:: Article

“weird sex under the pier”

By Sophie Parkin.

Fishing in the Aftermath – poems 1994-2014, Salena Godden, Burning Eye Books, 2014
Springfield Road, Salena Godden, Unbound, 2014

Occasionally you hear a poem and it strikes you to the core, of its truth and yours. I’m not talking about Poetry Please on Radio 4, I’m talking about standing in The Colony Room club in 2004 listening to Salena Godden read her Hastings poem in a pair of cut off denims with her golden curls shining in the late Summer sunlight, the dust swirling in the air, talking about the allure of blow jobs and chips and having, “weird sex under the pier”. She read her poem with such a force of bravado, her azure eyes vitally alive with a sprinkle of mischief and my mum and I went up to her afterwards and said what a brilliant poem it was and that we were sure to all become good friends. Take my phone number. No, you take mine. And so we did.

Maybe it was because she was concentrating on her music career and her band Salt’Peter, (there’s a wonderful album) or maybe it was because she was female in still a very male sphere, or maybe it was because she spent a lot of each year touring and doing the festival circuit which has a way of wearing out even the most loose of limb; her time hadn’t come until 2014.

Salena’s story, that I heard from first getting to know her and becoming friends, was that she came from Hastings, that her mother brother and sister lived at her father’s parent’s house and that her father a musician, was dead. But Springfield Road the memoir she began writing eight years ago, wasn’t really about Hastings, it’s not just about a place or time, it’s about feeling. It’s about tracing a lost love and finding out about a man she never knew; her father and growing up with a very slim replacement in the North of England. It could be a misery memoir, with the easy racism of the 70’s, the brutality of adults and the thoughtlessness of children, but the innocent joy that is picked out because of the way Salena sees the world makes the prose full of poetry and beautifully turned phrases. Salena can write you into a child’s heart and out of the mouth of a teenager’s inquisitive nature. She can wring the tears from jaded cynics and make you understand the unique and endless joy of roller-skates and bicycles as a pathway to freedom. How easy it is to reward and cherish a child, and how much repeated hard work has to go in to them not wanting to win your favour.

This book deserves to be read by a lot of adults, 10.3% of fathers don’t see their kids. It should be read by the fathers who don’t understand what that does to the child, it should be read by all the other grown up children to understand, that it’s not personal. They were just there at the wrong time! But how can it not be personal when it’s your father who leaves you? And how are mothers meant to cope when they are left with two small children in a foreign place and someone shows you affection and promises a love littered pathway? Nobody said life was easy.

Writing your autobiography when your life isn’t finished and perhaps your career is only just starting is a tricky game, as so many popular celebrities have found out. Are you blaming your parents for having dragged you up or thanking them for giving you a great unusual view on life and a book to boot? Having written one myself (All Grown Up) 20 years ago I know what it gave me apart from a writing career, a way to shape the rest of life, to try to always colour in the rest of the pages whilst wearing pink spectacles; to ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative and Don’t Mess with Mister Inbetween,’ as Johnny Mercer so cannily observed.

Salena will go on to write many more books of poetry, hell she’s on Radio 4 now (how did that ever happen?) She will doubtless end up judging prizes for young struggling poets and writers, but these two books that took so long to be born because of the weirdness of the one eyed publishing industry will always be her first born twins. The one that talks dirty and rough poetry whilst the other shows the vulnerable start of a child’s first steps into the world of escaping into imagination and words and discovering her early tentative roots in Jamaica. Ideally these books should be read together, if only to read one that makes you laugh when you feel like a blub and visa versa. The two sides of Salena.

Was it really ten years ago? The Colony Room is closed Michael Wojas is dead (long live Wojas). I wrote the history of the Colony Room Club 1948-2008 published in 2012, this year 2014 Salena Godden launched first her book of brilliant poetry, Fishing in the Aftermath – poems 1994-2014 and then her autobiography – Springfield Road at Vout-O-Reenee’s, my husband and my club in Whitechapel. Who would have thought that we would even have a club? And now the Book Club Boutique’s new home is Vout-O-Reenee’s too. Salena and I have been through a lot of adventures together in the world of writing and performing poetry, we have laughed a lot, got drunk a lot and run all over town – hell we even survived the Edinburgh Festival. Salena has emerged as one of the finest performance poets of her generation, she has converted a new crowd of poetry lovers with her Boutique Book Club tagline – ‘Books, Booze and Boogiewoogie’ – why not come along and be converted too.

Sophie Parkin has written seven published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult, otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry edited by Michael Horovitz. Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites (Piccadilly Press), a teenage novel set in Tangiers and London, is out now. Her most recent book is The Colony Room Club 1948-2008; a history of bohemian Soho.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, November 28th, 2014.