Graham Burchell’s poem, Envelope, is strong, gentle and unpretentious – all the things it should be to celebrate a sixty year marriage between parents as remembered with affection by a loving son. The ‘envelope’ of the title is both literal and metaphorical. As the son creates the paper ‘envelope’ of the poem, he gives us in four modest, well-balanced stanzas the story of his parents’ lives.
The observations are apposite and exact – the colour of the paper, the style of the handwriting, the way the letter was folded, the value of the stamp. These ‘ordinary’ details are preparing us for the extraordinary one which takes us to the poem’s heart. ‘Like a peck on the cheek,’ the small s that he added after the Mr told the letter writer’s wife ‘that it was for her eyes’ and that she belonged to him.
Graham Burchell works with such a delicate touch that you might miss some of the skill and sensitivity which give this poem its powerful impact. The way the reference to ‘winter sky’ provides, without labour, the idea of lives over or near their end. The idea of words folded into a letter being a ‘secret’ – a secret which the poet respects and feels no impulse to reveal. The quiet insertion of the word ‘young’ to remind us of time passing before we come to the ‘queen’s head.’
Envelope is a meditation on the inscape of a good marriage, giving us not only the lifelong affection of two parents, but the tenderness towards them of their son. I was very pleased to find it on the Cafe Judges’ Commended list.