Wednesday 2 February 2022

Valerie Bence, "Overlap"


Valerie Bence finished her doctorate in her mid-fifties and completed a Poetry MA at MMU in 2017. She was shortlisted for the Poetry School/Nine Arches Press Primers 4 in 2018, the Fish Poetry prize in 2019, and longlisted for the Ginkgo Prize in 2019. Her first collection, Falling in Love with a Dead Man, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2019. She is a mum and nonna and lives and works in Buckinghamshire.

About Overlap

Valerie Bence’s debut poetry pamphlet is a testament to ordinary lives, and a meditation on grandmothers. Part memoir, part family history, Overlap is a series of vivid vignettes from the poet’s childhood, courtship, motherhood and grandmotherhood, spanning the 20th and 21st centuries.

Bence’s grandmothers Winifred and Harriet are at the heart of this book. She reflects on their hardy, steadfast lives as she too becomes a grandmother, in very different times. Stranded from her family in the Covid-19 pandemic, the poet conjures up their ghosts, walks in their footsteps and – sometimes – feels herself become them.

You can read more about Overlap on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From Overlap, by Valerie Bence

From my vantage point under the kitchen table
I watch her knees as she walks by – dimpled,
thick stocking’d in summer and winter,
slippers with holes at the toes,
crossover pinny pockets full of scraps
and peelings for chickens. Grandma Harriet.
We mash tealeaves and bran for the rabbit,
the sweet aroma fogging her glasses, and every day
she scrubs bloody butcher’s aprons
for five shillings a week.
We take the clean ones back on the bus,
until the day she faints outside Boots in the rain,
sliding down the wall like in a cartoon,
her wartime hat slipping over her eyes.
Thinking she is dead I run into the chemist’s;
a man brings her a glass of water.
Sipping it she squeezes my arm –
Don’t tell him she says, pulling me close.
This will not be difficult, as in all my seven years
he has never spoken to me.

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