Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Kathy Pimlott on place, poetry, and Elastic Glue

Kathy Pimlott talks about her new poetry pamphlet, Elastic Glue… 

The poems in Elastic Glue are mostly about ownership of place. One of these places is Covent Garden where I, an incomer, have lived for 40+ years, in the corner called Seven Dials.

Most people think of the area as a tourist honeypot of dinky shops, bars and restaurants, with some very expensive flats for short-term lets or foreign investors – and that’s true. But it’s not the whole picture. It’s also home to successive generations of people who worked in the wholesale market, the theatres, the print and their ancillary trades. When two of these mass employers moved out, leaving the area ripe for redevelopment, the residents, who mostly lived in dilapidated social housing, didn’t just quietly submit to ‘relocation’, they stayed to fight a prolonged and complicated community-led battle with developers – both the benign-but-misguided and the opportunistic.

They were successful. Covent Garden was not flattened. The community was not ‘decanted’. Most importantly, a substantial quantity of new social housing was built. But the success was double-edged as the area became an increasingly desirable proposition for profit. The struggle now is to maintain a foot-hold in this heavily-marketed prime real estate and a sense of normality, surrounded as we are by pop-ups and fairylights and bedevilled by late night revellers and crack dealers.

The other place which crops up is an allotment site. I’m very struck by the changes in profile of allotmenteers over the years we’ve had plots and the little England-ness of the activity – how a sense of ownership here comes through an intense and strenuous physical relationship with land and productivity.

The poems are full of people – there’s Lenin and Renzo Piano, the Consultant Placemaker, Chicken Jim, the biodynamic hippy, the Fred Collinses and, amid them, me, owning myself – from a child in the school hall in my knickers and vest, stumbling towards feminism, as a heedless squatter, through to a ruby wedding anniversary. It’s a political pamphlet but channelled through the personal – as I’m a child of my times.

I write about what catches and noodles around in my mind. I still work within community activism, for a small Trust involved in public realm projects in Seven Dials, so engagement with who ‘owns’ the area is always on my mind. Though these are now quite old poems for me, I do like them still. I think they ‘stand up’. And they still make me laugh.

The title of the pamphlet comes from an old enamel sign on what used to be the ironmongers and is now a ‘vintage’ clothes shop. Seven successive generations of Fred Collinses had the business, through to the 1990s, when ill-health forced sale. I think of that continuity as a flexible but tenacious elastic glue which binds a community together – how accumulated place-based memories are as powerful a form of ownership as a freehold.

There are a couple of poems in my first pamphlet, Goose Fair Night, about Nottingham, where I was born and grew up – but they’re a personal history. I use place in other poems as a way to access ideas I want to have a play with or memories I want to tease out. Elastic Glue is definitely further removed from my personal history – though that’s there too, of course. I think, stylistically, the poems are a bit braver, less restricted by what’s of the moment – there’s a ballad!

In theory I set aside a couple of mornings a week for poetry – that might be writing from scratch and /or editing or it might be poetry admin, like submissions. If I’m writing new work or editing, I can usually keep at it for four hours or so at a stretch, interspersed with putting on another load of washing or a quick hoover round – dedicated writing time is the best spur to doing housework. I write new work in bursts – starting by hand and then moving to the screen once I’ve built up momentum, a certain hard-to-define weight. I keep a poetry diary where I write, last thing at night, about readings I’ve been to, the two poetry workshopping groups I’m part of, what I’ve been reading, what acceptances or rejections I’ve had and my notional plans – this sometimes turns into proto first drafts as does my sporadic non-poetry diary in which I moan about life, work and people. And I aim to read some poetry every day, leaving books and magazines lying around to ambush and encourage me.

I’m currently working on another pamphlet. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the poems are confessional but I’m thinking through what passes for an accumulated wisdom of age and trying to set it out. It includes poems about egg and chips, advice to daughters, adjusting to daylight saving, Keats, the Mersey Sound poets and Sammy Davis Jnr. Pending, I have notes waiting for my focused attention on crimes I have committed and an anecdote about a flying pig, which I think might be about the balance between expectation and resignation. I’m looking forward to that – but first, I find I must clean the bathroom.

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You can find out more about Elastic Glue and order your copy (£6.50) here.

Follow Kathy on Twitter @kathy_pimlott and find her website here.

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