Bookmarks, D A Prince
HappenStancePress, 2018 £5.00
Life in microcosm
Just before Christmas I interviewed Peter Messer, a painter whose work I much admire. He revisits, again and again, the same knot of lanes and corners — and I was reminded of our conversation when reading D A Prince’s Bookmarks. Her collection strays much further afield but it, too, offers history in microcosm: her frame, that of tickets and stubs and scraps grabbed and utilised over years as bookmarks. Working now, backwards and intuitively along her shelves, she traces a layering of decades of lived history.
I love the ‘Manifesto’ at the start of the pamphlet, spoken by the bookmarks. ‘See us bristling along your bookcase’. I like how it acknowledges, without this being a problem, that it’s through the unfinished books, (broken promises), as well as the ones we know we love, that life tacks its meandering course.
Her lens tilts in different, and interesting, directions poem by poem. One pulls together a whole pile of tickets united only by the fact each has now resurfaced as bookmark. Others follow individual markers back to their remembered source, each retracing bringing its own new discoveries. ‘Supermarket till receipt’, sees the poet poring over ancient details:
But there’s so much more.
Served by Ryan (till number 2 that morning),
zero VAT, store number 446 (Co-op)
D A Prince always strikes me as a fine sleuth-poet — and ‘Shopping list’ provides further, enjoyable evidence:
[ ... ] what
is this shopping list (one side)
and list of names (reverse)
written in a scrawl so nearly mine
Throughout, there’s a warmth, as well as a ‘we’ who’ve shared history. I love ‘Postcard (from)’ which recalls a postcard-bookmark’s first arrival, and how ‘on a day / light couldn’t open, your Matisse / burst in with drenching sunlight’.
The final ‘Note’ is a gentle acknowledgement of long shared intimacy and homelife. ‘There is so much to explain’, it concludes, wryly. Exploring it, however — through the microcosm of a lifetime’s motley collection of randomly-located bookmarks — as this poet well knows — is worth its weight in explanations.
Finding your place again
Lots of items can be used as bookmarks and D A Prince shows us examples of just a few — but almost everything has a place and time attached. Here museum tickets, raffle tickets, till receipts, restaurant bills from summer holidays, rail tickets, postcards, pressed flowers and torn strips of newspaper are all ways of marking a spot.
But while this is ostensibly a book about bookmarks, it could be argued it’s more about ways of returning to somewhere you’ve been — somewhere you don’t want to forget. It’s a book about transport, transportation and prolonging memory, and is heavily pro longing.
We get a sense of this from the first lines of the opening poem, ‘Tickets: Various’:
Here, close at hand, an avalanche of tickets
waiting to remake themselves.
They want to carry on, still be of use;
they know their time’s not up.
The printed list from ‘Supermarket Till Receipt’ acts as a way of examining forensic details that might have been forgotten in the rush of glorious purchases, like the strawberries that ‘glowed like sunburn’. We recover the time of purchase, amount spent, what was bought, and marvel at the survival of a scrap of paper that has ‘found its wrinkled way into a bag, / then home, then through this book /the day I started reading.’
The final poem of the collection covers that most transient of all bookmarks, the short personal note scrawled on a Post-It – something designed for one-off usage, but in this instance, outliving expectation. We’re told it is
A bookmark, maybe, caught up when time runs out
but with this promise: something to return to.
And what’s there to keep except (perhaps) Love?
It’s hard to argue with that. I’m an unashamed corner-folder and fully expect to be arrested within an hour of this OPOI going online, but I’m looking at the old train ticket in that old jacket pocket and it’s a new light that slants across it, thanks to D A Prince.