Passengers are reminded – Melinda Smith – Analysis


Canberra Poets Melinda Smith and Geoff Page at the ACT Writers Christmas Party, Gorman House, Canberra

Closing the year with a post recognizing the outstanding achievement of Canberra poet Melinda Smith who recently took-out a major poetry award – the Prime Ministers Award for Poetry with her book ‘Drag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call’.

Looking at the first poem in that publication ‘Passengers are reminded’… my commentary appears below the text.

Passengers are reminded

The 11.44 Emu Plains service will depart in six minutes … L1
a cigarette butt is stuck to the black spiked heel of my left shoe … L2
L1-2 … the announcement of the imminent departure is synchronised with this passenger noticing that her shoes have spiked a cigarette butt – perhaps implying concern for her dress.
This service is experiencing a slight delay due to a sick customer at Town Hall … L3
in L3 we see that there will be delay … concern for a different passenger on another station
I have been carrying the lilies too long … L4
in L4 the waiting passenger is more concerned about the lilies she is carrying – so there is some urgency in the matter
This service is experiencing continuing delays due to a sick customer at Town Hall … L5
the petal edges fray to bruised brown, like old lettuce … L6
L5-6 extents the situation in each direction greater delay/ greater urgency – reflected in the state of the lilies
Customers wishing to travel on the Western line are advised to proceed to platform twelve … L7
my black stockings are bunched and twisted … L8
L7 appears to be incidental and the waiting passenger is again concerned about her dress this time her twisted stockings in L8
Customers are reminded … L9
The 13.00 funeral service … L10
will commence promptly at the appointed time … L11
whether I am there or not … L12
L9-12, appear to be a thought response back to the platform announcer … the service that she wants to attend is a funeral service – it is something one could easily do while waiting – especially if a little annoyed at the delay – re: ‘whether I am there or not’.
This is the 12.09 Lithgow service … L13
First stop – … L14
Rust-coloured crumbs of lily pollen on my black suit … L15
L13-14 give more incidental train announcements– but the focus is on her dress and the crumbs of lily pollen in L15
– then all stations to – … L16
my mind is still not full enough … L17
L16 – the continuing incidental announcement on the Lithgow service is in the background … to the exasperation of the passenger asking the telling question in L17- my mind is still not full enough– the question being how much longer must she fill her mind with distracting thoughts before the bloody train arrives!
Doors closing. Please stand clear. … L18
L18 – I think this is a very clever three-way closure – closure in the train announcement, closure in what she is saying in her mind-dialogue (L13), and closure to the poem.

Melinda Smith 2013


I love the duality of the interplay between a passenger waiting for a train and the station announcements on the train service. And who has not been in a similar situation. Expecting a train to arrive on time only to be thwarted by continual delay. Well, what do you do while you are waiting … talk with others, go for coffee, look at the station Ads, play with your mobile or just stand in thought … and what you think at the time may not always be poetic if annoyed at having to wait!

In the publication there are gaps of blank lines between lines. I think this is intentional to highlight the waiting situation experienced on the station. In other poems of this nature it is common to differentiate voices using italics or changes in font. By not doing this it adds to the mystery of the station environment and it leaves the poem open to different interpretation. The last line also adds some mystery in that we don’t actually know if this is her train and she is about to enter. But does this really matter? A good poem should always make the reader think.

In that regard others that have reviewed this poem have commented that the poem is a ‘memento mori’  poem – a reminder of death and mortality ‘Passengers are reminded’. Life being a journey. And that we try to fill our mind with other things to avoid thinking about death. This is the reason there are lines with incidental ‘noise’ and why the penultimate line is ‘my mind is still not full enough’ – seeing the waiting woman as one who does not want to think about death and the death of the person. But the final line makes it clear that there is no avoiding the inevitable separation – with every death the doors close and the rest of us just have to stand clear.

I must admit I had not thought of the poem in that light concentrating my focus on her need to be at the funeral and perhaps not being able to say her final good-bye in the company with friends.  But taking this direction it is certainly not her actual train that is moving off and the woman continues to wait – whether or not thinking of her own mortality in the meantime.

A wonderful thought provoking poem to include as the first poem in Melinda’s book.

Here is a link to Melinda’s Blog with more information on this poem …

Your word in my ear ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s