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Where I Was, Diana HendryThis is a large pamphlet, a rectangular shape but bigger than A5. The jacket is fully occupied by a monochrome photo of a little girl on a sofa, intently bent over a page onto which she's writing. She has dark curly hair, a dress, cardigan, bare legs and white ankle socks. Very fifites. And she is, if you know the author, unmistakably the author as a child. Behind her the light from a window is reflected on the wall, and you can see the four square panes in reflecting, with the centre spar neatly running down the centre of the jacket and in line with the little girls right leg. Fantastic photo! The title is centred at the top in caps, and below it the author's name, same size, same caps but with a fade.

Mariscat Press, 2020              £6.00

Small details; vast change

The blurb of Where I Was describes the pamphlet as a ‘portrait’ of the house where the poet grew up. However, these poems achieve more than simple nostalgia. Through small details of style and substance, they capture not only a childhood, but also a moment of significant historical change.

‘Before Us’ (the opening piece) plunges the reader straight into action by opening on a conjunction: ‘And so we came to this English village’. Throughout, Hendry uses grammatically incomplete, snappy sentences to create a sense of momentum. In ‘Hoylake 3594’, for example, a teenager tells her friend over the telephone

That I have absolutely nothing to wear.
That no-one else has such awful parents.
That I can’t wait to leave home.

Elsewhere, too, Hendry uses lists to invoke speed and movement. In ‘From the window’, each sentence begins with a definite (or sometimes indefinite) article — ‘The Catholic Church’, ‘The sandhills’, ‘The seagulls’ (italics mine).

Consistently, the domestic is revealed as political. ‘What is it about gardens?’ asks one poem:

It seems someone has chosen to cut
the countryside up into patches so that
everyone — well, everyone with money —
can buy one.
    [‘Gardens’]

From her subject matter to the structure of her sentences, Hendry creates a poetry that’s constantly on the move. These are poems about growing up, where a childhood home becomes a microcosmic reflection of societal upheaval. Taken together, the poems comprise a portrait of a time when a home telephone was still an ‘objet d’art’ (‘Hoylake 3594’) and the ‘new television’ was hidden in ‘a discreet cupboard’ (‘In the Sitting Room’).

Hendry writes about the past poignantly but without sentimentality. With lightness of touch and understated skill, she uses small details to depict rapid changes in both individuals and society.

Isabelle Thompson