Notes on the poems in Formerly

By Tamar Yoseloff

Sonnet 1: Capacity
Photo: Rothsay Street, Bermondsey, London SE1, 2002
• This is not only the first poem in the book, but the first one I wrote of the sequence. My poem developed from a play on the name, a place that looks like less than its moniker suggests. Oh, and the last word is a pretty obvious nod to the end of Berryman’s Dream Song number 14.

Sonnet 2: Doors
Photo: Conduit Road, Plumstead, London SE18, 2004
• I was thinking about people who stand on doorsteps, like postmen or the guys who go from house to house selling duvets, but are never invited in – so that led me to Jehovah’s Witnesses. That in turn made me think about metaphorical closed doors, finished relationships, etc.

Sonnet 3: Flat Iron Square
Photo: Union Street, Southwark, London SE1, 2001
• The original title of the poem was Ghosts. ‘The faded smiles of plywood’ is probably my favourite image from the whole sequence.

Sonnet 4: Inch & Co Cash Chemists
Photo: Kennington Park Road, Kennington, London SE11, 2002
• I decided because the aural structure of the title was already so tight that I would only use those letters to construct the words in the poem, (including the ‘d’ if you wrote out the ampersand as ‘and’). I then made a list of all the words I could think of using those letters, and began to form them into a narrative. I wanted to be able to construct full, logical sentences, so I allowed myself the liberty of extra letters just for prepositions (hence the ‘f’ in ‘of’).

Sonnet 5: X-Zalia Night Cure
Photo: Popham Street, Islington, London N1, 2002
• This is a ‘found’ poem. The text is taken from the promotional ad for this miracle cure-all, circa 1904.

Sonnet 6: Duk of gton
Photo: Brune Street, Spitalfields, London E1, 2010
• Like Capacity and Inch & Co Cash Chemists, I liked the idea of trying to play with the sounds / letters of the title (the ones that are still there, that is: the sign should read ‘Duke of Wellington’). The first word is an obvious elegiac nod to the letters that are missing!

Sonnet 7: Quickie Heel Bar
Photo: Southwark Park Road, Bermondsey, London SE16, 2002
• This is my favourite poem in the sequence, but I don’t have the right accent to do it justice (it should be read by Ray Winstone). The sign still makes me laugh.

Sonnet 8: Limehouse Cut
Photo: Teviot Street, Poplar, London E14, 2010
• This is the most formal sonnet of the sequence, and the most irreverent. I love the pararhyme of ‘flick’ and ‘fuck’. As the sequence progressed, I found I was writing more and more dramatic monologues informed by the places in the photos.

Sonnet 9: The Rose
Photo: George Street, Silvertown, London E16, 2002
• I see this as a companion to Duk of gton, a tribute to the sort of London pub that looks too tough to contemplate ever entering. It’s a narrative about a Barbara Windsor-like character. The last line is my nod to Eliot, and the bar scene in part II of The Waste Land.

Sonnet 10: Iron Urns
Photo: Raymouth Road, Bermondsey, London SE16, 2001
• See Sacred to the Memory, below.

Sonnet 11: Sacred to the Memory
Photo: St Anne’s, Newell Street, Limehouse, London E14, 2010
• This and Iron Urns, above, are companion pieces, reflecting my continuing obsession with London cemeteries, although ‘Iron Urns’ is more about the City parks that stand on the sites of deconsecrated or demolished churches (and often still hold gravestones).

Sonnet 12: Whitechapel
Photo: Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, London E1, 2003
• This is my favourite photograph of the sequence, which made the poem the most difficult to write. It’s also the only photo that depicts a figure (albeit one which is not living, although I do give her a voice).

Sonnet 13: Final Clearance
Photo: Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, London SE1, 2001
• The bleakest of the photos, and the bleakest of the poems. The sestet was my attempt to write something with strong rhyme that isn’t humorous.

Sonnet 14: Formerly
Photo: Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London E1, 2006
• The last poem of the sequence. Traditionally in a sonnet corona, the last poem is constructed of lines from the previous 13 poems, so that’s how the poem was conceived. The lines appear in the order that each poem appears in the book.