This week’s writing exercise invites readers to write about the journey of a significant object or personal family heirloom, using Caroline Smith’s poem “Lime Tree Honey” as an inspiration or starting off point. Let’s take a look at the poem:
Lime Tree Honey
The regulation for citizenship demands proof that
an applicant was in the UK exactly five years before
the date of application.
All she had brought with her
from that other life in the DDR
was a dill pickle jar filled with honey
made by his bees, from trees
in the Unter den Linden.
It would remain unopened,
a jar of time that could not change
but that preserved one day in their life together
as she had decided to remember it.
The honey held the burnished light
of an early morning leaving East Berlin
to take the swarm to the countryside
to pollinate an orchard.
It held the cobbled roads of the hamlets
they had meandered through:
the scent of flowering beans
through the open windows,
stalks of chaff that blew round the car,
the back of the old hatchback
bumping and scraping low behind them
with the packed hives, shifting –
and the restless hum of the bees.
In the shock that had enveloped her
after the release of her file
and the discovery of her husband’s
meticulous notes on her life,
she had searched back
as she prepared to leave Germany
for signs of his affection –
some drop of sweetness
she could extract from those years.
When writing your poem consider the objects journey, and your journey in relation to the object. How does the object develop in line with your own journey? What is the significance of the object to you? What made you choose it? What gives your object an ethereal quality? What does your object tell you about your past and present?
“How does the object develop in line with your own journey? What is the significance of the object to you?”
Caroline Smith on Lime Tree Honey
“Initially the poem contained the subtitle. It was one of the first poems I wrote in the sequence and 4 years later I removed the subtitle from the body of the poem. I was interested in this requirement by the Home Office. Many people who claim asylum flee with no documents, some want to erase their past lives. They don’t keep records and then suddenly they find they need proof. This developed into the question of – how we can ever know what will be important in the future, what evidence do we need to save now? The poem expands into thinking about how we actually remember the past.
I set the poem in the time before the wall came down in East Berlin. I was friends with a German poet whose wife was an East German dissident. I stayed in their apartment once – they weren’t there, but had left their key for me. I arrived late at night and it was completely empty and silent. On the kitchen table he’d left a huge jar of Lime Tree honey for us which he’d collected from his bees. There was a cold despair in the house that was quite tangible. Years later I read that he had been a Stasi informant on his wife. These were the elements that inspired my poem.
Incidentally, the honey lasted for ages and we called it the ‘Stasi honey’.”
“…how (can) we ever know what will be important in the future, what evidence do we need to save now? The poem expands into thinking about how we actually remember the past.”Caroline Smith
To read more from Caroline Smith discussing her work, please check out our interview by clicking the following link (to be added)
Caroline Smith was born in Ilford and grew up in Hertfordshire. She originally trained as a sculptor at Goldsmith’s College. Her first publication was a long narrative poem ‘Edith’ about a Lancashire-born woman who works as a nanny in Glasgow., but is haunted by a secret from her pre-war life. Smith’s first full collection The Thistles of The Hesperides, is about the community of West Pilton in Scotland where she lived in the 1980s when it was one of the most deprived housing estates in Europe. Published widely in journals, she has twice received prizes in The Troubadour Poetry Competition. Smith has had work set to music, broadcast on the BBC and is also the author of a musical play, The Bedseller’s Tale, that was performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Her latest collection The Immigration Handbook is published by Seren. She lives in Wembley with her family.