Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Letters from Aberdeen

I have letters from my grandfather to my grandmother going back to 1917, although most of the bundle in my wooden box are from the 1970s. They describe friends' summer jobs, relationships, and a friend who was studying medicine asks me to bring back 200 Peter Stuyvesents. Later she consults the I-Ching for me.

They tail off in the eighties but I have letters from Marc in Connecticut and some in the 1990s from Amanda in Japan. When I scanned the corner of an envelope from her, I noticed the stamp commemorated International Letter Writing Week, 1996.

I may have others stashed away in odd places, but I'm sure many went in the bin or the fire. I've printed out emails, some from a good friend who died, but my inbox is largely 38 degrees urging me to sign another petition, reminders about meter reading, renewing my car insurance, and people selling stuff. The 'Social' tag on my gmail account invariably fools me. There are few personal, gripping and vivid messages.

My first poem based on a letter began with one I kept because I am ashamed I did nothing about it - it was an appeal for help I ignored. I went through the box and as I copied phrases into my notebook, looked at the handwriting, heard that person's voice, more came. The most prolific letter writer was a boyfriend who lived in Aberdeen while I was in Portsmouth.

They are so full of travel, daily life, fun that I could fall in love with him properly now. I failed to keep that relationship going - perhaps it was distance. Another regular writer was Amanda in Japan. I am sure I haven't kept all of hers, but he writes vividly about her travels and new life away from England.

Mum kept some letters and odd pages I wrote home from France when I was 17, then at 21. At 17 I was working one summer at a chateau teaching  English, cleaning, taking the kids to the swimming pool and helping with the paying guests. My memory of at least one guest is totally different to the reality I describe.

At 21, I was struck by my casual "see you in two months" with no suggestion there'd be any more from me. I describe an island I camped on in great detail.

The letters and occasional card have prompted me to wonder about people I've forgotten, or who I rarely think about. From there, into memory and an idea I read about in the Guardian, of "dancing when we write".

Magma 63 is publishing one of the letters poems, another appeared in The Rialto 83. The first was published in Mslexia in September 2014.