Tuesday Poem: Put-downs by Pauline Yarwood

My gran got it the wrong way round.
You're a sight for sore eyes, she'd snap,
sharp, when I snuck in through the back door.
I'd be grubby from digging pits for dens
or scratched and bleeding from climbing trees,
red-faced from riding my bike a few feet
further than I was allowed to go,
then a sweaty race back hoping not to be seen,
and once hiding in tall grass being shown how boys pee.
It was years before I realized that being
a sight for sore eyes was a good thing,
a joy to behold.  But I was never that,
just a scruffy kid hoping for toast and marmite
and a bit of a welcome.  She could, I suppose,
have meant that me looking like something
the cat dragged in cheered her up, made her smile.
But that wasn't my gran.  A woman wrapped in loss,
her other favourite phrase, which never leaves me,
was who do you think you are.
She could destroy you six different ways with this
depending on where she put the emphasis.

Copyright Pauline Yarwood, 2017
from Image Junkie, Wayleave Press, 2017

This is Pauline Yarwood's debut pamphlet and it's very enjoyable.  The poems are written in an easy, conversational voice that speaks straight to the reader.  They are perceptive, sometime elegiac, often with a wry humour. The poem I've chosen manages to include it all.  I like 'Put-downs' because it reminds me of my own Tyneside grandmother who used the expression regularly and with similar ambiguity.  It's a poem full of character, laying bare the relationship between a child, not yet secure in their own identity, and a rather austere - 'spare the rod and spoil the child' - kind of figure.  Even as I'm smiling at the humour of it, I'm feeling the same sadness and regret for what could have been, as the poet herself seems to feel.  It's a poem about the loss of a relationship that might have been, foundering on that corrosive erosion of self-esteem and identity summed up by the mocking phrase 'Who do you think you are?'

The title poem, 'Image Junkie', describes an uneasy interaction with any peopled landscape.
    'Time was, I'd wait for as long as it took
     for someone to move out of the frame
     so I could walk into the desolation . . .'

The narrator of the poem is detached, framing empty streets, vacated chairs and park benches, with a photographer's eye.  But the people creep 'in slowly', asserting themselves.  'You may think you're on the margin', the poem continues:
    'but you'd be surprised how many people
     look directly at you,
     challenging your right.'

Being alive is difficult and sometimes painful.

Pauline Yarwood is a poet and ceramicist living in the Lake District.  She is a member of Brewery Poets in Kendal and, with Kim Moore, organises the Kendal Poetry Festival - rapidly becoming one of the best little festivals in the north.   You can find out more about her here.

You can follow Pauline on Twitter @YarwoodPo

Wayleave Press was set up by award-winning poet Mike Barlow to fill a gap for poets  he admired whose work wasn't finding a home with other presses in an increasingly crowded market.  Each pamphlet is beautifully designed and edited, and he's publishing some interesting names.  If you want to find out why Mike turned from poet to editor, there a good article about the press here.

Mike Barlow, editor, Wayleave Press


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