Valerie Bence’s latest 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. Winifred and Harriet are at the heart of this book: Bence’s grandmothers, whose hardy, steadfast lives she comes to reflect on 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.
We mash tealeaves and bran for the rabbit,
the sweet aroma fogging her glasses,
and every day, for five shillings a week, she scrubs bloody butcher’s aprons. 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.