Tidemarks, Alan Jenkins
New Walk Editions, 2018 £5.00
The past may be another country but it is also our own, as Alan Jenkins shows here. There are only ten poems but (while his memory revisits specific childhood sea-scenes and boats) five of them run to at least two pages .
The route back is both literal and metaphorical, as well as familiar. Two poems open ‘I knew the path’, while a third begins ‘I know this path’ For example, here are the first four lines of ‘B & B’:
I knew the path, the promenade, the lanes,
The park where a stone Victoria frowned
At lichen-covered benches, salt insistent rains
(I could have lost myself, I could have drowned)
So here’s Memory, back on its own track, the detail suddenly sharp and personal, nosing through what was fixed in childhood. The phrase ‘I knew the path’ actually appears three times in this poem, mirroring the insistent pulse of those recollections that won’t let go of the adult self. Repetition of phrases (anaphora, if you prefer) anchors this; his use of ‘I could have’ in the lines quoted brings back childhood’s fears as well as its possibilities. It holds both, equally.
The metaphor of ‘the path’ is familiar from poems about the past, yet it never palls. As readers (writers, too) we all take Frost’s less travelled road because every road is unique. That’s why Jenkins can open one poem with ‘I dreamt’ and another with ‘I don’t remember’: because all readers know the signpost to this solitary journey. It’s the route into what the past looked like for the poet, how it smelt, and — most significantly — how it felt to be small and trying to make sense of new experiences.
‘Look-out’ mixes knowledge (and sexual exploration) with its opposite, the painful not-remembering mixture of actuality and imagination:
I know the path (and what a new kind of hurt
It is, this trying not to remember)
Across the marsh to dunes and marram grass
This collection confirms how the past, in whatever version memory serves up, is inescapable — and an inescapable source for a poet.