Friday 6 September 2013

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

Mum and Dad, 1959

   My christening, October 1964.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Charles and Fanny King, my mum's parents, late 1920s/early 1930s.

Ruth Dennis, Charles' mother (1850-1884).
She died when my grandad was only 3 years old.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

1907, gathering with field guns on a piece of land amusingly named Monk's Knob.
My dad is one of the kids, aged 7.

Middle sis cuddling me on my parents' bed, 1964.

 Me, 1965.

Familes, eh?

They're all pretty odd, in their own ways.

I don't suppose I am any more fucked up than anyone else, and I certainly don't blame my parents for whatever fucked-uppery I do exhibit. They did their best, as most parents do, with the resources (emotional, intellectual, economic, cultural) available to them.

In case you are wondering, my dad was 25 years older than my mum, he was technically a Victorian, born in 1900, and 64 when I was born. He died in 1980.

I didn't follow that old curmudgeon Larkin's advice about not having any kids myself, though it did take me a while to decide to do so.

Doubtless I am busily fucking them up, despite the best of intentions, but I'm hoping they will look back with affectionate compassion at their parents' foibles and follies. As I do.

 Sisters, 1965

Siblings, 2013.

My mum is quite the dark horse, she has taken part in an oral history project about her experiences as a Land Girl - you can listen to her here.


I don't think I am a shadow of my ancestors. Not in a Who Do You Think You Are? way. You know, when some actress finds out great-great-grandad liked to sing in the pub, and exclaims "That must be where my performing skills come from!"

 But I am the product of my upbringing. My parents, the times I lived in, my relationships, and my experiences, they all had an influence. However, I can make some choices, I'm not a passive recipient of the past.

 Oliver James' book, They F*** You Up, is a robust apologia of nuture and environment as the key shaper of personality. It's an interesting read.

 As a slight aside, I had a discussion about This Be The Verse with Seldom Seen last term.

He had been given a homework assignment to write a poem. The teacher had said the poem needn't rhyme, but that the subject should be something "nice", described in beautiful language.

SSK had his head in his hands. He didn't know what to write about, and was worried he wouldn't use the right words.

This annoyed me. Not him; the whole idea that poetry should be all flowery language, describing something beautiful.  So I showed him This Be The Verse. (We aren't worried about swear words in our house; just as long as they know not to say them at school. Or in front of Grandma.)

 I love This Be The Verse - it's provocative, funny, honest, angry, compassionate, daft, insightful. It references tradition and structure, but plays with them for comic and psychological effect. Simple. Clever. Effective.

(Edited to add; SSK eventually wrote a poem in which he imagined he was a boy gladiator, going into the ring, terrified, ready to fight for his life. His opponent? The seven times tables. I thought it was quite good! He obviously gets it from me....)

Look at Fanny's fabulous frock!

My recollections of my Grandma are of a quiet old lady. But by all accounts, she was quite the performer, a good singer and a great dancer. 

If I could meet her now, I think I would like her.
I hope she would like me.



Rachel said...

Ah this is so comforting to read, Curtise. One of my favourite poems. I love how your two girls have hoods up, Seldom Seen doesn't, and yet - they all have the posture down to a tee... Xx

The Small Fabric Of My Life said...

Such a wonderful post.
I love Larkin. I quoted Larkin at my dad's funeral:
"What remains of us is love."

Sarah Jane said...

I love this poem. I was so excited when I saw the title of your post. It's so fundamentally true. I like to think that however well intentioned, you learn what not to do from your parents and that's a positive outcome still. Id love to know what reaction ssk's school have to it! Such an interesting insight I to your family history too xx

Angels have Red Hair said...

I love this ... and I LOVE the old photos. I love how having a photo taken was such an "event" back then.
My Dad was 53 when I was born ... I thought I held the record ... but you just blew me out of the water :0)

Peaches McGinty said...

damn straight! I don't like floral poetry at all, I do get a little red-faced and loud over Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, passion and utter pain - I have really enjoyed your family pic's, a lot, they are warm, comforting and full of love, and I liked the Larkin interludes (which is bizarre as I have never 'got' him)Fanny would love you, you are intelligent, warm, witty, flaming gorgeous and a whole lotta fun, she would be delighted with you btw she sounds absolutely ace! x x

Patti said...

love this poem! In my job (psychotherapist) I often see the shadows of our childhoods on our adult lives. You have a wonderful, warm perspective on your upbringing: that parents usually do the best they can. Love these photos too xox

Connie said...

