Monday, 27 April 2009

Meet my folks...well, sort of...

Our Ted Hughes discussions last Friday have led me off in all sorts of directions. The first thing they led me to was Hughes' 'Collected Poems for Children' (2005 – posthumous for Hughes, obviously). A copy was up in our daughter's crowded bookcase waiting for her to pay it some attention. As I said recently she is far more into stories (and just now science) than poetry...she is quite story-mad. Also now she is 9 I'm not sure how much longer I can refer to her as Small Girl on this blog. She is quite sick of being petite...

Anyway, the 'Collected Poems for Children' (which Deemikay has been reading too – here) has a section from his book 'Meet my folks' (hence today's comes from Hughes' first volume for children, published in 1961) and for all the Hughes animal poems (and there are many in this book – no big surprise) it's the folks I turn to first...can't help myself! No matter how much people drive me to distraction (and they do...) I can't help but be interested in them, all of them (as I wrote somewhere recently I think I probably write human nature poetry...anyone heard that phrase used anywhere else?). The Hughes poems in the 'Meet my folks' section are very funny and our Girl and I have been enjoying them so far. They are not dissimilar to the Roald Dahl poems she already likes – fairly crazy and inventive and full of octopus grannies, people whose families are oak trees and Dads who inspect holes for a living (that sounds ruder than it is). Some of them have tender little endings too though. Here's the last verse of the oak tree poem ('My own true family'):

“This was my dream beneath the boughs, the dream that altered me.
When I came out of the oakwood, back to human company,
My walk was the walk of a human child, but my heart was a tree.”

These may turn out to be my favourite Hughes poems yet. Some of you might be interested to know that they are far less self-reliant and much less grandiose than some of his other work (see last Friday's comments). These poems are messy and silly and weird...kind of human, I think.

Anyway, speaking of folks...and families...there is someone I'd like you to meet. I've mentioned him now and again (say, here and here) but hey, it's my blog and I'll bang on about stuff if I want to. So here's Daddy...

Or Christopher Fox (1919-1973) to you. Isn't he something? This is one of the few photos of him that I have and I don't know when it was taken - probably before I was born. I suppose I was reminded of it when I was writing about photos of Ted Hughes last week and probably because he has the same thick hair, the same big forehead, the same penchant for tweedy sports jackets (is that what they're and fashion are only loosely acquainted) - except of course (not that it matters) my Dad was much better looking! Also I thought I'd write about this little photo (it's about 6cmx4cm in my hand) because I just love it really. It's a funny thing losing a parent when you're young (or never knowing them at all) because you can't help but spend at least some of the rest of your life looking for them...all over the place...even when you know it's silly or pointless or unhealthy. It's a bit like they're always with you even in such obvious absence (except of course it's not really them...just bits of ideas). I think something similar happens sometimes with people who never find any true love or people who never feel at home or, in some cases, people who never have children. You can't help but look and wonder can you...what might have been, who might have been...stuff like that. You're not necessarily sad about it but it is in your least some of the time. And I'm not being morbid, I'm really not – I'm just thinking (ascreen) about life and humans and how it all works. If nothing else it's a fantastic photo and I wanted to share it (and I don't often put up photos of family, you know...all you've seen so far is the back of our girl's head and me with strange things in my hair). Plus I just can't keep things literary all the's just not my way. For me life and literature/writing are so intertwined that I can't tell you where they separate (if they ever do). We all have our ways of working and this is mine – messy and messed up but with its own kind of motivations and movement. I suppose you might be thinking - this is all just will it ever help the intellectual development of mankind? To this I have no answer but I do know there are some quite interesting thoughts on silliness over at Deemikay's of late too.

Anyway here's a little poem about that little photo. It might grow bigger this poem...or change altogether. Who knows...

Hardly knowing

To me you're black and white forever
Handsome, sepia smart and clever
Hair so thick and smile so wry
Shades of grey I know you by

RF 2009

Here's some other stuff about dads you might want to look at this week:

This interview with writer Martin Amis where he says “the special status of the dad has to go”. I don't think he's right necessarily (every family is different) and I'm not a big MA fan (at all!) but it's still an interesting article.

I've linked to this before but my favourite poem by Colin Will is called 'Tick' (last poem on the post). Sometimes writing about our fathers can make the whole business worthwhile. Can't it?

