Time Travelling in Carol Ann Duffy's Before You were mine
Carol Ann Duffy is a time traveller. Her poetry frequently steps to one side of an experience and redraws its ostensible shape, smudging away at any exclusive edges, so that the supposed fixity of an experience or relationship becomes more plastic,more malleable. I love this creativity in Duffy, this capacity for the 'what if' or 'reframe' in Carol Ann Duffy. For like all great writers, she is prepared to renegotiate experience and the past. She believes in resurrection through remembrance, and is prepared to play with remembrance(and I am aware of the seemingly dangerous and dismissive triteness of this term 'play' ) in order to discover the potential for reconciliation and even redemption.
One of Carol Ann Duffy's recent poems as the new Poet Laureate is entitled 'Premonitions' which tries to renegotiate the shattering numbness of losing your mother, through a cinematic reversal of the progresssive destruction of a loved one through terminal illness. 'Before you were mine' is an earlier poem and celebrates Duffy's mother from a very different viewpoint, though both deal with concepts of death in very different ways. The death before birth in 'Before you were Mine' and the role of writing to reanimate those lost literally to us through death.We talk about 'going on' but perhaps the direction of this platitude is more open to question than custom would have us belive. For where is the future direction and journey which will lead us 'on' tfrom the numbness of despair? Perhaps time travelling is the only secular resurrection available for an atheist like Carol Ann Duffy?
The poem above captures the daughter's wonder at the time before she was born when her mother was 'free' of responsibility for her family. All the images and escapades fed into this tender, joyful portriat of her mother seem a conglomeration of most likely repeated family tales, 'Marilyn' all woven into this resonant elegy to lost time. The synasthaesia of ' I see you clear as scent' underlines the delight and intimacy of this time travelling act of teasing love. It is as if one can remember what one has never literraly experienced but has stilled experienced vicariously through loving attentiveness to the details of another's stories.
We are the stuff of anecdotes. Story telling is not a second hand substitute for 'real' life. It is the very stuff of life itself!