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Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino: a critique

by on 14 May 2020

Today and Yesterday

Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino

by Heather Moulson

a critique by Matthew Grierson

Heather Moulson’s three poems do what the best poems can, that is, using imagery and detail to talk about something broader and more abstract: in this case, memory.

In Food, for example, the care for detail – whether that’s the sensual recall of ‘greasy stock’ and thick gravy, or brands of yesteryear such as R. White’s and Happy Shopper – is the narrator’s way of showing the care inherited from Gran, who put her own care into making meals for her loved ones. There’s pathos in our not being told why Gran had to ‘h[o]ld the family/together’ – was there domestic strife? Was it the war? But there’s also well-observed bathos in ‘the first meal on wedding present plates’ being ‘curry from Bejam’, the narrator wistful that meals remembered from childhood cannot be reproduced.

Brands and Gran also figure in Toys, which uses a similar structure of nostalgia to compare the fads of today and yesterday. The narrator may well think of ‘Hot/Wheels’ as ‘a proper toy’, but as surely as those wheels turn so too will the choice of toy – just as the miserable summer of 1976 becomes fondly remembered in retrospect in Moulson’s The Summers of Hate, which was shortlisted in last year’s Roger McGough Poetry Competition. So what’s to say that, one day, the boy in the poem won’t be lamenting that his own children don’t have a ‘proper’ toy like a PlayStation? (I’m reminded that Stephen Sexton’s recent Forward Prize-winning collection If All the World and Love Were Young is based on a childhood spent on the Nintendo.)

ThreePoems coffee-crazy-woman

In finding ‘full fat comfort’ in hot drinks, Mock-a-Chino savours memories in a similar way to Food. Here, though, each variety of coffee signifies different stages of the narrator’s life, at first youthfully ‘inoffensive’ but later ironically aspirational for ‘Nescafe Gold’, before acknowledging a love of whole milk again in contrast to the hipster ‘skinny cappuccino’ enjoyed by the could-have-been friend or lover.

Three Poems Critique Heart

Which all goes to show that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be: after all, the past is a country where lambs’ hearts are still beating as they are served and coffee is ‘sinister’: as much as they long for the past, Moulson’s narrators defamiliarise it, make it creepy … so it may be no wonder the children laugh at the memories of Food.

That PlayStation doesn’t look like such a bad option after all.

Matthew Grierson
May 2020

Photography by Dorothy Dunstan and Dreamstime

From → Poems, Poetry Preview

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    I so enjoyed reading this review of Heather Moulson’s three poems written by Matthew Grierson. He is a fine reviewer and has the knack of getting right to the heart of a poem, making you want to read them.

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