An age-old gift of story-telling through poems

By Jamie Hill - 26 March 2021

Arts and Culture

Poetry columnist Maurice Spillane writes about the wonderful world of passing stories down the generations through through poetry

  • Joy Vincent

    Joy Vincent

I have two local friends who were 90 recently, Joy Vincent and Barbara Carey. Unfortunately, there was no celebration because of Covid.

We’ll have a knees-up yet.

Elderly people with time on their hands need an audience. They tell a story and, like links on a necklace, one thing leads to another and then you get a gem. Joy and Barbara are conversationalists, strong women, independent, fit and busy.

The only problem is they outlived their husbands by several decades. Men don’t augur well. I wonder if I’m on that slippery slope: forgetting things, names especially, going upstairs to get something and not remembering what it was. It’s worse with words – and I’m a poet.

I was on the phone to a gynaecological friend recently who’d been a Covid volunteer for the Oxford vaccine. I asked her if she’d had the real vaccine or the placenta. She laughed to tears, thought I was hilarious. I laughed too but I didn’t know what was so funny. When I got off the phone, I realised I’d said placenta instead of placebo. See what I mean?

Back to my friends. This poem, “The Water Carrier,” juxtaposes the olden days with today, new names but the same stories.

 

In the olden days they’d gather at the forge

or the bakery, smells of fire and grain,

anthems for an orchestra settling in,

bell clang and clapper, the bellow of flame,

and in the heat stories would be sharpened,

the immediate embossed like links on a chain.

 

In our modern world you still attend our needs

though the medium of stories has moved on.

You’re still the dependable who’d take in a parcel,

the comforter listening through eyes, a paragon

with an anecdote, a cure perhaps, a word.

You are Hebe, the water-carrier, carrying on.

www.mauricespillane.com

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