A momentous occasion happened for me recently, and that is for the first time I received some recognition for a piece of creative writing I’d done, as mentionned on the KCL English Department page.
However, it was an event that was, for me, filled with joy but for another family it wasn’t. Cosmo Davenport-Hines is the name of a student at my university, who died tragically last June. The prize was set up by his parents in his memory, to celebrate his life and love of poetry.
I spent the early part of the evening speaking to his family, first his father, then mother and then two of his friends, also poets. They were all wonderful people, and it was event infused with warmth and a generosity of spirit that plenty of people are willing to let die amongst comments about “our modern world”. His father gave a speech where he mentioned Cosmo’s last days, and it was one of those moments where you knew those words came from nowhere other than the heart and soul of one individual who cared so deeply about another person that although words cannot express the emotion, somehow every fibre of that moment combined to convey his sentiments exactly; the lilt of his tone and the slight variations in facial movements and one million other threads combined into a fabric which captured his feelings. He was speaking on behalf of not only himself, but for everyone else there who’d loved and lost this young man. His words richocheted off the particles in the air and created a concrete connection between every single person in that room, which shattered in the heartfelt applause.
It was just so moving to watch a man talk about the death of his son, that I was filled with a sense of admiration. That such a terrible event had occurred, and the family had taken it and re-shaped it like molten mental into something so positive as a celebration of his son’s talent by using his example to motivate and inspire students just like him to make their lives extraordinary, was one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced.
The winner of the prize was a third year student I knew vaguely from KCL Creative Writing Society, and the runner-up has been in my seminar groups the past two terms. My poem remained in a selection losely termed the ‘Judge’s Pick’ by the head of the English Department, which was a selection of poems which weren’t winners but the panel wanted to commend. I was flattered that such esteemed and respectable individuals would feel my work deserved a place there, but the overall experience of the evening was overwhelmingly the respect I felt for the Davenport-Hines family.
The theme of the competition was Memory, and the varying takes on that were in themselves very interesting. I did the unoriginal thing and submitted a poem I wrote about the death of my greatgrandad, who passed on when I was still at school and my memories of him are sketchy at best. The poem mourns the loss of my memories as much as the loss of my grandfather. I read first and I was nervous, like a deer on wobbly legs, as I stumbled over my lines, but afterwards Mrs Davenport-Hines came to me and said the poem brought tears to her eyes. I think that action, that on a night which can’t have been easy for her, she took the time to complement a young girl proves the genuine kindness in her. I doubt they’ll ever read this, but that isn’t the point of me writing it. I think it is important, in some little way, to mention what wonderful people I thought they all were, and I hope that they get all the respect, love and support they deserve. My entry is below …
An Apology For Forgetfulness.
You’re mostly memory, crafted and
Constructed. The gaps filled in by memories of others
Who were more there, more aware, who captured
Creased silver memories on paper
Where you are strong and smiling.
I remember faintly, or rather I believe I do,
(How can I know how much I embellish from stories and photographs?)
Your face as soft folds of smiles from behind
Oversized glasses, frames grey like your hair.
Silver blue pervades; silvery aged hair that stays grey in black-and-white images
Of you young, smart, uniformed. And the bright, ever youthful
Blue for startling eyes, crinkled with benevolent charm.
Grey for graphite when you drew me pictures with more
Talent than the rest of the family combined,
One living link across the chasm of death.
Otherwise, your story. What you remember but never chose to express.
A story of war, death, and a sinking ship loaded with the exploding gunpowder
Cannons that all but deafened you. Yet you were the only one who listened,
Who even truly heard the questions of a child.
My clearest memory of you, except for Butlins, aged 6,
Is your memory, the sad silent expression of a soldier,
A naval man – sea and spirit and silence – as you answered.
I see you in the ubiquitous poppy I buy every year and
Cry silent tears for you, and tell no one. We have this in common.
You did your own battle with The War. (We do Not mention The War. Except once.)
You told me of the sinking ship as you refused to drown beneath the dismissive,
“She’s too young to understand! And certainly too young to be told!”
But you spoke to me quietly, because at least I was old enough to care
About your personal, unique story.
The same story as the generation, national scars identifying old hearts,
Those young souls on our country’s conscience, echoing heartbeats –
The stroke of a marching drum. A different stroke killed you.
There’s me. My father. My grandfather. Then you, and beyond you only mystery.
But blood connects us, blood you shed so I could
Choose to learn German at school.
And now, the sad truth of my years means I lose you more.
I create you from my memory of your memory, a story defining us.
And I can only find you in faded photographs
And wreaths on Remembrance Day,
And a grave nobody lets me visit.