The Misplaced House, Josephine Corcoran
tall-lighthouse press, 2014 £5.00
Josephine Corcoran’s good at catching something familiar from an unexpected angle. You poise on the edge for a little while, working out what’s going on. Then the penny drops.
Sometimes I’m a little slow, or very literally minded, because ‘Dear Housebuilders’ took me a while. And then I got it. And I can’t even explain it here because I’ll spoil its wonderfulness and charm. There’s a kind of wayward innocence afoot in this pamphlet.
The poems that bookend the collection are both connected with school. Marvellous bookends and oppositely angled (as it were). The final poem begins:
I remember the fear of forgetting
the Austro-Hungarian Empire
under the cuffs of my school blouse
Of course I’m instantly there with her, back in my teens. Oh-oh, that terror of forgetting, which was indeed terrible, and still persists in dreams! And the poem continues deliciously and memorably understating its case.
The opening poem invokes school too, but the angle is almost opposite, though the fear of forgetting is the same. This time we see things through the eyes of a mother, tucking her living child into bed, and remembering another young person, one who didn’t survive. She pulls
the blanket of it wasn’t us, it wasn’t here
around your heart, although I know
that five inches is 13 centimetres,
that 130 yards would cost a lot
The child is ‘doing’ racial discrimination in class. ‘There’ll be Rosa Parks / and Martin Luther King for homework’. But the angle-poise of the poem highlights what isn’t taught, because ‘Stephen Lawrence isn’t on the National Curriculum’ and Stephen Lawrence was once a boy who had Martin Luther King for homework, who in 1993 was eighteen, and never got any older.
I remember when I first read this poem (before it appeared in this pamphlet). It got me viscerally, and it still does. In the great snowstorm of poems that surround us, some stick and never melt. This is one of them. It should be included in every anthology going. It should be on the National Curriculum.