Keen to get started in my new role I asked to use a photograph offered at interview for my first foray into archive poetry. Permission was granted, with the senior archivist tracking down and sending a digitised version for inclusion here. It’s the one I chose at the time as it allowed me to talk about the likely date, social status, the relationship, the lack of backdrop and why that might be (grand backdrops were usual in Victorian portrait photography), the costumes worn and the fabrics of the time. I spoke about how I would teach a workshop based on this image, adapting my approaches for Yr 9 students and a more adult group.
On receiving the copy, I determined to write poems relevant to the time as well as exploring the situation. As I wanted to begin writing, prior to my induction into the archives, I chose not to pursue additional information – preferring to cast stories around the enigmatic couple, questioning who they were, what the occasion and why they chose to record the event. These first poems have been written with a Victorian tone, but move into alternative structural configurations. I hope you enjoy them. Please feel free to drop me some comments regarding the posts, which poems you prefer and why.
Best wishes and bon mots,
Poet in Residence: Portsmouth City Council Library and Archive Service 
Image courtesy of Portsmouth City Council Library and Archive Service: for whom this blog is being completed as part of the Portsmouth City of Stories, an Arts’ Council funded, project. Archive ref: 700A/3/2
(Names and Date Unknown)
You sit there in your Sunday best
its unwashed cloth, closeted
from moths, so you’d impress.
No backdrop framed a life for you
except, a plain one, unremarked:
a future, stark.
The printed likeness of your faces,
shadow-toned, without due smile;
no wily graces, no breath
to lift your hearts, beyond
the ribs that clutched them, then,
and in which cage they ceased ~
hands dropped away again, released.
The future gone. No dreams
to ride out from the storm,
no place to hide as maggots swarm
and render body back to bone:
in your cold grave, there, alone.
The names that grew themselves to you
no longer matched, to whom
you once held claim
in that life’s bitter game.
In wardrobe clothes they pose,
she out of widow’s weeds – no longer lost.
Her bonnet trimmed with roses,
growing there beneath the brim;
his watch-chain, borrowed,
not to cost a penny more
than they can afford.
It’s not a time to dance
or flounce bright rings,
as is the fashion
for those who wed but once,
but time to be sedate: equals, now,
in all things the church and law allow.
No time to contemplate
quite how they’ll consummate
this union, they undertake.
He meek, she hardly mild
but forced to seek another man:
one past his peak but, whom
she will shape to be, her champion ~
for when their middle years are done
and she is weak, from each child
and burden she has borne;
the toil and heartache, that must come
to those who strive to live a life, to build
themselves a place ~
to gild themselves in grace.