Sunday, 19 June 2011

Evangeline Paterson - the power of the media

My first post on Rogue Strands was about the late Evangeline Paterson (see here), an excellent poet and editor. Her work has long been overlooked, but I still go back to it on a regular basis.

All of a sudden, there's been a huge spike in visitors to this blog over the last couple of days, and a quick glance at the stats showed that most were searching for Evangeline Paterson. Checking on Google, I soon found out out that Rob McGibbon has published an interview with Sarah Brown in The Daily Mail of all places, in which she recalls that her husband quoted from one of Paterson's poems, "A Wish for my Children", at Damilola Taylor's memorial service. It's just a mention in a lengthy piece, but hundreds of readers have obviously picked up on it.

I'm delighted that Evangeline Paterson is now receiving some overdue attention, and what's most encouraging is that even Daily Mail readers seem to keen to seek out poetry! But then a sense of ambivalence strikes me. Why is verse sidelined from most people's lives other than at momentous points? Just how much interest in poetry could the popular media generate if such latent curiosity is out there in their readership? Why don't they do so?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

San Fairy Ann

Do you know what it means?

The answer to that question, if you're U.K.-based, is probably generational. "San Fairy Ann" is an expression that was born out of a gap in the English language, so what are its origins and potential meanings?

British soldiers in World War One soon found out their French counterparts had a phrase that resembled "it doesn't matter" but that sounded much more satisfying, dismissing a problem out of hand. The expression was "Ça ne fait rien" and was anglicised into "San Fairy Ann". Google searches for the term often focus on this origin, labelling it "soldier slang". However, its use became far more widespread than that.

After the war, solders' return to civvy street meant that "San Fairy Ann" entered the general vernacular. For me it brings to mind my Nan's visits when I was a young child, as she shrugged off her own frailties. My parents, meanwhile, still come out with it on occasion. As for myself, I understand it but rarely use it. In other words, my family is an example of how an expression entered the language, took hold in a generation and then gradually slipped away, how English is constantly evolving and sifting words in an ongoing process of selection. We can treasure "San Fairy Ann" for all it represents in terms of personal and social histories, but also relish the continuing shared creativity which leads us towards new expressions on a daily basis.

"Inventing Truth", my Happenstance pamphlet, features the following poem:

San Fairy Ann

Wit amid blood and Belgian mud,
Nan invoked you daily. Your time
on our tongues and in dictionaries
might be running out, but I've passed
your syllables on to my son
in return for his slang from school.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Tim Love has posted a positive and thought-provoking review of Inventing truth on his Lit Refs Reviews blog, expressing doubts about my constant brevity and use of syllabics, yet also very much enjoying certain poems. He states that "they have the Larkinesque lift that gives the reader the escape velocity to be launched beyond the text."

I always relish reading his pieces, as they pull no punches and state clear views, enabling me to react and reassess my views of the poetry in question. In this case, of course, my feelings are intensified because he's dealing with my own book!

I was especially intrigued by his conviction that "nostalgia...comes through in many pieces." This led me to my dictionary in search of a definition:

"Sentimental yearning for a period of the past; wistful memory of an earlier time".

For me, the key words here are "sentimental" and "wistful" - one of my main aims is to avoid both in my treatment of the past and the U.K.. I'm all too aware that these feelings are typical in many ex-pats and I'm thus determined to dodge such a trap. What's more, I believe the added perspective of Spain casts an extra ambiguity and ambivalence over my memories, rather than lending them a rose-tinted hue. "Nostalgia" is the last word I'd use to describe my work!

This leaves me with a key doubt: why does Love invoke the term? In other words, I've discovered an intrinsic value to such a generously forthright review. I'll now reread Inventing truth in the light of his remarks. Whether I agree or disagree with his views of the book, they'll provide a wonderful basis for further thought. I'm extremely thankful to him!