Happy National Poetry Day! To celebrate, we asked Dr. Agnes Lehoczky if she would reflect on one of her poems, and she graciously agreed! Enjoy.
Postcard from West Street
It’s been many magnolia springs since the last time I lurked around that tree, so finely rooted in the middle of the lawn in the outskirts of Cambridge. You used to watch it from the window slowly changing its texture as years were unfolding casting shadows of the suburbs on your pale face smearing the colours of seasons on your skin…. and although it’s not May time yet when the magnolia tree blossoms puffy squabs which then fall by September on the ground like small bodies of dry moths, today’s weather is already ahead of itself, winter here almost forgotten, a season in advance, just on the threshold of spring and I am up in the North far away from that spot under the wide open window I used to stand between the tree and the white wall. Ordinarily, May arrives here more sleepily than in the horizontal Fens (you couldn’t find two geographies more disparate), they warned me, we live higher in altitude and closer to the North Pole. And so within a hair’s breadth of Aurora Borealis. The month next in line creeps in inch by inch, they told me, and so to learn to wear layers and not to forget to remember to change the clock tonight and urged me to start planning life according to the new time. I often hear of the most recent news in Ponds Forge which sits right next to Cobweb Bridge, on odd days nicknamed ‘Flyover’ dependent perhaps on the position of focal points, or the sun, the question of origin or the angle of squinting or spontaneity or collective seasonal mood disorder, I don’t know. Resting with my elbows holding onto the tiled edge between two lengths from waist down dipped in the water with legs flapping like sea weed, half air and half water, sliced into two like a centaur, I looked at the perplexed hands of the giant central clock wondering who had untied the complicated network of an entire hour out of that late winter Sunday evening, what mysterious air-breathing arthropod and I thought of the day shortened by three thousand and six hundred leap seconds and wondered if I had lost the edge of the season somewhere between the house in Crookes and the pool. And since swimming pools are the best places to unravel time or timelessness retracing the last zigzagging footsteps of winter I remembered the behemoth duvet cover I’d pulled on the hot radiator before I locked the door after myself then turned right at the corner of Netherfield Road somersaulting down seven chasms with never edge through Springvale to Taptonville Road via Winter Street straight into the spiralling Western Bank to find the heart of the city signposted by the colossal writing of the city’s firewall drawing my memories fram somwher-elles to here arysyng fram shefeld cariage-place and shef-sqware to gon wandrynge abuten laberinthes of aere. I decided to learn this pictograph by heart reiterating every syllable until it made some sense, hieroglyphs which claim to have the magic power to decorate blank facades and inspire drunken teens in the middle of the night to slur each word and pondered hwat yf but I never thought surfaces can ever be blank. One needs to be a parasite gnawing through strata crawling with bright pupils under the skin of the many cities fossilised under plaster. To find the soft core, the delicate porous heart of the concrete. I pan over the erratic surface of maps every day to find the seven rivers entangling the city’s heart like a wire greten and understonden hwat lyen abouten afore the cite wher dremen is re-paien the lives hwat lyen abouten as yit nat rede. But sooner or later unread lives and never written manuscripts, too, show through the topographic paper. That each map maker has their own vision of the absolute map. But there is a misplaced magnolia in every city, a lost bogeywoman lurking on every eclectic atlas and I thought of the lone soul I spotted the other night staggering on the tramlines shrouded in a long maroon veil. Her face cloaked with silk and secrecy, her two orange eyes gleaming in the dark. She’d be swept off to the side of the road each time a late night tram whooshed by throwing her right sleeve up in the air shedding random contents of her shopping on the rails. Then she’d thrust her body back onto the metallic lines like an amateur rope-dancer balancing with unfilled carrier bags in her hands. Meandering among honking cars her silhouette would again be blown back to the pavement by the next tram on its way to Hillsborough and so it’d go for about an hour, tautologically, with some obstinate but inexplicable intention, her shadow like an empty gown flying to and fro between the tram lines and the wall. Post scriptum. Tonight I thought I was by myself. I leaned my back against the house and stared into darkness, like a hooded courier with no news. (But they say these non- messages claim to have the power to predict the past.) I noticed a cat was staring me out in Crookes’ dark backyard curled up on the top of a brick like a perfect bean. The two eyes, light streetlamps, or miniature lighthouses, blind and blinding, watched my every step pottering around within the square mossy metre. It is a mild night. The sky is clear. Heavily starry. The hour is slowly turning to midnight. According to the new time.
Dr Agnes Lehoczky is a poet, translator and Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield. ‘Postcard from West Street’ was published in her third collection in English Carillonneur (Shearsman, 2014). The poem was republished in Free Verse, A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, ed. Jon Thompson (Issue 26, Summer 2015) http://english.chass.ncsu.edu/freeverse/.
I was asked to reflect on the genesis of this poem so here are a few thoughts: I wrote the poem soon after having moved to Crookes. At the time I was still pretty new to Sheffield. The poem is meant to be a kind of mock-psychogeographical summersault; with a rather displaced and lost narrator drifting down from the top of Crookes (which I think is the highest hill in Sheffield) via Western Bank and the University, Ponds Forge Swimming Pool to the train station (nearby Hallam’s giant Motion poem on one of the firewalls which I transferred back into Middle English with the help of Dr Nicky Hallet).
There is no real sense of departure and arrival, the journey is cyclical, whirlwind-like through space and time. Although there is a moment of equilibrium offered for the lost narrator when s/he takes a moment to dip into Ponds Forge Swimming Pool but soon the journey continues, time running out, and we are being swept back through nomadic West Street to the tiny solitary courtyard in Crookes again. I can’t say what the poem is about; I can only follow its movements. I guess the poem is a quest. Homefinding, homecoming through and in language.