Signpost Eight: ‘Summer with Monika’, Roger McGough

“Write a sequence?” Suggested my wonderful poetry mentor. I’m thinking of writing a Coronation Street-style sequence based on my street. Meanwhile, though, here’s a sequence and a half, the adorable and famous ‘Summer with Monika’, by the equally adorable and famous Roger McGough.

Of course, lots has already been said about Roger McGough and his poetry and that is all beyond the scope of this blog. ‘My Signpost Poems’ exists to help you find inspiration to write your own poems. ‘Summer with Monika’ is teeming with ideas!

My copy of ‘Summer with Monika’ was published by Penguin Books in 1990


Here it is, being read by the man himself on Youtube. It’s over 8 minutes long, but so very worth listening to:

To start, ‘Summer with Monika’ was a fairly racy (for the time) Swedish film from 1953, directed by Ingmar Bergman. The film was based on a novel of the same title from 1951. The book inspired the film and the film – possibly – inspired the poem. It hadn’t occurred to me before to look for poem inspiration from book and/or film titles, but I will now.

The language in this poem is beautifully simple and clear. In the first section, he shows how the lovers’ home becomes a whole world, as they are too involved with love-making to go out:

“otherdays we went for long walks
around the table
and picknicked on the banks
of the settee”

The delightful images of the “shilling set[ting] on the horizon” and the milk bottles as carol singers are probably a little dated now, but what I love about this imagery is that McGough takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. Have a look about you now and see if there are any objects you could make extraordinary. I’m in bed. My bed could be a magic carpet, the chest of drawers could be Pandora’s box, the fireplace could be a portal to a different universe…

Section 5:  “when the moon is waiting / for the first bus home / and birds assemble / for morning prayers”. Section 8: such love / as makes unhappiness / appear to have mislaid our address” . There is so much magic in this poem!

The poem begins to change in tone, as the relationship described changes; Section 14; “..our littletown / waiting for the sun /screaming with dull pain / to rise like a spark / from a crematorium chimney”. The poem takes us through the boredom, paranoia and jealousy of the relationship: Section 21, “our love is like a kitten in a well / the death of something young and softlywarm”;  Section 23, “when you wear your marriage face / boredom lounges round the place”; Section 40, “…there’s a strange man under the table / wearing only a shirt.”

A poem must have movement. It must have a crescendo. This would be dull and inconsequential if it simply rambled on about how much the characters were in love with each other. The movement through the different phases of the relationship make it a real page-turner and the ending is exciting in its mundanity: “our love has become as comfortable as the jeans you loung about in …. As nice as a cup of tea in bed”. Phew; I’m so glad they didn’t split up!

To conclude, the inspiration we can draw from ‘Summer with Monika’ is of finding ideas in book and film titles, looking at ordinary things and making them extraordinary and ensuring our poems have movement in their tone and/or story and/or ideas.

P.S. This is signpost Eight. Eight! If somone doesn’t comment that they have been inspired to write a poem as a result of reading my blog soon, I’m going to have to eat my hat, or whatever it was I said I’d do…