There are a myriad of reasons as to why voters chose ‘To the Occupier’ by Beth Booth as the IS&T Pick of the Month for April 2020 which is a tribute to the many layers in this fine poem. Some found it haunting, melancholy, rich with emotion, some identified with the otherness about it or felt it ‘[evoked] a feeling very pertinent to the current situation’ and a few found it spoke to their own experiences of renting and moving, the impermanence of it all. Where voters agreed was on how beautiful the poem is!
Beth lives in Liverpool via Cumbria and is an MFA student at the Manchester Writing School. She won the Miriam Allott poetry prize in 2016, and has poems published or forthcoming in The Moth, Lighthouse, and Orbis.
To the Occupier
I have been leaving ghosts in every house
for six years, which makes six houses –
seven if you count my temporary tenancy
in your affection. Nine houses if you count
the ones I lived in where I had no right to do so.
Arguably eleven houses. Arguably twelve
(they have taken a toll on my ability to count.)
It’s the arguing that’s the problem, though,
isn’t it – if houses are arguable then
how are they homes, how are they anything
other than a cunning place to haunt?
Shrugging off my ghosts like a lizard
done with its skin and its skilful wholeness.
I am ghostliest of all, the spook that
bites the hand that feeds, the ghoul
that has taken up residency somewhere
between the years, waiting for you to move
out, waiting for you to move on, waiting
for the next move to be a checkmate.
I am always checking, lately. Checking
out of this hotel of tendons. Leaving
ghosts on the patio to tenderly haunt you
when I am too far gone to do it myself.
Other voters’ comments included:-
This poem makes me want to read it aloud. The way the words connect with each other through shared vowel sounds. The sussuration of some and the round openness of others. The entire poem feels like a room I want to sit in and examine the details of every corner. Which fits it very well, I suppose. Delicate and fleeting at times, but full-bodied at others – just like the speaker’s experiences.
I feel like I personally understand and relate, and it is beautifully written.
I love how the author manages to capture both numbing isolation and intense emotions in one poem, incredibly moving
Beautiful and haunting
The phrasing really grabs your attention.
It employs a very striking extended metaphor and clever transformation of images in the last two lines (“move out/move on/move to be a checkmate/checking/check out”) which stuck in my mind in a way I didn’t experience with the other poems. I can very much empathise as someone who has also spent six years in six different houses and felt the same ghostlike feeling when moving in or out.
I think this poem is beautiful. It speaks to me of feeling unsettled, both in the body and in the world. It gives me shivers when I read it.
So vivid and really resonates
On so many levels, this poem speaks of haunting. Of the separation of the person into fractals of themselves, their relationships, their timelines, their viewpoints. It is therefore universal and yet intimate, a glimpse into the otherness of self. I love this poem, even though (especially because) it haunts me.
It’s the strangest
This beautiful poem stayed in my mind long after I read it. The poet captured the feelings wonderfully well.
I love the use of vocabulary and mood
Speaks to my experience of leaving parts of myself in the spaces where I was traumatised or healed
It flows so beautifully and gives me chills
wonderfully captures the pathos of the tragic situation
For me it was this one or The Farmer’s Prayer – both touched me on an emotional rather than intellectual level, the way a poem can, sometimes. For me, To the Occupier was more personally relatable, though.
I really liked the melancholy reflections it inspired on life’s passage, its events and memories, and what we leave behind…
As a renter, I like the way it subtly criticises how people are forced to move from place to place.
This transitory existence moving from house to house when you rent is a common experience for many young people, and this captures something of this perfectly.