A tour of the Archive with Stephanie Anderson

Stephanie Anderson, writer and coach


On my first visit to the Poetry Archive I dipped in to see what was there, and discovered there was far more to hear than I had imagined. I returned for flying visits, listening to one poet after another, one voice after the other, first choosing those poets whose poems I had read but not heard before, keen to hear if some of those recordings from years ago matched the voice of the poet heard in my mind. This most recent visit, my tour of the Archive, has felt wonderfully self-indulgent, giving me permission to set aside the time to explore fully and to listen and read. Selecting the poems was a lot of fun, and of course it was difficult to pick out only a few of the many brilliant and varied poems on offer.



Two Lorries

Seamus Heaney

Two Lorries has everything I want from a poem. Seamus Heaney paints the scene, of a time and place, with imagery that is precise but richly graphic: the tasty ways of a leather-aproned coalman and black lead and emery paper, this nineteen-forties mother, / all business round her stove. There is an idyllic feel of nostalgic homeliness and safety in this description of the coalman and the mother, with which the different lorry in Magherafelt, with a payload / That will blow the bus station to dust and ashes then collides horribly. The image of the refolding of body bags is in contrast to the earlier emptied, folded coal-bags. By the end of the poem I feel I have seen a film, studied a painting, seen death walked out past her like a dust-faced coalman and heard the rain spit in new ashes.

Listening to Seamus Heaney read 'Two Lorries' adds even more to the experience of the poem. The sound brings through the lyricism of the language even more powerfully, in The conceit of a coalman and A flurry / of motes and engine revs. His tone and accent merge seamlessly with the words; his voice becomes the poem right through to the last line when he presents us with a final lasting image of My mother's / Dreamboat coalman filmed in silk-white ashes.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

William Butler Yeats

W B Yeats's voice wasn't as I had expected. The first book of poetry I bought, as a young adult, was a collection of Yeats's poems. By then I had begun a long, long love affair with all things Irish, and I loved the romantic feel of the poems. Visiting the West of Ireland years later, I made a 'pilgrimage' to Drumcliffe in Sligo where Yeats is buried. This poem is written about a place near there, and I stood at the grave and felt the Peace... dropping slow, / Dropping from the veils of the morning. The poem summons for me the feeling of longing to be in another place, where the pavements aren't grey, the place where your heart wants to be. It is the sense of a place that is more than the scenery, the history, or the people even, it is a sense that is of the earth and felt in the earth, and in the air in the sound of lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore... heard in the deep heart's core.

Fables - Cutting off one's ears for someone else is wrong

Jenny Joseph

What an excellent title! Jenny Joseph's poem made me first smile, then giggle, and her reading of the poem contributes even more to the sense of fun. The poem has something important to say too, about value and what we attach it to. We hear that almost certainly the man wouldn't have wanted to give as much money for the corporeal Van Gogh's mother as for the flat board version, or to supply the painter with enough sausage for the rest of his natural - a great line! He is said to pretend to value her and be prepared to give his worldly wealth to save her, but Jenny Joseph makes us wonder what it is that he values truly? Probably it isn't his own mother sitting permanently on his sofa - a scary thought indeed.

Thief

Penelope Shuttle

A number of years ago I worked as a writer-in-residence in day-care centres where some of the people struggled with depression. Writing, both poetry and prose, was one of the 'tools' used there to help people express how they felt, about themselves, their lives and the particular challenges they faced. Some of their wonderful writing talked of depression and the loss of joy, hope and sense of safety that Penelope Shuttle articulates skilfully and impressively in this poem. The Thief who takes away everything you call 'mine', your little hoard of riches, your modest share of the world works beautifully as the central image. She then rebuilds that life for us, a difficult and uncertain task, a house made of bricks that must be guessed at, groped for, but full of the things that make life joyful and make you feel safe: your love of what you see each different morning / through your window, the ordinary seen as heavenly / Your child's power, your lover's touch. When safety and joy return, so does the Thief, with the frightening and threatening image of empty pockets, his fingers dirty and bare... like a pauper on a dark patchwork morning. He is back, it is back, and everything that is good is stolen away again.

The Moment

Margaret Atwood

This is a simple but huge poem and a lovely surprise for me when I came across it in the Archive. I have to admit I know Margaret Atwood for her prose not her poetry, so it was a delight to find. I realised when I was teaching English years ago that part of the fear some people have about poetry is the idea that there is a right and wrong understanding of poems, that there are clues to what the poet meant and if you are good at following them you arrive at a magic answer. For me there is magic in poetry, but part of that magic is that ten people will hear or read a poem and each experience it in a different way, arriving at an individual understanding of it. The vastness of this poem is in the way a few words describe the fragility and temporary nature of one lifetime arriving at The Moment - when we are held in the trees' embrace, when we can breathe before the birds take back their language and the air moves back from you like a wave, and we are reminded that we are only a visitor, owning none of it.


Stephanie Anderson, writer and coach

Stephanie Anderson is a development coach and writer. Her work focuses on the relationship between career and personal development. Stephanie worked for many years in mainstream education and the arts in a variety of roles, most recently as Director of the Arvon Foundation, an organisation which provides residential creative writing courses.

Enjoy new recordings of classic poems from the past read by contemporary poets

Home Thoughts, from...

Robert Browning

read by Anthony Thwaite

Remembrance

Emily Bronte

read by Fleur Adcock

A tour of the Archive with Helen Gray

As a secondary schoolteacher in London for the past thirty years, it has been my privilege to have had a job which...

Featured Guided Tours