Talking of Ted Hughes poems (as we were) - at least a couple of you chose one of Hughes' poems about his daughter Frieda (and the moon) as one of your favourites. Here it is (although every version online seems to use a different layout – none of them the same as in my copy of the Bloodaxe 'Staying Alive' anthology). It's interesting that this (a father poem really...a very gentle one) is possibly one of his best/most popular. It's a nature and human nature poem...isn't it? Or are we just all a bunch of big softies..?

That's it for now. More Hughes-related wanderings here later in the week...



deemikay said...

To be honest, I didn't read any of his Folks poems at the weekend.

I remember reading about the book in a collection of essays/radio lectures by him (Poetry in the Making). He spoke about the difficulty of writing a poem for the mother in the family. I'll have to look it out and check for the details...

Rachel Fox said...

There is a mother one in the folks section of the 'Collected' - it's all about food and cooking.

And coincidentally it's lunchtime here...

Ms Baroque said...

Rachel, I'd say that's about 1950, give or take. It's very nice, lovely!

deemikay said...

Oooh... it's lunchtime here as well. Time for a wander round the shops!

(Can you tell that today is rather bare in the work department?)

Danish dog said...

What a handsome chap! And a great wee poem.


Rachel Fox said...

Ms B - thanks for looking in. That dating would make it around the time his first batch of children were born (I have 3 half sisters all about 60 now). His first wife died and then he married my Mum (herself a widow already...what a family...).

D - yes, I got the feeling you were not exactly slaving today...

And Duncan - hello and welcome to rambling comments inc. I'm glad you like the little poem. I can't decide whether to leave it at that or not...I guess I'll wait and see what urges come!


Unknown said...

Food, don't mention food.

Lovely post, Rachel: I'd agree with your choice of Colin's poem. It's very well done.

That photo is amazing too. I have a big thing about B&W, colour tells lies I think and fades too.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes and we all look better in black and white too, Barbara, don't you think? These days I look better from a distance too...

Hugh McMillan said...

Great picture Rachel. I have a disappearing father picture too, in the desert mounted on an Arab stallion like Laurence of Brooms Road.

I think wrote my last father poem in Strange Bamboo.

My Father

Fathers were good to my pals
lectured them about cash
then bought them flats,
deplored their morals

but flitted them from place to place
at dead of night.
Oh my Dad’ll go spare
they’d cheerfully admit

as they phoned for loans.
At such times
I would remember my own
and his two pieces of advice:

how to remove your bayonet
from an enemy’s ribcage,
and how to disarm a maniac
coming at you from the stairs.

They thought their fathers weird
for having cardigans,
I thought mine odd
because he’d talk to men

who’d burned alive in 1942
and because of other things
I’d watched him do:
vault walls three times his size,

or sprint along a busy street
to punch my Mum. When he went,
it left a hole as a trepan might.
I have no idea where he ended up

though I knew he would live long,
as mad folk do.
Years down the line
I received a sentence or two,

written in his cramped
and delicate monkish way,
I wonder, it began,
if you remember me…

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I should have lunk to you too. And now when I read your poems I always hear your voice reading them which does make them very different. You have one of those voices that manages to sound happy and sad at the same time. I think.

I wonder what poems any of yours will write about you in the future! I have one about my daughter called 'Doomed, my dear' but it's kind of a joke and not for public airing.

Titus said...

Hi Rachel, I've come to your blog via Dark Mutterings and really enjoy your rambling - that's part of the pleasure I guess, the fact that the topics you cover are diverse, entertaining, and often make me think (no bad thing). Anyhow, I'd like to contribute a short poem about my father. My family were/are slaughterers and butchers, in case that isn't obvious.

Wise Men

Every Christmas, Mr Haji,
Mr Muktah and Mr Karim
would each give me an envelope
with money inside.
In turn, Eid was the biggest celebration
of my family’s life, a three-day killing fest
after the rigours of Ramadan.
For in this place, we all bowed down
to only one god:
The lord of death, and life itself,
My father.

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting Titus...especially as I see from your blog that you are in fact a dog! You look a bit like our dog too.

Thanks for calling by.


Hugh McMillan said...

Yur smartest dog in the neighbourhood

Titus said...

Genetic, I'm afraid.
Great photo of your father, Rachel.

Fiendish said...

