Keen to get started in my new role, I asked to use one of the photographs offered at interview for my first foray into archive poetry. Permission was granted, with the senior archivist tracking the image down and sending a digitised version for inclusion here. It’s the one I chose at the time as it allowed me to talk about the likely date, social status, the relationship, the lack of backdrop and why that might be, the costumes worn and the fabrics of the time. I spoke about how I would teach a workshop based on this image, adapting my approaches for Yr 9 students and a more adult group.

On receiving the copy, I determined to write poems relevant to the time – and exploring the situation. As I wanted to begin writing, prior to my induction into the archives, I chose not to pursue additional information – preferring to cast stories around the enigmatic couple, questioning who they were, what the occasion and why they chose to record the event.

Theses first poems have been written with a Victorian tone but move into alternative structural configurations. I hope you enjoy some or all of my work. Feel free to drop me some comments regarding the posts, which poems you prefer and why.

Best wishes,

Poet in Residence: Portsmouth City Council Library and Archive Service [2019]
January 29th
Image courtesy of Portsmouth City Council Library and Archive Service: for whom this blog is being completed as part of the Portsmouth City of Stories, Arts Council funded, project.
Archive ref: 700A/3/2

The Couple
(Names and Date Unknown)

You sit there in your Sunday best
its unwashed cloth, closeted
from moths, so you’d impress.
No backdrop framed a life for you
except, a plain one, unremarked:
a future, stark.

The printed likeness of your faces,
shadow-toned, without due smile,
no wily graces; no breath
to lift your hearts, beyond
the ribs that clutched them, then,
and in which cage they ceased:
hands dropped away, again, released.

The future gone. No dreams
to ride out from the storm,
no place to hide as maggots swarm
and render body back to bone:
in your cold grave, there, alone.

The names that grew themselves to you
became detached,
no longer matched, to whom
you once held claim in that life’s cruel,
cruel, and bitter game.

Amanda Garrie
[January 2019]

In Grace

In wardrobe clothes they pose,
she out of widow’s weeds – no longer lost.
Her bonnet trimmed with roses, growing there
beneath the brim; his watch-chain,
borrowed, not to cost a penny more
than pitiful allowances afford.

It’s not a time to dance or flounce
bright rings, as is the fashion
of those who’re wedded-once,
but time to be sedate. He elevated
to higher status in reward: equals, now,
in all things the church and law allow.
No time to contemplate quite how they might
consummate this union they undertake.

He meek, she hardly mild but forced to seek
solace in another man: one past
his peak but, whom she will shape to be,
her champion – for when their middle years are done
and she is weak, from every child and burden;
the toil and heartache, that must come
to those who strive to live a life, to build
themselves a place
to gild themselves in grace.

Amanda Garrie
January 2019


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