What about the poems we don’t want to remember? Sometimes a poem is badly made but sometimes it just offends our sensibilities. Aren’t those failures that haunt us useful lessons in the memorability of the dissonant, the ugly, the brash? Have they really failed if they haunt us? Perhaps the failure is more often ours than we care to admit.
In my early twenties, I was part of a group who took over semi-derelict houses in south London in a form of legalised squatting. We were lucky if we got to stay in the same place for a year and although we had little money, we liked to do what we could to make wherever we were home. In one house, the upstairs ceilings were held up by scaffolding props. Unperturbed, we painted and swept. On one wall, someone had written what appeared to be a poem. I slapped on a couple of coats of white emulsion. When it dried, the poem was as clear as ever. I scrubbed the wall, applied sealant and more paint. The poem remained. Even after I’d given up and hung a picture over it, the poem persisted in my head. I’ve never been able to forget it. I hope you can.
Lavinia Greenlaw has published three books of poems, most recently Minsk. Her two novels are Mary George of Allnorthover and An Irresponsible Age and she has also published a memoir, The Importance of Music to Girls. Her work for BBC radio includes programs about the Arctic, the Baltic, the solstices...