the night we hid our childhood memories in drawers and cupboards and make believe-safes?
How we wrapped secrets and fairy tales in the blankets our five-year-old selves couldn’t sleep without.
Whispering, we gently placed them all in unforgettable treasure chambers.
Do you remember how the shoes that blinked when we walked slowly faded, greying like streets heavy with rain, as electricity bills ate all our ice cream pennies.
Our hiding places got more secret, and as we walked past them yelling Marco, they stopped replying, as deadlines and invoices and parking tickets called louder than memories ever dared.
If you do, then please let me tell you how last night I found that childhood drawer, and today I’m sat here on the floor, flicking through dusty sweet wrappers wondering whether I should give them back or not.
I almost throw them away.
Stamps are expensive and memories are heavy. I’ve learned it’s not cheap, to wrap nostalgia up in polaroid pictures and Royal Mail envelopes.
I won’t throw them away though. I don’t think I ever will.
The first poetry stage I ever experienced, and my favourite to this day, is Winchester’s Poetry Platform. A monthly open mic-poetry night, hosted in the attic space above the Railway Inn in Winchester — this vibrant spot of poets and writers who travelled in from (very) near and (a little bit) far, was the most wonderful introduction to live poetry. I loved it from the get go; the vibe of “everything’s okay here”, the little stage that welcomed everyone, how there was always room for one more person. It was like one of those big round tables where you can always pull up one more chair. I spent the first couple of months just listening, sat in awe taking in the words of the brave people on the stage, before I worked up the courage to join in myself. After that I never missed an event.
Moving away from Winchester meant moving away from a lot of things that meant the world to me, and Poetry Platform was honestly one of those things I was so sad to let go of. It was truly a space in which I found myself grow, both as a writer, as a listener and as a person.
Looking at this video though, you can tell I’m still as awkward a bean as ever. Gosh, I need to up my performance game, especially now that performance means talking to your own laptop screen and not the expectant darkness of an audience.
One of the very few good things to come out of this global pandemic, is the Poetry Platform going online and moving locations from the Railway Inn to Zoom. Poetry readings in your Living room aren’t the same as being in that attic space above a pub, with the smells and the sounds and the textures of pub chairs and cider bottle condensation, but it’s a hell of a lot better than no poetry readings at all.
I read two new work-in-progress poems on August’s poetry platform, from the safety of my temporary central Oslo living room. How strange to sit in this flat who represents everything that’s new and a little intimidating, reading poems about the sea outside my parents’ house, to people still living in the city that will forever hold my first proper adventure.
Have a poem, with the aforementioned cliched title, filmed on my webcam complete with the noises of both my mum and dad in separate skype-meetings upstairs. I was only supposed to be home for a couple of days, but then the travel ban hit and now I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to my uni town. Now we’re three people all trying to do our separate jobs in one house with strangely few doors and a lot of open doorways; it’s not the best solution, but we’re making do. And to be fair, I’d much rather be here right now than isolated all alone in a student flat. Take care of each other, folks.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is waving at each other from across the street is walking two meters apart is «I’ll leave your groceries on the porch, take care».
Love in the time of Covid-19 is travel bans and cancelled plans and waterfall worries and loneliness.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is creating an everyday in cramped houses is home office landscapes and nurseries in living rooms is a kettle constantly boiling in the kitchen.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is empty streets and darkened towns and school grounds void of children.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is learning to be productive in a new normal is being together by being apart is showing we care by breaking the chain.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is a team effort, a global population staying inside, a world worth of shoes left waiting by the door.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is making the best of strange days to come, strange days we won’t know how to handle strange days we never even dreamed of.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is singing together through open windows is lighting candles for people we do not know is gathering in applause in houses across the nation.
Love in the time of Covid-19 is staying inside today so others can see tomorrow it is solidarity it is compassion. it is a choice.
If there is one thing I’ve missed since moving away from Winchester, it is the budding community of writers I got to be a part of, and the many opportunities to try out your work on people. I’ve missed electric evenings at the Railway Inn, where you could try your own poetry on for size and then get lost in the words of others. I miss the monthly Poetry Platforms; the space you could perform work in progress-pieces and see how the words you were trying to convey would sit on your tongue, not just on the page.
I haven’t really found anything like that here in Kristiansand, but truth be told, maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. Monday brought a wonderful opportunity in the shape of a Poetry evening at the student union stage; a poesiaften hosted by the student society for Nordic studies.
I got back up on the stage for the first time in about a year and a half, and read two of my own pieces. One in Norwegian and this one in English.
The whole evening was wonderful. More than 50 people came in and sat down, listened closely, shared their thoughts and drank student union wine. There were so many people who wholeheartedly threw themselves into their performances, the atmosphere in the room was warm and relaxed, and I was surprised and happy to find a space at this uni where poetry of all kinds and styles was celebrated and enjoyed. Naively enough, just because I haven’t seen it outright before, I didn’t believe there was a space for poetry in this town at all. Oh, how wrong I was.
