Catching up on some unfinished reading from last year, I came across a poem by Derek Coyle in the Spring issue of Poetry Salzburg Review. I am guessing from the descriptions of a childhood Christmas that he must be around the same age as I am! More to the point the final lines chimed so closely with comments I have made in this blog about memory that I thought it worthwhile making the link. There was a longish post here: Who is Trystan Lewis? Who am I? starting with another blogger’s apparent desire to erase some of his past (!) I rhapsodised on the importance of preserving our memories, our histories of our past selves to pass on to children and grandchildren, bringing in the poet, Helen May Williams’ blog where she wondered whether the person she was last year was the same as the person she was now, and whether that person would be the same in a year’s time. I finished by suggesting that writers should spare a thought for the generations to follow who may wonder why Grandad had a… or what Grandad did… and what he was like when he was younger… was he the same man then as the man they came to know? Helen May Williams commented:
Memory is selective. An individual may go mad if they have a photographic memory that erases nothing from the record. A culture might die under the burden of excessive memorialization, and it might expire when the archives are totally destroyed. In all things we cultural curators must make choices and critical selections.
But as I said in a earlier post, Some would argue that no genre is more fictitious than a biography,
…memory is a curious thing! As some past event is recounted for the first time a small fact – the colour of a dress or the positioning of a piece of furniture in a grandparent’s house – might be added, perhaps hesitantly, doubtingly, in error… but in the very act of speaking about the event that erroneous image is cemented into the memory – fixed to the extent that on subsequent retellings the blue dress is there, in the picture, as your mother stood in front of her parent’s sideboard. And now there is no question in your mind that you are describing things as they really were! An autobiography is the curated sum of our imagined memories.
The ‘curating’ may be unintentional rather than ‘critical selections’! But back to Derek Coyle’s Christmas! “Dad sits shoeless by the table / the first tea of the day in his hand” while “mother, she is busy about the Brussel sprouts”. So true! Later he catches a younger me:
and me in brown square patterned slacks
before jeans or corduroy.
But it is at the end of the poem that he reflects on tricksy memory! He remembers his father’s mother with her curly hair and spectacles, always smiling, as I suppose grandmothers always do.
But maybe I am lying
and these are all just memories
robbed from photographs I’ll steal later.
Coyle, Derek (2022) Those Christmas Mornings.
Poetry Salzburg Review 38 (Spring 2022) pp.158-9.