Curtise. I love this post so much!!! No wonder you're such a snappy dresser. It seems to run in the family. I can't wait to see you wearing streaky bacon round your neck. Your Mom. How sweet. It sounds like she got quite the education as a Land Girl! It's amazing how much your children look like you and your sisters! And This Be The Verse. I have to get this for my sister. We were just discussing how our Mom fucked us up. Fucked Uppery. Ha ha. You are the Best.

Trees said...

Thanks for sharing all this lovely family history with us - I do love the poem!

Kylie said...

I hope I haven't f***ed up mine too much Curtise!

I love Sisters '65 and Granny's beautiful frock x

Anonymous said...

I love the poem and you taught Seldom Seen the right lesson about poetry. Teachers ruin it for kids. I found that in order to parent at all, I had to forgive the "fuckupedness" and carry on. Generally, the kids let you know in their teen years...

daiseedeb said...

Right-o, poetry is to be felt, not powdered. ; )
I tell my children "I'll pay for the therapy" when they tell stories of my foibles. And we have a great laugh.

Krista said...

I'm sending the blog post to my sister okay maybe not because she might read this comment:). I feel like a lot of kids blame their parents for well not being that great at being parents. My Dad was not there when I was young and we have never been close. His parents fucked him up and well you know. I always say unless your parents molested you everything else is forgivable.

I love seeing your family photos and the stories behind them. You sure are an interesting bunch. Your Dad being a Victorian is so cool and weird! Of course great gran would dig you and your frock collection. Parents do their best, or so you hope, and kids can sometimes be assholes but we love each other despite all that. Sometimes being a little fucked up makes you a whole lot more interesting.
I don't know why but I wanna give your Mum a hug, I big ole hug!
Xxoo much love to you and your family Curtise!

Unknown said...

Such a great post ... makes you think . And for sure - one is truly fucked up by your parents - but- if you are aware of this you might change a bit ... I think a have but i took many years. I have learned to speak mycket mind and that is something my mother never has done!

Emma Kate at Paint and Style said...

I'm so glad you allow swearing in your home. My daughter thought 'crap' was another word for 'stuff.' As in her daddy telling me to 'move your crap.'
And we all call each other 'lazy buggers.'
She also knows that using these words in school will lead to BIG TROUBLE with the head. I just asked her what swear words she knows and they included 'stupid.' 'poo,' and 'wee wee.'
Our parents did the best they could with the knowledge they had and the situations they lived in. We all do. No one gets it all right.
But I do love that poem!

Indigo Violet said...

What beautiful family photos. I'm too tired to articulate anything deep and meaningful but I'm feeling it. You're a diamond.

Veshoevius said...

Brilliant post and thank you for sharing your family photos and some of your family history! I'm amazed you have photos back that far! I remember finding out my grandmother was quite the dancer and fashionista as a younger woman after she passed away. I just saw her as my dear old gran but when she passed away all these stories came out of my great-aunts about her being the life of the party.

Pull Your Socks Up! said...

I was taken aback when in the Monk's Knob pic, you said your dad was seven, I thought you meant grandad. But then, of course, so many men have fathered children in the later stages of life ... I do wonder how the generation gap shaped you and your older sisters. My parents were in their mid-40s when they had me, so I'm always curious about parents born in the early 20th century. Thank you so much for sharing these touching family photos, they are so very special and precious. I do hope Seldom was able to relax after reading the poem, at least know that there's more than one way to write. Bless him. xoxo

Flora Cruft said...

I've always loved that poem every since studying it at school. So poignant, witty and frank, and so very true! Thank you for this great glimpse into your family history and album, the photos are wonderfully evocative of the people and the time. Looks like you have a fabulous family!

Debberoo said...

Your posts keep making me cry (blame the writer I always say). Wonderful photos and I do love your Mum, she sounds just as I remember her. I bet those city girls were indeed a lively lot, Winslow didn't know what had hit it.

I think for our own peace we acknowledge the damage was not intentional, it doesn't mean it didn't happen though.

CityScape Skybaby said...

