“and in this presence how much ‘elsewhere’ lurks,” Jenny Joseph, “BEACHED BOATS”
We have always been big fans of CBS “Sunday Morning,” especially during the Charles Kuralt years. One Sunday morning in the late ’80s, there was a segment with Liz Carpenter, press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson. In the interview, she shared her interests and mentioned a women's group that met regularly to share favorite passages from books and writers.
Ms. Carpenter read one of her favorites, the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. It really got my attention and made me want to learn more about the person who had written it. I wrote a letter to Jenny’s attention care of CBS, only half expecting to connect. “Warning” was twice voted Britain's favorite poem.
Months later I received a handwritten (Jenny often hand wrote her letters) reply posted from Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, U.K. Jenny had been traveling in the U.S., speaking and doing readings from her books. She apologized for not responding sooner. I was thrilled to hear from her. We continued to correspond and made a plan for a collaboration --- a book of her writing and my photographs. A plan was set to visit Maine and the U.K.
I traveled to photograph in England twice and Jenny visited us here in Maine twice.
In 1991, our book “Beached Boats” was published. I went to London upon publication, and we did some public appearances, signings and stuff relating to the book. But, Jenny was the main attraction. She was quite a celebrity.
Jenny died this January at her home in Swansea, Wales. She had lived 85 very active years!
In 1953 Jenny won a scholarship to St. Hilda's College at Oxford for English studies. Before her death she donated her literary archives to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. There is to be a special dedication later in May, with readings from her books. I am humbled to know that some of our work together will be included.
Here, for your reading pleasure, is Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning.” I would offer “rest in peace,” however, I know this woman will never quit writing.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
But maybe I ought to practice a little now
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised.
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.