This was my first poetry performance in Norway, and it was a lot of fun. Funnily enough, I’m just realising that I wore the same shirt on Monday that I wore to the SO: To Speak Poetry Festival in Southampton a couple of years ago – I guess this is “the poetry shirt” now.
I hope you enjoy this piece. It’s a cliche little love poem that means a lot to me, and it was lovely to finally get to perform it in front of a supportive crowd. It has love, it has spaceships and it has cheese on toast – what more could you want from a poem?
This evening definitely rekindled my love for spoken word-poetry. It was never gone, never burnt down or put out like a campfire under water, it just laid dormant as there were few opportunities to nurture it. Fingers crossed for many more nights like this one, nights that properly refuel the fire.
Your eyes have seen the sun rise on 90 days, you have felt the dust of three months on soft skin. The woman holding you has gathered the days of war in her lungs, and where her memories are now smoke signals not even she knows how to decipher, her hands still tell her brain how to hold your little body so you won’t fall, how to shield you from the world she has fought and conquered and forgotten.
By the nursing home kitchen table she’s got no notion that dark coffee will scold her own mouth, but she moves the cup away from you, ”careful so he doesn’t burn himself.”
Suddenly, her language returns, her voice is the voice of the woman who has been hiding in the back of her heart since the turn of the decade.
She has held so many children safe in her arms, cured the scrapes of playground battles and lulled sobbing nightmares to sleep with lullabies she can’t recall ever knowing.
But holding you in hands that have held rationing cards – knitting needles – dried apple slices and one way tickets – the lady in the back of her heart breaks the surface of forgotten memories, takes a big gulp of air and looks at the world with her own eyes once more.
Hun går ned i vest, men du er i Østensola
Du har sett 90 dager komme og gå, du har følt solnedgangen og støvet legge seg over tre måneder. Hun som holder deg har hatt krigens dager i lungene, og der minnene hennes nå har blitt røyksignaler hun ikke klarer å tolke lenger, har hun det fortsatt i henda; hvordan hun skal holde deg så du ikke faller, hvordan verne deg fra en verden hun allerede har utfordret, bekjempet og glemt.
Hun vet ikke lenger at kaffen, den er varm, at den brenner alt den kommer borti om du lar den, men hun flytter raskt koppen vekk fra deg. «Forsiktig,» sier hun, «så han ikke brenner seg.»
Der stillheten har rådet, er plutselig språket hennes tilbake. Nå er stemmen hennes stemmen til kvinnen som har gjemt seg bort på bakerste rad i ryggmargen hennes de siste ti årene.
Hun har holdt så mange barn trygge i sterke armer, vært Akela for gater fulle av nabo-unger, kurert de falne etter utallige slag for lekeplassen, og vugget gråtende mareritt i søvn med godnattsanger hun ikke lenger kan huske å ha glemt.
Men der hun holder deg, holder deg trygt og hardt og samtidig så forsiktig, i hender som har knuget rasjoneringskort, manøvrert strikkepinner, lurt unna tørkede epleskiver og ikke sluppet taket i enveisbilletten til ei ukjent framtid, da kommer hun fram, damen fra bakerste rad i ryggmargen.
Hun bryter overflaten der røyksignalene ligger tjukt. Hun legger hodet bakover, puster krigen ut av lungene, og for første gangen på så veldig lenge, ser hun med egne øyne på en verden hun trodde hun hadde glemt.
Coffee soaked into the roof of a mouth whilst rain rallies itself outside strawberry fudge melting between teeth fingertips on the back of a neck. The mist outside falls into the bottom of the mug coalescing white smoke condensate heart on a window is this what it is meant to feel like?
The goal among the international students at my uni, was to completely drop our accents – to have our words sound like they’d grown up with ice cream floats and builders tea.
We wanted to be able to go to any bar, to order any coffee, to keep any conversation going for however long a time, only to be able to slip in an “oh, I’m not from England, actually,” and watch people’s surprise.
We worked so hard, to lose our accents, the rolling Rs, the hard Gs, the lilts that gave us away; the sound of what we thought was “not good enough,” “not practiced enough.”
Oh, how wrong we were.
Accents are identity, just as much as names and clothes and the street corners you passed on your way to school. Your accent’s where you’ve come from, it’s the dotted line on an airplane map, it shows the world you dared to try.
Your accent is your family dinners, the lessons of your mum’s lullabies, the laundry songs of your house, the courage it took, to get on that plane.
It’s a road map of the people you care about, those who sat with you while you were learning, who let you spin wonders of the words you didn’t understand, and who offered their pronunciation to try on for size.
My accent grew up with snow in its boots and saltwater in its nose. My mispronounced “shower gel”, My Ds and Ts blurring into each other, is my home away from home.
So instead of dropping our accents, let us celebrate them. For all that we are, and all we’re yet to learn, and every step along the way.