Wood Green Library – London
Today I gave out the poem ‘Matins’ from the book The Wild Iris (Harper Collins, 1992) by Louise Glück. My mum told me matins is the French word for the morning song of birds. I liked the idea of handing out a poem about nature in a place that is called Wood Green but is actually a big high street and shopping centre, with not much green nor woods around.
It’s a big, busy library, as well as having a bank and other shops in the same building, so there were lots of people around. Unfortunately there were lots of street fundraisers nearby trying to talk to people as they went past, but I stood as far away from them as possible.
One man in a high vis stopped and read the poem out quickly next to me: “so, it’s just her in the garden?” I shrugged my shoulders, and asked if he liked poetry: “yea, sometimes it makes a change from lengthy novels.” Another woman took a break from feeding pigeons to ask what I was doing. When I said I hadn’t written the poem, she said: “so you just like the poem and thought you’d give it out to people…that’s a nice thing to do!”
I also met Mustafah, who comes to the library to read the newspapers. When I asked if he liked poetry he said: “I can’t really say whether I do or I don’t.” Then he asked if it rhymed, because “sometimes it has more character if it rhymes”. I said it doesn’t rhyme, but it still sounds nice, and asked if he wanted to read it out loud to see what I mean. He read the whole poem out loud next to me, really slowly, and said it had “something about it.”
I recommend the book wholeheartedly, and love this poem in particular for that same “something” that Mustafah couldn’t put his finger on. Maybe it’s that gripping first line, or the unashamed attempts at trying to see what you’re doing as ‘symbolic’ – or maybe it’s just her in the garden.
You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?