Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Poetry - Virginia Graham

Isn't it odd how some ideas seem to be in the atmosphere? I spent a lovely afternoon last week rereading the early issues of the Persephone Quarterly & remembering those first Persephones & how much I enjoyed reading them & discovering new authors. Persephone Books have sent me off on so many reading trails & it's thanks to them that authors like Dorothy Whipple & Marghanita Laski have been rediscovered. I decided to reread some of the Persephones that I enjoyed from my pre-blogging years & maybe make it one of my reading goals for the year. I try not to have too many of those because I inevitably fall behind. Then, on Friday, I read the latest Persephone Letter. The Persephone website was hacked just before Christmas & Nicola & her team have taken the opportunity to rethink the website as they put it all back together again. One of her ideas is a new section called Random Commentary (after Dorothy Whipple's book about her life as a writer) which will highlight some of the lesser-known Persephones. This was exactly my idea. The first books I want to reread are Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell, Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet & Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy. I remember enjoying them very much on first reading but it's more than ten years since I read them & I think it's time to revisit them.

What does this have to do with Sunday Poetry? Several poems from this collection, Consider the Years by Virginia Graham, were featured in those early Quarterlys so I thought, as I'm in a Persephone mood, I'd post a poem or two from the book. The years in question are 1938-1946 & the poems are witty, funny, often quite poignant. One of my favourites is Somewhere in England, published in 1939, full of the spirit of women doing their bit for the war effort on the Home Front.

Somewhere there must be music, and great swags of flowers,
leisured meals lasting for hours,
and smooth green lawns and roses.
     Somewhere there must be dogs with velvet noses,
and people lounging in big chairs,
and bees buzzing in the pears.
     So short a while, and yet how long,
how long,
since I was idling golden days away,
shopping a little and going to the play!
     Somewhere the red leaves must be fluttering down,
but I am on my way to Kentish Town
in Mrs Brodie's van,
which has no brakes and rattles like a can.
     To-morrow I shall go to Wanstead Flats
with bales of straw, or a cargo of tin-hats,
or ninety mattresses to aid
the nether portions of the Fire Brigade.
     Not for me a quiet stroll along the Mall,
I must be off to Woolwich Arsenal
with our Miss West;
and it seems I cannot rest,
there shall be no folding of my feet at all
till I have been to Islington Town Hall
with a buff envelope.
     Some day it is my tenderest dearest hope
to have my hair washed, and I
would love to buy
something - anything so long as I could stop
for a moment and look into the window of a shop.
     Somewhere there must be women reading books,
and talking of chicken-rissoles to their cooks;
but every time I try to read The Grapes of Wrath
I am sent forth
on some occupation
apparently immensely vital to the nation.
     To my disappointed cook I only say
I shan't need any meals at all to-day.
     Somewhere I know they're singing songs of praise
and going happily to matinées
and home to buttered toast,
but I at my post
shall bravely turn my thoughts from such enjoyment.
     Ah for the time when, blest with unemployment,
I lived a life of sweet content - 
leisured and smug and opulent!
     Fear not, Miss Tatham, I am ready as you see,
to go to Romford Hospital or Lea.
     Be not dismayed, I will not stray or roam,
Look how I fly to Brookwood Mental Home!
See with what patriotic speed I go
to Poplar, Ealing, Beckenham and Bow!


  1. Your post has inspired me to rediscover Persephone. I've kind of moved away from middlebrow novels in the last two or three years. I think I'll try Susan Glaspell. Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year, Nicola. I started Brook Evans last night & I'm looking forward to going on with it. I've found myself reading fewer modern novels & more from the interwar period & earlier every year so we're moving in opposite directions but may meet in the middle!

  2. How lovely ...I have a feeling I have a book by Virginia on my shelves somewhere , I know I have "Joyce & Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell & Virginia Graham
    by Joyce Grenfell, Virginia Graham, Janie Hampton" and she often seems to pop up in Joyce Grenfell's writing but I've never read her poetry this is a treat Thank You!

    1. I have the letters on the tbr shelves. Simon at Stuck in a Book recommends them although I think he prefers the radio adaptation. I will get to the letters one of these days.

  3. I love this poem -- some years ago I used to teach a course on women's 2nd world war poetry, and Graham was always very popular with the students. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. You're welcome, Harriet. There are so many interesting poets of those years, I have an anthology of them that I like dipping in to.

  4. I've not come across Virginia Graham before, but I really like this. It seems to capture the spirit that comes across in diaries and novels of the time, and the feeling that normal life is somehow on hold.

    1. Yes, it does have that feeling of dashing about doing your bit, doesn't it? There are some very poignant poems in the book as well as the funnier ones like this.