The photo of your father is stunning, and the accompanying verse is poignant and a little haunting in its simplicity, as if it has something of the child still in it.

Lovely posting. As usual.

Marion McCready said...

Being incredibly nosey about such things I'm delighted to see the pic of your father! I have a wee b&w photo about the same size of my grandparents when they were young which I really love.

Rachel Fox said...

Plenty of the child still in its writer too, Fiendish...sometimes a little too much! When I write about my Dad that side seems to come out particularly a bit of me is frozen at a much younger age than 42. Sometimes it's OK...sometimes it's really annoying. Work in progress and all that.

Hi Sorlil...this photo made me go and dig out yesterday a few pages of photocopied photos that my aunt (his sister, now in her 90s) sent me a few years back. There are some great pictures of the two of them sitting on donkeys and such like. I'll show you them all when you come east again! I had actually forgotten that I had all those photocopies too...I think when she first sent them I was a bit go from almost nothing to pages of pictures of a history. Couldn't compute...


green ink said...

Love the photo - at first glance (with sleepy eyes) I thought it WAS Ted Hughes :P

Lovely poem you've written for him too. I've not written a poem about my father, that I can recall - but I did write one about my late step-sister where he's mentioned a lot, as my feelings about her were intrinsically linked with him.

Ah, family. An unending resource for us, eh?


Rachel Fox said...

Resource is a good way of looking at it!
Positive thinking wins again...

hope said...

I like how he appears scholarly yet laid back at the same time. :) What a wonderful piece of family history to be able to touch.

When I started messing with my family tree I always envisioned it as a book. Writing an intro I explained why I picked my starting point to tell the family tale. "Ever since I’ve been able to pull the family photo album off the shelf, it’s fascinated me. As a kid, I considered it THE beginning of my world. After all, the first page is a picture of my Mom on the arm of her father walking up the steps to the church where my Dad stood waiting. I knew this had to be the beginning because all the pictures were in black and white."

There's a wonderful history with black and white photos. :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes and I think their scarcity is part of their appeal too! With digital cameras (though they are great) we take so many photos! It can be overkill...

Kat Mortensen said...

I like the little poem about your dad. I was going to say that he doesn't look at all like Daniel Craig (thinking it was Hughes - helloo!)and then realized it was your father. He was a classic looking handsome fellow, wasn't he?


Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Kat, my Mum says not all the women in his doctor's waiting room of an evening were actually ill. It's funny to think of it now in this age of phonelines and out of hours services as his surgery was in our house and people could ring day or night! I used to clean medecine bottles sometimes. Probably not very well...

Judith Fitzgerald said...

Not sure why, Rachel; but, this post made me cry (though not in a negative way). Like this blog; it's got a good feel on it; and, I recognise some of the peeps, too; this ball ain't so big after all.

Thank you.

(I ought to have known deem would know only the finest writers and most thoughtful musers.)


Rachel Fox said...

Hi Judith
Thanks for reading. And crying along with me! I am a championship crier...but luckily a prizewinning laugher as well!

Regina said...

Oh, I loved this post- just so much I could relate to...
I have a bunch of lovely piccies of my daddy from the time he was in WW2- he looked lovely in his uniform- all spiffy and handsome!

And I've felt much the same way, that sense of "looking for them...all over the place...even when you know it's silly or pointless or unhealthy."- I never had children and it's exactly like this for me sometimes.

Such a brilliant post, Rachel- thanks.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks RB. Now I wonder why you chose that name, Red Bird...I'll investigate.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, I found some of the answer on your blog page!

Regina said...

Hee- indeed- I love my cardinals- there quite frisky here!
My mom always fed the birds...she still does!

Rachel Fox said...

Wow (I just looked at a picture of one)! We don't have those birds here - they're amazing.
The sight of one of those would certainly wake you up in the morning!

Regina said...

Oh, my- they are the most fabulous birds- they mate for life, they say. The male and female are very tender towards each other- and their birdsong is so sweet!
It's a pity but I suppose Scotland is too north for them.

Alan Burnett said...

Rachel, Thanks for sending me the link. I always think the finest thing about blogging is being thrown into the company of diverse and interesting people and via them being introduced to words, thoughts and images you would not normally come across. I must re-read Ted Hughes. I found your thoughts about the photograph of your father absorbing and the poem was splendid.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Alan. I think 'splendid' is definitely one of my very favourite words!