis of everything. So you can say you are a mathematician now,’ explained Alma. ‘Yarn over and chain two!’) I kept remembering the shipyard, where Andy had shown me round.  In one of the Cammell Laird sheds I saw the back-end of the RSS Sir David Attenborough (the ship previously known as Boaty McBoatface)  under construction. What a project, what a piece  of work. And these great sheets of steel, like dance-floors lying around the yard, autumn leaves dropped by giants. In crochet, everything is small, the shipyard, everything is big.  But  there is precision, pattern, mathematics and the human pull, the control of  the tension, making material stuff do what you want, in both.

And to me,  both were moving, perhaps the more so because they came so close together on the same day,  the shipyard butting up against the crochet. Both were parts of my now ancient-seeming childhood.

I  was a child in Neston and Eastham and had relatives in New Ferry, Port Sunlight and Rock Ferry. My great-grandfather was a lockgate keeper on the Manchester Ship Canal, my grandfather worked at Shotton Steel. Cammell  Laird loomed large in my childhood – Dads and Uncles on our council estate worked there.

And crochet? I don’t know why, but it seemed a middle class thing – old,  posh ladies my Nan cleaned for did crochet, and  my memories of  it aren’t pretty. A lot of it was made from shiny flesh-coloured silk, as if recycled shredded wartime underwear,  and doilies of it littered dressing tables, runners stretched over mantlepieces, antimacassars bothered you on the backs of arm-chairs.

We knew women who knitted ferociously,  gorgeously in white and lemon for babies. Others in my family were ‘not good knitters’ and made scratchy school jumpers where the sleeves were too long, the collars wonky. Jumpers with collars? Oh yes, this was 1961.  But crocheters? I don’t think anyone round our way did it. The old posh ladies  lived in  big houses with gardens and  flower borders and apple trees. Some of them had parquet floors and my nan polished those floors on her hands and knees except in one house where they had an electric floor polisher, and in the summer holidays I went with  her to those houses and ate cake, or more deliciously tablet, in the kitchen and sometimes had a go of the floor polisher, which was powerful with electric energy and could  run away with you.

Now I am one of those old posh ladies,  though avoiding the flesh-coloured silk yarn. And the tablet, sadly. And crochet has changed! Alma  has made a Freda Kahlo blanket and very  dangerous and lovely-looking it is too. And Cammell Laird has been brought out of the economic doldrums and back to life.

kahlo blanket.jpg
Alma’s Freda Kahlo Blanket

These things are in my mind as I re-read Denise Levertov’s poem:

A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

Yesterday I had read as far as ‘ I am Essex born.’ I’m just going to go a little ways further, but before I go I’m going to look up  a map of Essex and look up Hainault on Wikipedia, because these are specific places and I don’t know anything about them.  What would I do in my Shared Reading group – I might have looked them up in advance, but I am not a fan of much prep, think it deadens things and prevents the free rein of  thought. So, with no prep under my belt, I’d say – ‘Anyone know Essex at all? ‘ and sometimes someone will, and sometimes they won’t.  So then I might look it up on my phone in the actual group – which I think is a good model for group members tussling with a poem. The ‘expert’ doesn’t come along knowing everything, with  everything prepared. We find out as we might do in real life, more or less accurately. what I find when I look up these place names is that many of them are ancient and Essex – of course! is an ancient  British kingdom. Which is why  the boar hunt – the Forrest of Hainault, ancient woodland, suddenly appears. I look up Phillipa and find her, a merciful wise Queen.

Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.

I really like the  link between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt. How in an anciently settled place (like Wirral, like Birkenhead, Rock Ferry, New Ferry, Eastham, Neston) time can slip between now and a host of ‘thens’ , how you are slightly aware of the presence of history. Vikigs came to West Kirby. sometimes I seem to see them, sailing up the estuary.

But Time’s up for  today. More tomorrow.

”A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” By Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965,1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

 

Essex Girl meets Punk Reader: starting to read a new-to-me poem by Denise Levertov

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Old English Garden at Calderstones getting into Autumn, 18 September

This morning I’m starting to read a poem new to me, which I’ve found in the very lovely (New Directions) Collected Poems of Denise Levertov.

