I’m quite a fan of words. I like them in all forms. In books, in newspapers, on my computer, in a text from a friend, in a funny note left on the fridge, in a crossword, on a big sign that reads “public toilets this way” when the need is urgent and the queue is mercifully short.
But most of all I love the words that tell a story (just like the photographs I love the most), and sometimes the sharpest, most keenly felt stories come tightly packaged in a poem.
So today, on National Poetry Day, I thought I’d share a little part of a poem with you dear Reader, all about the photographs we hold close, look hard at and remember bittersweetly. Because I think words make pictures too, when you read them, when they hit your memory and call to something personal and universal together all at once.
We were beautiful, without exception.
I could hardly bear to look at those
old albums, to see the lost glamour
we never noticed when we were
first together – when we were young.
It’s an extract from a beautifully nostalgic poem entitled Friends’ Photos by Ruth Fainlight. It’s about looking back with fondness and a touch of regret, about feeling the potency of the past and the longing for something you’ve lost and can never recapture. It reveals something of the power of those photographs that we keep in a drawer, unsorted, unloved, and dusty.
When I read the poem again today, I rifled through my boxes of photographs from years ago, of other lives lived in other places. It can be hard to revisit sometimes, when you see a face you miss. But always, always they make me smile. Some made me laugh out loud.
They weren’t technically any good, and many were taken on my camera of choice at the time (a state of the art Kodak disposal don’t you know), so they might be blurred, or grainy, or too dark, or overexposed.
But those photographs were there. My god, I treasure them.
If you’d fancy it, you can hear Ruth herself read the full poem here.
I thought of keeping this a picture-less post. Then I thought better of it. So here’s a friend I made over photographs, when we meet in Hay-on-Wye over books.
You’ll be seeing more of Sarah later. She’s a good sort. You’ll like her.