Wednesday, 8 January 2014


I'm not a poetry kind of girl. That's odd to say as someone who studied Anglo-Saxon and Medieval literature, but it's true. I have a few collections of poems - Burns, Frost, Heaney - on top of the ones I had to get for Uni. I might have ten poetry collections at the very most. Compare this to three overflowing bookcases and a dozen boxes of books, most of which are novels, and the imbalance becomes pretty clear.

Every now and then, however, a poem forces itself into my field of vision and demands that I read it. These are almost always poems touch me in some deep emotional way, and in a way that novels rarely do. Seamus Heaney's 'Digging' is one. His voice is one that I return to again and again, for its almost hypnotic rhythm. Another is Liz Lockhead, whose experience as a young girl growing up in Scotland speaks to me in a way other poets often fail. Recently this one forced its way in, so I thought I'd share it here.

What about you? Have you come across any poems/poets recently  that jumped out at you and demanded to be read?

"The Choosing," by Liz Lochhead
From Memo for Spring, 1972:
"The Choosing"

We were first equal Mary and I
with the same coloured ribbons in mouse-coloured hair
and with equal shyness
we curtseyed to the lady councillor
for copies of Collins’s Children Classics.
First equal, equally proud.

Best friends too Mary and I
a common bond in being cleverest (equal)
in our small school’s small class.
I remember
the competition for top desk
or to read aloud the lesson
at school service.
And my terrible fear
of her superiority at sums.

I remember the housing scheme
Where we both stayed.
The same house, different homes,
where the choices were made.

I don’t know exactly why they moved,
but anyway they went.
Something about a three-apartment
and a cheaper rent.
But from the top deck of the high school bus
I’d glimpse among the others on the corner
Mary’s father, mufflered, contrasting strangely
with the elegant greyhounds by his side.
He didn’t believe in high school education,
especially for girls,
or in forking out for uniforms.

Ten years later on a Saturday —
I am coming home from the library —
sitting near me on the bus,
with a husband who is tall,
curly haired, has eyes
for no one else but Mary.
Her arms are round the full-shaped vase
that is her body.
Oh, you can see where the attraction lies
in Mary’s life —
not that I envy her, really.

And I am coming from the library
with my arms full of books.
I think of the prizes that were ours for the taking
and wonder when the choices got made
we don’t remember making.

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