Sunday, March 06, 2011

Your age... contented, accepting, resentful, indifferent, curious?

There's a saying... if you want to feel young, mix with younger people. If you want to look young, mix with with older people. Here on the Cote d'Azur, particularly outside of the holiday season, there are a lot of elderly people, and for the most part all pretty sprightly for their eighties, so at 52 I'm a bit of a teenager!

Apart from being alternately accepting and resentful of the usual signs and effects of age - aches, wrinkles, long-sightedness, unable to drink more than a half bottle of wine without getting a hangover - I really do like being in my fifties and wouldn't want to go back to a previous age or time.

How about you? And do you ever wonder what you'll be like in 20 or 30 years time? It's difficult enough to feel any real connection to the child, girl or young woman who stares out at me from old photos so to imagine what and who I might be in the future feels like an impossible task. Perhaps I should have a go at one of those 'ageing' apps you see on Facebook and on people's mobile phones!

The danger of writing poems about getting older is that they might sound sentimental, even self-indulgent if we write about ourselves. How do we explore the personal and particular but make it universal, make it something that matters to other people? Philip Schultz talks about age in this poem:


My bones aren't what they used to be; my eyes ache,
as if I've been reading an ancient text by candlelight.
My back and knees creak. I'm happy if the car starts
and I can walk the dogs along the ocean which looks
a little less robust. It replenishes itself with stretching
and long cleansing breaths. The sun is another story.
It's beginning to show its age. Perhaps we've enjoyed
enough springs and everything is getting a little redundant.

Philip Schultz
from Living in the Past - Available via Amazon
Harcourt, Inc., 2004

Co-winner of the 2008
Pulitzer Prize

I like how he links ageing to the planet - what he notices about the sea, the sun. Do you think the last sentence is a little defeatist, or is it philosophical? Why should we expect our planet to last forever? And this is one of the thoughts I leave the poem with rather than just thinking about the narrator's own experience.

There's one phrase in the poem that makes me smile: I'm happy if the car starts/ Me too! Do we expect less as we get older? Or do we learn gratitude? Again, I'm prompted to reflect on particular ideas that are implicit in the poem but take me outside of it too.

Write your own age poem, using the above poem as a model, or stretching out in your own direction. But be careful, you don't want to put your back out : )

Write well


Glenn Buttkus said...

Old Man

Who belongs to that face in the mirror
with the fat humidity bubbles
running through his reflection;
my father, whom I never met
but still may favor;
my grandfather, whom I seemed
to be a joyful clone of;
some graying stranger growing gaunt
with slender white streaks decorating
those black eyebrows of yesterday,
that last dominion before mister silver
banishes every evidence of ebony
on my hirsute second suit;
an actor who abandoned the stage
in order to teach the blind;
a movie star that no one recognizes;
a poet who happily embraces obscurity;
a hiker whose sad legs will no longer
allow him to climb in the Cascades?

Yes, all of them,
and several more
who will soon appear before me
in that wicked glass
on those steamy mornings
not yet dawned.

Glenn Buttkus

Anonymous said...


I prefer myself
in the shade except
when the sun catches
my newly highlighted hair
well why not-
grey never suited me
and I always admired
the sparkle of others
now I’m ready to out-sparkle
them all, bring on the sizzle
the dazzle of a summer’s day
the spill of sea
as it chases my ankles
the buzz of moon
as it skips over rooftops
and the sometime memory
of buttons opening
one by one
the slip of a dress…
nowadays I prefer myself
in the shade except…

Eileen (

not a great fan of ellipses in poems normally, over to you Lynne.

Martin Cordrey said...

over the hill

Whilst walking on the Pilgrims Way,
a scorpion sun reflects in a plaque,
as a brisk wind blows fallen leaves
under a solitary ramblers bench.

I imagine myself on my hands and knees
looking out across the furrowed Downs;

A weary hiker sits heavily on my back,
as a child knocks the sod off her boots
by kicking and scrapping across my legs.

She sing-songs my name, too loud,
wondering who I used to be! And
what Grandma is cooking for tea?
Then like startled crows in a field
beyond the copse they have flown.

Keith Wallis said...

I wonder how the bark
on this aging trunk
would settle on the spruce next door.
How my familiars would fare
in more supple,less subtle branches,
whipping in the breezes
that merely tickle me.
Wishes, like new patches
on well washed cloth,
stretch reality
beyond elastic bounds.
So, even as I creak and groan,
I thank God
that I am older than I think I am
and younger than my age.

Lu said...

(What a coincidence! I just wrote a poem about my mom who turned 76. I hope you don't mind me posting this here, Lynne. All the best.)

At Age 76

She tunnels through currents and clouds,
transported to this imagined land with
all she can utter - hello, yes, no, I’m sorry...

We both know what this trip means,
we do know, but we don’t say it.

We spend our best time at Cub Foods;
she drags me at a pedestrian crossing
as the driver waves your right-of-way.

She smiles to kids in shopping carts,
smiles when a puppy barks around,
smiles at the neighbor’s friendly greetings

and nervously replies:
sorry, wǒ bù dǒng yīng yǔ .
(I don’t know English)

You’ve seen how someone deftly moves
the beads on an abacus up and down.
Such is the way her mind works at numbers,

converting from $ to ¥ or vice versa.
so easily. I give her more maths to do and
wonder if I will be able to do the same.

Lynne Rees said...

@ Glen - I think the opening and closing images of a steamed up mirror frame the poem wonderfully.

@ Eileen - hmmm. Yes, I know what you mean about ellipsis. I'd be tempted to cut the last line, so the poem doesn't end on one, but closes with:
nowadays I prefer myself.

@ Martin - I like how this poem develops. How do you feel about retitling: The Bench, and cutting the opening stanza completely and going straight in with the 2nd:

I imagine myself...

@ Keith - I like it. I wondered about trimming the last 2 lines a little, making it more compact, perhaps a little tease for the reader? :

I am both older and younger
than I think I am

@ Lu - Wow, that is a coincidence! I wonder if the poem needs to be a little more concrete at the beginning. I worked out, I think, that your mom has flown to see you, but at first the language (currents, clouds, imagined), following the poem's title about age, made me think of dementia. And the rest of the poem doesn't seem to go in that direction. Does that help at all?

Thanks for your poems. I do enjoy reading them.

Martin Cordrey said...

The Bench, Pilgrims Way

I imagine myself on my hands and knees
looking out across the furrowed Downs;
An old weary hiker sits heavily on my back,
as a child knocks the sod from her boots
by kicking and scrapping across my legs.

She sing-songs my name off the plaque,
wondering aloud who I used to be! And
what Grandma is cooking them for tea?
Then, like a flock of startled black crows
beyond the distant copse they have flown.