I begin with a nervous feeling, it looks a big poem, and as if it might be important. That nervous feeling makes me afraid and angry, old feelings left from early days at University. Does everything we’ve ever felt lie in us waiting to be re-ignited?

All those lifetime-old  worries – poetry is something clever experts know about – come back like weird auto-response twitches, and I tell myself: you’ve been a good reader for years, decades, a life time, shut up you and your silly worried voices. My young punk self aggressive in her assertion brought to life by feeling of dustiness of ‘experts’: I can do it without your *%^&*”* notes!

If a poem needs a critical apparatus it’s no poem. A poem stands alone, is a product of a human soul and mind. A reader meets it. They  begin to read each other. Don’t be afraid, I soothe my young angry uneducated self,  believe in that lively interchange.

I read the poem through a couple of times:

A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:
Cranbrook Wash called me into its dark tunnel,
the little streams of Valentines heard my resolves,
Roding held my head above water when I thought it was
drowning me; in Hainault only a haze of thin trees
stood between the red doubledecker buses and the boar-hunt,
the spirit of merciful Phillipa glimmered there.
Pergo Park knew me, and Clavering, and Havering-atte-Bower,
Stanford Rivers lost me in osier beds, Stapleford Abbots
sent me safe home on the dark road after Simeon-quiet evensong,
Wanstead drew me over and over into its basic poetry,
in its serpentine lake I saw bass-viols among the golden dead leaves,
through its trees the ghost of a great house. In
Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the
light of flaring sundown, seven kings
in somber starry robes gathered at Seven Kings
the place of law
where my birth and marriage are recorded
and the death of my father. Woodford Wells
where an old house was called The Naked Beauty (a white
statue forlorn in its garden)
saw the meeting and parting of two sisters,
(forgotten? and further away
the hill before Thaxted? where peace befell us? not once
but many times?).
All the Ivans dreaming of their villages
all the Marias dreaming of their walled cities,
picking up fragments of New World slowly,
not knowing how to put them together nor how to join
image with image, now I know how it was with you, an old map
made long before I was born shows ancient
rights of way where I walked when I was ten burning with desire
for the world’s great splendors, a child who traced voyages
indelibly all over the atlas, who now in a far country
remembers the first river, the first
field, bricks and lumber dumped in it ready for building,
that new smell, and remembers
the walls of the garden, the first light.

Hhhhmm. A long read, and a lovely read though largely still incomprehensible to me this morning. I see the map she is reading. I do not know Essex and need a map of my own to compare hers against, but this is also genetics, isn’t it,and the history of a family moving around the world?

These are the thoughts that are roughly in my  mind as I open the poem and begin to look.

When I start again, I am uncertain because I don’t know what the ‘something’ is:

Something forgotten for twenty years: though my fathers
and mothers came from Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon,
and though I am a citizen of the United States and less a
stranger here than anywhere else, perhaps,
I am Essex-born:

Had she forgotten Essex, that she was Essex-born?  Had that memory  faded in the more cosmopolitan light of Cordova and Vitepsk and Caernarvon and the United States?  have those places  her ‘fathers and mothers’ came from become more significant in her life story than the actualities of her  real life story??

I’m over my nerves already!

Reading a new poem – and particularly perhaps a poem with some kind of reputation or aura (and for me, with this poem that was just to do with its density on the page plus my immediate inability to get into it) – you have to put your insecurity aside and face it as an equal. You have to say:  I don’t understand. O.k., you have to say to yourself,  ask a question then.  There may be many questions and few answers. But asking gets you talking.  And the next thing neither you nor the poem is standing there like a monolith.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a map of Essex and longer time for writing.

”A Map of the Western Part of the County of Essex in England” By Denise Levertov, from POEMS 1960-1967, copyright ©1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965,1966 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. 

Silas Marner Day 32

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Begonia in the rain

Silas Marner today because don’t have time to choose a poem.

I’m struggling to change my morning routine, wanting to get exercise in before I read and write. Why? Because my resistance is lower earlier. Routines, habits, are things I have scorned for most of my life but now I increasingly wish I could have them. I’ve got (most days) the reading and writing daily practice going, and now I want to add in exercise. It has to come first and it is a palaver, what with getting dressed to do it and then taking a shower…so, dear regular readers, bear with me while I try to establish this new routine, and if there is a knock-on effect here of not having quite enough time.