I've always loved that poem too Curtise, I've got a terrible memory for poetry but that is one that pops into my head often. I think becoming a parent myself made me a lot more forgiving to my parents' faults, when you're trying to figure it all out yourself then you realise they were in the same boat once. It's lovely seeing so many pictures of your family, I can't trace my family history back very far so I'm envious of all those old photos of past relatives, I'd love to know more about my background. It's fascinating to think your dad was a Victorian, and Seldom Seen's poem does sound like it had a very clever and original theme, as you say, he obviously takes after his mum there. xx

Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Agreed we're all a little or in some cases a lot fucked up. I love your approach with your parenting and teaching of poignant lessons.

Loving the sisters pic in 1965 very much.

Becky said...

O love that poem!! Fantastic how you mixed in the family pics... Poetry should be written however the fuck you want to write it!!! Nice job encouraging your son :)

List Addict said...

Great post. What a fabulous inspiration you are to your kids. Larkin's poem is magnificent in that it does fly in the face of poetry, but includes such an amazingly poetic line - it deepens like a coastal shelf - in the middle of it. Love coming over to visit you. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Those pictures are all wonderful! I especially like the one of your sister holding you on the bed.

You're right, we can't help but be influenced by our parents' and grandparents' lives and personalities. Having an older father will have defined you the same way my life was defined by being a preacher's kid. That's why I like to find out about people's childhoods - their siblings, their parents' professions, their past times. Such a rich mix of ingredients to produce a life!

Helga said...

O, what totally wonderful pictures and such a splendid post, darling!!!
(Monks KNOB!!!Bahahhaaaaaaaa!)
Indeed, families! Great verse, and yes, they do fuck us up, but usually with a great deal of love and good intention! You know such a lot about your family! I know bugger all, and nothing about my Father's family!
Fanny's (!!) frock IS scrummy, and so are your Mama's! That was quite an age difference, I love that your Dad was technically a Victorian!
Brillant post, thank you so much!!
And YAY for Seldom Seen conquering the poetry! Nice one, Mama Curtise!

two squirrels said...

Yay Curtise this is a wonderful post that had me thinking about my mum and dad..........and even though I would have loved to be a mummy.....what damage or craziness would I have given my kiddies........not sure?????
I do know that a lot of my struggles with things are a direct result of my mums attitude or lack of towards life.......she was hard work and is only now bearable since beginning prescribed medication for depression a couple of years ago,I am sure things could have been so different for us kids had this been looked at when we were young....poor mum. Poor dad.....poor us, it has defiantly effected our lives.
Oh I feel all sad inside....sorry sweet.
I love the pics of you when you were young.
Much love V

barbara said...

Oh what a beautiful and moving post Curtise - I loved looking at your family photos (Fanny's dress... your great grandmother(?)Ruth Dennis wow..) We listened to your mum's experiences as a land-girl, agreed that you were obviously from a long line of wonderful (and incredibly elegant) women.......before our conversation degenerated into gratuitous use of 'the f word' and a lot of very childish giggling - thank you xxx

Max said...

clear evidence for a snazzy-dress-sense gene if you ask me!
cant abide abstract poetry (nor abstract art on the whole), but swear words, rhymes and real life-yes please! i can remember trying to de-construct 'tiger tiger burning bright' (milton?) in sociology, turned out to be a trick question putting me off poetry forever even though i'd always loved a bit of pam ayres and can recite wordsworths daffodils by heart!
despite the psychiatry and psychotherapy training i still harbour grudges towards both my parents. they were spectacularly crap though. love living a long long way away!

Shortbread and Ginger said...

Fabulous post!
Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

Louise Mc said...

Such a great post, I love all the old photos. We are, most certainly, the products of our upbringing. As you say though, we can't always blame our parents .xx

Amber of Butane Anvil said...

I am so moved by this post, Curtise, in all its wisdoms and juxtapositions. The resemblances between SIsters 1965 and Siblings 2013 are amazing. Love your passing on of excellent perspective on poetry to Seldom Seen, bet his poem was amazing! xoxoxo

silvergirl said...

how fun are all those vintage pics
i love that you have all of the details for them

Fiona said...

Exceptional post Curtise. Loved hearing about and seeing your dearly departed, especially your dad whom I had wondered about. (I'm a nosy old bag) I'm well and truly fucked up but not sure my parents are responsible for it. Your mum's recollections of her Land Girl days are delightful, you must be very proud of her, as she is of you no doubt ?

