Tag Archives: Memoir

W G Sebald – poem

This week it is 20 years since the writer W G (Max) Sebald died, aged 57.
Propolis, the publishing arm of Norwich-based The Book Hive, published Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W G Sebald (2014). This memoir was written by Philippa Comber. She met Sebald in 1981 in Norwich where they both lived. They hit it off and became friends.


Philippa and I met in Manchester late 2004 at a series of poetry workshops and we hit it off too: both practising psychotherapists with several shared interests. I remember Philippa telling me she was planning a visit to the German museum dedicated to Sebald to read the letters that she had sent him over the years.


Sebald died in a road-traffic accident near Norwich. According to the coroner’s report, he had died of a heart attack before colliding with a lorry. Memory, loss of memory, decay, exile are the main themes of his books with their unique blend of fact, recollection, and fiction.

Knowing and not knowing

I know I mustn’t eat grapefruit as it interferes
with the effect of the medication. I don’t need to know
the Table of Chemical Elements, though I do know
that a few elements have recently been added and
Rutherfordium is one of them.

I know and remember the view of the Wash and the silver
ribbon of the Broads as the plane turns. I don’t know
the names of narrowboats and yachts, but I do know
that the beach huts in Wells-next-the-Sea are on stilts.

I know someone who was a good friend of W G Sebald
and that her letters to Max are archived in a museum
near Stuttgart. I know where I was when I heard on
the radio that Sebald had died: the A17 heading for Norwich,
just before a round-about.

Shoes and siblings

The Garsdale Retreat

This week I’ve been on a writing course at the Garsdale Retreat: Memoir/Life Writing. It was an intense four days with tutor Cathy Rentzenbrink. She wrote a successful memoir The Last Act of Love and has published two books since. Of course, we were meeting via Zoom. Rebecca emailed us recipes to make up for the fact we would not be eating her delicious, home cooking. There was an afternoon chatroom option, but it could never replace Rebecca’s home-made cake!


One way to elicit memories for a memoir is to think of objects. I’ve read exercises about shoes, seen a tutor on another workshop bring in her first shoes. I have no memories of the shoes I wore as a child, but I have fond memories of the green shoes with three tiers – glamorous and comfortable – I wore that year when I was doing my MA at Sheffield University.


I do recall the astonishing poem My Shoes by Charles Simic. It starts:

Shoes, secret face of my inner life:
Two gaping toothless mouths,
Two partly decomposed animal skins
Smelling of mice-nests.

There are four more stanzas, with a surprise in the second stanza – two dead siblings.

Last year at Garsdale, I was delighted to find that another woman on the course was wearing identical boots! Briefly, I felt like I had a twin sister …