In terms of poetry, I’ve decided that I really like contemporary poems because of their potential to swear or to talk about things that a. most people don’t want to read about in the first place and b. you wouldn’t usually think belonged in poetry. Both of these things are utilized in Tamar Yoseloff’s book of poetry Formerly with the companion photographs by Vici Macdonald. I absolutely love the relation between photographs and poetry and the accompanying location guide is definitely helpful when understanding the inspiration behind both mediums.
“Inch & Co Cash Chemists” is a poem about “a character emerged who is on the fringes of society, a ghost to match the ghost sign and a woman who is working for his redemption.” (Yoseloff’s explanation) When I tried to discover exactly what a cash chemist was, I was brought to the same result over and over platformed through different websites: Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists. This was a case which brought about what we know a pharmaceutical aisle in a grocery store to be now: customers can pick which medicines they want from a shelf (only certain ones, some still had/have to be monitored) and purchase them at the till. Before this, all medicines were behind the counter and required a pharmacist to handle them. So while this is definitely interesting, it doesn’t really help me. According to Vici Macdonald in the accompanying guide, a cash chemist was one who didn’t accept credit and rather wanted cash from his customers (which was a way to cut prices).
I like this poem because it is about downfall. Now before everyone believes I am a full-fledged pessimist who enjoys other people’s pain, let me explain. There is a necessity for downfall before a person can pick themselves back up. So, yes, this poem encapsulates downfall, but, in the very end, there is hope. As Yoseloff explained, this is a man on the fringe of society and a woman who comes in as his redemption, his hope. Now while I feel generally negative things towards the pharmaceutical industry, I will say that these cash chemists probably provided that kind of hope to people who felt their ailments couldn’t be cured. So maybe the person talking in the very last stanza Me, I’m chaste, I’m sane./ I am his chain, his match is this cash chemist personified, trying to help. The accompanying photograph is hauntingly beautiful in that it reflects a ghost sign, one that was once there, and now all that’s left is its silhouette, its impression.
Another poem (the one on the next page, actually) that spoke to me was “X-Zalia Night Cure” and I like this one because it kind of fits with “Inch & Co Cash Chemists”. It is yet another ghost sign, a reminder of the past.
This poem, I believe is the opposite of the last one. While “Inch & Co Cash Chemists” have a kind of hopeful gleam into pharmaceutical company, I think this is its terrifying realism. This “cure” is for anything “from cuts, wounds, bruises” to “hives, shingles, diarrhoea.” We live in a society of wanting quick fixes and immediate gratification. There can’t really be something that cures all of these ailments and if there is, imagine the kind of chemicals we’re putting in our bodies with it. Follow the instructions on the label:/ Just one dose to heal what ails you. I believe this poem is a satirical reflection on the idea that one dose of something will heal anything that might ail a person and that people will use it because they want that immediate gratification. As Yoseloff stated in her commentary, “…this also parodies the paranoid list of possible ailments, and the overconfidence of the ad-speak voice.”
I think it reflects on “Mapping Englishness” because these are images from all over London, places that used to be something else in their former glory. As mentioned in my post about Patience’s Agbabi’s “The London Eye”, we have to appreciate the rich history of London when thinking about Englishness because it plays such a vital role in the city’s representation of itself. History is London. And it’s important to recognize this when analyzing where a poet and/or photographer get their inspiration from.
Here is a video of Yoseloff reciting “Inch & Co Cash Chemists” at the Formerly exhibition at the Saison Poetry Library, Southbank Centre, London on 10 December 2012.
[Also, the link to the official Formerly blog.]