Where I Was, Diana Hendry
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.
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.