Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
12:00 AM 18th May 2024

Poem Of The Week: Pevsner's Staffordshire By Charles Penty

Pevsner’s Staffordshire

A bespoke-made Gladstone bag still holds
items stowed for two decades or more:
linen jacket, lido ticket,
an annotated edition

of Boswell’s Life of Johnson,
armbands to shore up your shirt sleeves.
Guide to the Buildings of Staffordshire
collects fines at the closed library

as Karajan conducts again
the Berlin Philharmonic
on your tape of Mozart’s Requiem.
Seed packets spill chrysanthemums

into my hand – flowers for her
whom you survived to your surprise,
she who peers from the photographs
you had deftly sectioned in half.

Charles Penty’s four gentle quatrains make few demands on the reader, save for an ear attuned to the echoes that resonate between a life’s inventory and its meaning to the poet/narrator.

It seems likely that the apostrophic address is directed at a father figure, though the elegiac form is weakened by time and detachment, allowing the narrator the latitude to recall the persona behind the accoutrements without sentiment.

The Gladstone bag containing the absent figure’s desiderata spills the contents of signifying memory like the chrysanthemum seeds that might, in a place of reordered time, have yielded flowers for a loved one. The stages of the father’s experience are revealed in the act of disinterment: his sartorial choices, his tastes in music and books reappear as if from the dark; the latter – Pevsner’s study of a county’s architecture, whose yawning fines exceed the library’s own tenure – suggests a preoccupation, perhaps even a career.

The beautiful final lines of ‘Pevsner’s Staffordshire’ complete a circle. And if some small ambiguity obtains in the tidy rectitude of sectioning the photographs, the reader is left in no doubt as to the overwhelming presence of love.

‘Pevsner’s Staffordshire’ was a winner of the Members' Poems competition in the summer 2021 issue of Poetry News. The competition, on the theme of 'The lesser loss', was judged by Jenny Lewis.

The poem is published here with the kind permission of the author.