Poets Summaries

Song of the Old Mother

  • This is a woman who now she’s old must keep house for her children ‘scrub and bake and sweep‘ while they ‘lie long… in their bed
  • Yet she was young once but now ‘I am old
  • Uses the metaphor of seed and fire for the energy of youth while she works to keep their fires going while hers ‘gets feeble and cold.’ The young are the seed of the fire but they need nurturing.
  • But this is the nature of life that the old look after the young so that they can spend time dreaming of ‘ribbons‘ till the young become old and take over for the next generation.
  • But its hard work and the young don’t really appreciate it.
  • She is resentful, bitter and yet nostalgic.
  • It celebrates the circularity of life.
  • Her concerns are practical theirs are unimportant – but such is life.
  • The regularity of the poem echoes her life – up at dawn and till after the stars appear.



  • The story of a boy who idolises his father (calls him Batman) then discovers he’s having an affair with a ‘married woman‘ who he took ‘downtown on expenses‘ and feels ‘ditched… in the gutter‘, ‘let loose‘ and ordered to ‘grow up
  • With his illusions shattered he feels like a story from the tabloids ‘Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg-shocker,’ very bitter.
  • But now he’s ‘not playing ball boy any longer‘ he’s ‘scotched that rumour‘ shrugged off his father’s influence like he ‘doffed that off-the-shoulder / Sherwood- Forest-Green and scarlet number
  • Now he’s ‘taller, harder, stronger, older‘ and has grown up. He sees his father is just a two-dimensional cartoon character ‘without a shadow‘ – hollow imitation.
  • Where he had been only Batman’s sidekick, now he’s ‘the real boy wonder.’
  • Written in half-rhymes as if making fun of his own experience. Also lots of verbs to make the poem seen very active – like heroes are, ‘scotched, sacked, blown…



  • Trust issues; story of a girl who is being asked to remember the time when she was accused by her mother of deliberately ruining her ‘canary-yellow cotton jacket
  • She was furious that her mother doesn’t believe her ‘questions in the house‘ that her ‘model of a mother‘ made a ‘proper fist of it‘ and pointed the finger; she got sent to bed, ‘Temper, temper… Blue murder.’ Sneaking out late at night to phone she comes back to find ‘a father figure‘ waiting to ‘set things straight.’
  • The person telling the story may be her boyfriend? Husband? Maybe she’s accusing him of cheating on her? She’s told him this story and he’s now asking for her trustsixteen years‘ later.
  • Central metaphor is the jacket with its ‘pleats, sleeves, buttons, zip and buckle‘ all of which are descriptions of their relationship and how it’s held together but seams can burst if too much strain is put on them!
  • It still fits‘ at the end indicates the re-establishment of harmony.
  • Tone: nostalgic, coaxing, soothing, loving.
  • Full of refs to colloquialisms and popular culture.


Before You Were Mine

  • A daughter’s love for her mother with over tones of obsessive lovewhose bites on your neck sweetheart?‘ as a mother might ask her daughter not a daughter her mum. Reversal of usual mother / daughter relationship.
  • 5 line stanzas hinting at normality but no rhyme or rhythm to show abnormality
  • She’s going through her mother’s possessions ‘hands in those high-heeled red shoes‘ as she remembers; ‘relics‘ and ‘your ghost‘ suggesting her mother is dead. She misses her.
  • Yet she describes how she chose her, ‘I wanted the bold girl‘ before she was even born.
  • She is resentful that her mum had such a good time ‘shriek[ing]’ on the corners with friends with their ‘polka dot dress[es]’ blowing up as if they were Marilyn Monroe. Going to nightclubs and getting into trouble for being late home.
  • Maybe her mother hadn’t planned on having her so early in her life perhaps her arrival had spoiled her plans?
  • But the daughter was ‘loud‘ as a baby and ‘possessive‘. Yet her mum had taught her to dance the ‘cha cha‘ and the ‘waltz‘ her best memories all the while dreaming of the ‘stars’ on Hollywood Boulevard.



  • Grandson (John) and his feelings of guilt at having to take his grandmother to an old people’s home. It feels like abandonment. Echoed by the ‘badly parked car
  • His wife talking?
  • We have brought her here to die and we know it.’
  • He does what he can to make her comfortable, ‘check her towel, soap and family trinkets, / pare her nails.’
  • Lots of references to time of day and references to time of life – ‘twilight zone; dusk; evening…‘ for her and ‘sun…‘ still shining for them
  • References to old age and its attendant loss of dignity, ‘sinks down into her incontinence’ and the other residents‘ ‘slack breasts, stunned brains and baldness.’
  • Feelings of failure and horror – for this may be their fate too: ‘numb ourselves with alcohol‘ ‘we are almost these monsters…‘ ‘failing again…‘ ‘we let it happen. We can say nothing.’
  • Emotional toll taken on everyone ‘You’re shattered.’ And the need to hide from the reality by ‘numb[ing] ourselves with alcohol.’
  • Three line stanzas each one about a different stage in the process and ending with an almost rhyming couplet which is her comment on the events. Ironic? Or factual?


My Father Thought It

  • The poet? Character? speaking about his son coming home with a ring in his ear and being reminded of when he came home himself with a ring in his ear and his own father’s reaction.
  • He remembers being too much of a coward to do the job himself (instead ‘it’d taken a jeweller’s gun‘) and his father’s sarcastic comment ‘If that’s how easily you’re led / you should have had it through your nose instead.’
  • Now the tables are turned as he hears himself (at the age of twenty nine) reacting exactly the same way! ‘If I were you I’d take it out and leave it out!
  • He’s turned into his dad! Help!
  • Another stretched sonnet? If so maybe indicating the stretching of the father / son relationship and the irony of the circularity of life.
  • Link to Song Of The Old Mother
  • bloody queer‘ both a comment meaning blooming stupid and also a taunt about guys who wear earrings being ‘gay’.
  • rolled home‘? after a drunken binge?


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