It is wonderful to stumble on a gem of a poem outside main stream poetry books, friend’s recommendations or by a poet you already are familiar with and enjoy. On such rare occasions my eye was drawn to this poem by Alan Jenkins called ‘Between’ which was read by David Hare in an interview alongside Penelope Wilton at the National Theatre which I had seen, huge fan of both prolific figures for their talents in playwriting and acting respectively… I got a train to the Southbank one evening to ask him to sign a copy of his memoir after one interview and almost cried the whole way home… bit sad? Also gushing to Penelope Wilton after a panel discussion she did with the new launch of Downton Abbey outside the BFI’s ladies loo’s about how the sitcom she stared in with Richard Briers ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ just about ‘made my life’… definitely cried of joy (with just a tinge of cringe – worthy embarrassment) the whole train journey home… very sad?
Hare described himself as ‘terribly moved’ by the poem which mentions both his 1978 play ‘Plenty’ and Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal’ (a truly interesting play for its hugely powerful depiction of an affair but it’s simple almost monosyllabic address.)
The poem is as follows:
Some time between Plenty and Betrayal,
Between Kate Nelligan in a black
Waisted plunge-line ’50s dress
Looking me straight in the eye
When she took her bow, and the back
Of Penelope Wilton’s mini-skirt,
As “Jerry” clutched her arse,
Riding up dangerously high;
Between my last pair of denim
Hipster flares and my first
Pair of corduroy Oxford bags,
Between wanting to be taken for
The standard hippy-Fauntleroy
And the lost Picture Post boy
Who’d spat some lyrical venom
And died in the Spanish Civil War;
Between “Night Fever” and “Some Girls”,
Between my monkish book-lined cell
And a bijou flat in Battersea
Paid for by the invisible man,
Between my last-ever Mandrax
And my first line of coke (I’d gone
Straight to drug heaven from drug hell),
Between invasion and peace plan;
Between a love I’d counted on
And the end of that self-flattery,
You were born, whom I met over kirs
Thirty years later. Between first kiss
And last, between offering your tail,
Your mobile number and email address
And administering the coup de grace,
You brought me to my knees. To this.
The poem’s narrative voice is an older man who is embarking on a relationship with a much younger woman and he muses over his life at the time when his girlfriend was born. I’m fond of this poem for its striking reminiscences and beautiful phrasings – ‘spat some lyrical venom’, ‘between my monkish book lined – cell’, the stunning details in the poem are gorgeous, evoking back both the more well – known highlights of the decade (1970’s), ‘invasion peace- plan’, ‘Night Fever and Some Girls’ to the more lifestyle influences ‘My last – ever Mandrax and my first line of coke’ ‘my last pair of denim hipster flares’, this is hugely juxtaposed by the later senses of modernity; ‘thirty years later’ ‘offering your tail, your mobile number and email address.’ Jenkins both humorously and tragically assesses this age difference in their differing youthful experiences.
Isn’t this of course what poetry does best? Putting into words the process of growing older and reminiscing in a way most struggle to put into words? ‘You bought me to my knees. To this.’ This concluding line, personally I feel is the most striking image of them all (and there are some great ones in this poem!) I think we as an interpreter can call into question what ‘to this’ is. Is it in reference to this romantic situation (far flung from ‘the love that I counted on’) or is it more tragic, in her youth she has highlighted the significance of his age? Perhaps Jenkins narrative voice is suggesting his partner has bought him from his past to this new world, but he has certainly not abandoned these memories. This poem encapsulates a stunning reflection of youth and pastime and inspires a sense of joy from the idiosyncrasies of growing up.
By Niamh Collins
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