Song of the stones

Third in a series of blogposts by poet-in-residence Sue Zatland, who reflects on different aspects of monumental commemoration, focusing on Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. She shares her poetic responses and experimentations with form. 


Who is commemoration for, and why?

Monuments are sober and dignified places. Places where we stand just right, and wear the right hat, and think the right things. Are we quiet enough, is our expression just so? Really, there is barely time enough to think about who commemoration is for. It is for us.

There has been much controversy about how this monument has been treated by the general public. They come here. They don’t dress right. They picnic on the top of the stones, they play hide-and-seek. Snap themselves juggling in the alleyways and post up on Instagram. 

This poem is a reaction against a particularly self-satisfied and moralistic online naming and shaming (google Yolocaust). It is interesting that the architects of these counter-monuments seem to allow (at the very least allow) such behaviour. As Daniel Libeskind says, ‘a memorial which is quiet and unchallenging is good for the birds. The birds will sit on it and that’ll be it.’ 

If a monument is to act as commemoration, it must not be set in stone. It must be a living thing. A place where you run through alleys reaching for shafts of light. Where you sit on, feel, touch, breathe the fabric of it. Later, a lifetime perhaps, you touch a cold surface, or smell petrichor rising, or find yourself in a darkening forest. And something comes back to you. That day when you ran through flickering sunlight and heard someone calling your name, a song so familiar because in fact it never left you. The song of the stones.

Form: time to set the form free.

song of the stones

there is a perturbing logic 
at the heart of me
that you don’t expect  
or see
you     with your morals 
stiff-coated and clenched
crackling with (half) cloaked resentment  
and buttoned-up ideas  
of how things ought to be
instead of silence  
instead of wearing black 
and a solemn demeanour
lose yourself
invade my space
lean back     bare
against the bulwark 
of my own intrusion
the stamp of my ribs   
the imprint of my spine
the press of your flesh 
on mine
the  beat  of  my  heart
the continental drift 
that lifts   and folds back 
the gravel bed of memory

and if you have forgotten how 
or if you never knew
watch carefully  
see  how the boy
bestrides my saddle-backed hips
leaps girders of light
runs my fault-lines like a pro
reaching for the call 
you cannot hear
shaking the dust from his feet
as he goes        

Susan Zatland
Creative Writing Diploma, University of Oxford

Song of the stones