Thievery: 7 Pudden Wynd
On Thursdays, I invite my favourite writers to share the inspirations behind their stories. Here’s one from the charming and humble poet Richie McCaffery.
7 Pudden Wynd
When they built the house back in 1892,
someone put a dated stone escutcheon
upside down above the door.
I pass it every day and wonder
what it’s like to live in a house
where time stands on its head.
Behind these mouldering bay windows
strange things must happen daily,
broken vases repairing themselves,
A place where the dead are anything but.
In the kitchen they try to un-bake stale bread.
Nothing is ever lost at this bat-eyed address
and I can’t decide, from the outside
whether it’s a blessing or a curse to never
be able to lose something, or someone.
In Helen Mort’s collection Division Street there’s a small poem called “Sleep” which carries the lines ‘You have / to leave your things outside. / They will be counted, weighed, / put back exactly as they weren’t’. I only came across this poem after my poem “7 Pudden Wynd” had been published, but I feel these lines speak to one of my instincts as a poet seeking inspiration – having an eye for things that have been put there ‘exactly as they weren’t’. They say humans are always trying to see patterns in things – from faces in the forest to what Kevin MacNeil once said of Iain Crichton Smith’s poetry – seeing the pair of spectacles in the wheels of a bike. As a result of this, we must also be on the alert for disruptions, nicks and chinks in seamless garments – and much of my poetry talks about damage, often symbolised by porcelain, pottery, and such.
Some poets (in the case of George Mackay Brown) say you should hunt inspiration down, others (such as Edwin Muir) said you should wait until it strikes – I believe both approaches have their pros and cons. In the case of “7 Pudden Wynd” – the inspiration was of the latter kind. For half a year I worked as a trainee youth worker in Callander, which called for a bus commute from Stirling where I still live. Every day the bus would wind through Doune and we’d reach a street called ‘Pudden Wynd’. After a few boring bus journeys, I started to take in more details until one day I was amazed to notice that one of the houses on the Wynd was dated and that date (in stone) was upside down. I sat on the image for a couple of days and when I put pen to paper, an early version of this poem materialised, albeit longer and with many more ‘inversions’ of the ‘broken vase repairing itself’ kind.
I have chosen to write about the inspiration behind this poem because it is one people have asked me about in the past at readings. I can verify that this upside-down date does exist and is in Doune on Pudden Wynd – although I am not sure of the number of the house. The poem tries to dramatise all of the reasons that struck me then as to why someone would do such a thing – surely no brickie is that careless? It is only after performing this poem that people have offered very good reasons as to the deliberate upside-down-ness of the date – perhaps the prospective tenants of the then new house had an illegitimate child? This strikes me as barbaric, but then we are talking about high Victorian times.
One thing my poem does not do is, having identified something isn’t as it should be, try to offer a definitive answer – the poem only suggests things and revels to an extent in the oddness and mystery of the discovery. The more I write – by either sitting around waiting and reading or by going out into the world – the more I become convinced that inspiration for my poetry comes from the little snags in patterns, the little inconsistencies in conventions, the places where things are chipped or cracked and a possible new link opens up between the past and the present.
‘7 Pudden Wynd’ is from the collection Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012)