Week one of the July submissions window is over already.

I’ve read and returned 30 manuscripts. More will arrive tomorrow, and some are still sitting in my box.

So far the standard has been high. This both delights and alarms me: I can’t meet the demand. I can only work with a tiny number of these poets to make a publication.

However, many of them will find other routes to readers. Some, I am sure, will go on to win one of the pamphlet competitions.

I look for poems that connect instantly. I want the magical thing, the almost-impossible-to-describe visceral recognition, an intuitive grasp of meaning even where the surface is puzzling or obscure.

Sometimes, there’s a snag that interrupts the connection, a little thing easily fixed. (It’s easier to describe flaws in poems than put them right.)

One of these is the habit of opening a poem ‘I remember’. Sometimes it’s not the first line – but it finds its way in there, and often it’s repeated. (One poet this week wrote ‘I’ve not forgotten’ – much stronger.)

Most poems are, I think, made from memories. If they’re also written in the first person, the reader assumes the memory belongs to the poet.

So you can present the memory without ‘I remember’. It’s the difference between

I remember the sweet scent of honeysuckle in the rain


The scent of honeysuckle in the rain was sweet

Of course, the phrase ‘I remember’ evokes a number of older poems that we also remember (I remember ‘I remember’), as well that seductive emotion: nostalgia. The sound of the word ‘remember’ is as cosy as an old armchair.

For additional protection from the infection of ‘I remember’, vaccinate yourself by writing an instant ‘I remember’ poem with an online generator.

Then why not revisit the famous ‘remember’ poems which are subconsciously leading you to echo them?

For example, there’s good old Thomas Hood’s I remember, I remember? It’s a sweet but sentimental piece and I would probably weep over it after my third glass of wine.

Or Hilaire Belloc’s Tarantella – not at all sentimental: ‘Do you remember an Inn, Miranda, Do you remember an Inn?’ (While writing this blog I found the most extraordinary YouTube clip of Belloc singing this! I had no idea this existed, or that Belloc could sing. Some would say, of course, that he couldn’t.)

And of course, mistress of the ultimate emotive pang, there’s Christina Rossetti with the ‘funeral poem’: ‘Remember me when I am gone away’. Note that she goes for the imperative. Rossetti was no wimp.

The two words ‘I remember’ instantly summon love and loss, with the emphasis on the latter. But after using them to get the poem going, swiftly excise the phrase. Show no mercy. ‘I remember’ is scaffolding for a building that will stand stronger without it.



5 thoughts on “WHAT GOES WRONG WITH POEMS (1)”

  1. I remember (hah!) a workshop somewhere (Poetry Business, maybe) with a writing exercise to start off “I remember…” and keep writing with “I remember…” again when each memory finishes, and then (oh, spoiler alert I suppose) at some point the workshop leader tells you to start writing “I don’t remember…” instead, which takes you somewhere else. Of course, you can always cross out the “I remember…” if those bits are any good.

  2. What of when the memory(s) will be born in the future as the result of the present situation?
    An example, the lyric, “Fields of Gold”, which opens and effectively closes with:
    “You’ll remember me when the west wind moves”

    Does it not lend power to that which follows? I agree that “I remember” is a bit cliche, but doesn’t that depend on the following text? Just a thought from across the pond 🙂

  3. ‘You’ll remember’ [i]is[/i] quite different, ‘Outrider’.

    And yes, Helen, the Eavan Boland poem is lovely. I don’t find ‘I remember’ clunky, just too easily evocative and – ubiquitous. It’s the second adjective that creates the problem.

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