But to Silas.

I’ve been reading Silas Marner very slowly  (search ‘Silas Marner’) and  intermittently here for a few months. We’v just finished Chapter 14. you can find the whole text  here. For previous posts, search ‘Silas Marner’. There was a bit of a ix up in that I  missed out half  of chapter 14 the first time round,  so you’ll find my reading of  the incredibly short chapter 15 back a ways – under the title  ‘I Want More Dolly!’ But now I really have finished chapter 14 and 15 and now we are in chapter 16,  and the story skips 16 years and Eppie is grown.

Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale,  tells the story of a King, Leontes, who wrecks his own life and  who rejects and banishes his baby daughter, Perdita. Perdita spends sixteen years being brought up by the shepherd who finds her.  It is a story that is broken in half by what Shakespeare calls ‘this wide gap of time’, the sixteen year period in which time passes, a child may grow up, and an adult may learn a long hard slow lesson.

I’m sure George Eliot is thinking of The Winter’s Tale as she writes. ‘Time’ she tells us, ‘ has laid his hand on them all.’ Perdita, I have to tell you, discovers  her real father and  becomes a princess again…

It was a bright autumn Sunday, sixteen years after Silas Marner had found his new treasure on the hearth. The bells of the old Raveloe church were ringing the cheerful peal which told that the morning service was ended; and out of the arched doorway in the tower came slowly, retarded by friendly greetings and questions, the richer parishioners who had chosen this bright Sunday morning as eligible for church-going. It was the rural fashion of that time for the more important members of the congregation to depart first, while their humbler neighbours waited and looked on, stroking their bent heads or dropping their curtsies to any large ratepayer who turned to notice them.

Foremost among these advancing groups of well-clad people, there are some whom we shall recognize, in spite of Time, who has laid his hand on them all.

George Eliot looks at  Godfrey and sees little change. But  Nancy, now his wife, does look different:

But the years have not been so cruel to Nancy. The firm yet placid mouth, the clear veracious glance of the brown eyes, speak now of a nature that has been tested and has kept its highest qualities;

We don’t yet know what the testing of her nature  has been, only that  she has been tested and has survived – more than survived, she has retained her ‘highest qualities’.

I’m reading on fast now, reading about Eppie’s garden and Aaron’s willingness to dig it, and  not wanting to stop and think too much, it’s story, I’m pressing on ,enjoying it but not  needing to think it out until I come to this part: Silas has developed, we learn,

a humble sort of acquiescence in what was held to be good, had become a strong habit of that new self which had been developed in him since he had found Eppie on his hearth: it had been the only clew his bewildered mind could hold by in cherishing this young life that had been sent to him out of the darkness into which his gold had departed. By seeking what was needful for Eppie, by sharing the effect that everything produced on her, he had himself come to appropriate the forms of custom and belief which were the mould of Raveloe life; and as, with reawakening sensibilities, memory also reawakened, he had begun to ponder over the elements of his old faith, and blend them with his new impressions, till he recovered a consciousness of unity between his past and present. The sense of presiding goodness and the human trust which come with all pure peace and joy, had given him a dim impression that there had been some error, some mistake, which had thrown that dark shadow over the days of his best years; and as it grew more and more easy to him to open his mind to Dolly Winthrop, he gradually communicated to her all he could describe of his early life. The communication was necessarily a slow and difficult process, for Silas’s meagre power of explanation was not aided by any readiness of interpretation in Dolly, whose narrow outward experience gave her no key to strange customs, and made every novelty a source of wonder that arrested them at every step of the narrative. It was only by fragments, and at intervals which left Dolly time to revolve what she had heard till it acquired some familiarity for her, that Silas at last arrived at the climax of the sad story–the drawing of lots, and its false testimony concerning him; and this had to be repeated in several interviews, under new questions on her part as to the nature of this plan for detecting the guilty and clearing the innocent.

run out of time now,  oh dear, will try harder to get my timings right tomorrow