by Gillian Clarke
Q What's the poem about?
A Why did my beautiful baby have to become a teenager! At least, I think that's what it's about.
Q What is 'the tight red rope of love'?
A The umbilical cord.
Q So what's 'that old rope'
A The invisible umbilical cord that ties parents and children even when children grow up. I was also thinking of the image of a boat tied to a harbour wall. The rope is hidden. The boat looks as if it's free, but it isn't.
Q Couldn't it be the tug of war between teenager and parent?
A Brilliant! I hadn't thought of that. It proves that if you bring your personal experience to a poem you find ever deeper layers of meaning in the words.
Q Or about letting your child go?
A Even more brilliant.
Q In the last lines is an image of the daughter asking to 'skate in the dark for one more hour'. Isn't that the baby in the womb wanting to 'skate in the dark' one more hour before being born?
A A beautiful, amazing question! You've seen something I didn't see when I wrote the poem. It proves that poems are not carved in stone. Interpretations change as the world changes. When Catrin was born they didn't scan babies in the womb. Now we all know what a baby in the womb looks like, so your question gives the words new meaning. Nobody can stop you reading a poem in your own way, thank goodness.
Q So what did you mean by skating in the dark?
A Just that! Children asking if they could stay out in the street skating as darkness fell. I chose the request as an example of the sort of thing children want to do that mothers refuse. I chose it because it was a romantic, poetic request, and I wanted something that showed it is beautiful and dangerous to be young.
Q Doesn't 'in the dark' mean the mother and daughter have yet to explore their relationship?
A Another one I hadn't thought of. Of course you're right. The language proves it - 'in the dark' means not knowing something.
Q What is 'the glass tank'?
A The hospital.
Q Do the changing traffic lights symbolise the progress of labour and changing relationships?
A Another clever idea I hadn't thought of. I thought I was describing ordinary life going on in the city while inside the hospital momentous events were happening in people's lives.
Q What do you think about students analysing your poems and finding meanings you didn't intend?
A I'm grateful to you for reading them and for revealing to me what you find. Poets write instinctively, and don't always see every possible meaning in the words they choose. If you find something, and prove it with quotations, then it's there, and you're right, and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
Q Could 'that old rope' suggest the chains of DNA handed down from mother to daughter?
A It certainly could. When the poem was written the genetic map had not yet been written, nor had the method of identifying people from their DNA been used. This proves that poetry and language move on, and new meanings can be found.