Tickets booked...Squeeeee!

Sheila said...

I like these old pictures and your reflections on family. I am not close to my family at all (we're distant in a non-geographical way), but still feel the ties to my ancestors, and of course, how mom & dad fucked us up. I'm somewhat glad I'm not passing on my own fuckery to children of my own (at least I can do my best to impart some of it to my nieces!).

Vintage Coconut said...

What great family photos .... even if the people in them were #$%&'ed up! *heheeh*
I think every family has crazy weird issues. And #%$&'ed up relatives. I know I do!

freckleface said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, hearing the history of your family. Amazing that your dad was a Victorian and your mum a land girl. In our family terms, you have missed an entire generation, even my grandparents weren't Victorian and my parents weren't born until the end of the war. And of course the photos, which tell a story of their own. Fanny is gorgeous and stylish. This is the bit where you tell the camera where you got it from.

Over the last decade I have found peace with things, and started to understand all the people who went before a bit better. I don't bear any grudges any more, which is a relief. I try to learn the lessons, but it's not always easy.

I agree with you on the poem fiasco. Nice, indeed. I LOVE the sound of what he came up with, so imaginative! Good work SS and CM! xxxxx

Vix said...

Ain't that bizarre? I woke up on Friday morning with that poem on my mind. I knew I was a witch.
Loved looking at your photos, the age difference between your Mum and Dad was hardly noticeable, he was a dapper looking chap. It's amazing to think he was a Victorian.
Your parents did a grand job of raising you and judging by how adventurous, outgoing and fabulous your children seem you've done an equally brilliant job.
I'm definitely a bit fucked up with my hatred of marriage and fear of children! xxxx

Miss Simmonds Says said...

I think SSK's poem sounds fantastic and really funny too, what a great idea. Definitely don't like this idea of niceness in art of any kind, bleurrgghhh. I think your kids are all getting a wonderful upbringing and it looks like yours was lovely too, I hope it was. Wonderful that your parents had an unconventional relationship too. Fanny was really a fashionable lady, what a gorgeous dress! xxx

Forest City Fashionista said...

I'd love to read SSK's poem about the gladiator battling the 7 times table! This is a thought provoking, and very entertaining post. I'm always interested to see people's family photos and where they came from. I don't know much about my family tree, and never met my grandparents on my mother's side. I know my parents did the best they could, and my mother raised me to be as independent, resourceful and kind as I could be, which I'm grateful for. Of course there's always a price to be paid for being too independent. We all make the best of what we're given to work with. I think I'd like your Mom!

Sue @ A Colourful Canvas said...

I like listening to your Mum on the radio. It's funny, hearing your Mum makes me feel I know you better. I guess we really are products of our parents...

Unknown said...

This very very almost brought a tear to my eye, you marvellous, evil, woman. I absolutely adore the old pics - you and your sisters especially. And your beautiful Mum - she's still gorgeous. Love the poem and the sentiment, the beautiful introspection... and most of all, love your shoes aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!

Love yer guts, Sarah xxx

Unknown said...

i have always loved this poem having been seriously fucked up myself and doing a sterling job in keeping the circle going!!!! this post is just fabulous xxxx

Dawn Elliott said...

What a treat to see all the old and new pictures of your, you probably aren't messing with your kids brains any more than the rest of us! Poetry is great tool for expression...but I agree, it shouldn't have to be sweet and frilly...why not write about what's on our minds???

bonsaimum said...

Wonderful post. God I love all the old photo's. I guess each generation does the best it can.

Natalia Lialina said...

I've read quite a few of your posts now, Curtise - love your writing very much! It was such a nice surprise to discover this post with your family photos!! I am amazed how old some of the photographs are... I love old pictures, they are priceless. I agree with you - they did the best they could, and we do the best we can. It's not always easy to forgive them and forgive ourselves for mistakes, or just for some silliness like a bad mood and being abrupt or difficult... Yet this is the only thing which truly makes sense - compassion, and it is a miracle how it works... When I was a teen or a young woman, and had a quarrel with my mom, and later felt bad, I would come to her and just say "Mama, forgive me." Her reply always was the same, "There is nothing to forgive." I loved your post, thank you for sharing!