I Dreamt That

Selling your home starts off with a string of polite but probing visits from estate agents. Each one feigns a level of interest in your life that is only as deep as the Best Price Guide tucked under their arm. This comparison of similar properties in the area is the ‘calculator’ used to arrive at a sale price for your own property, and most importantly, for the agent’s subsequent fee. It’s completely unscientific, unadjusted for variables like taste and style, and is in essence, a best guess. You could do the same thing in less than a minute online but then you’d also have to talk the talk and convince yourself to take your own advice.

I recently had four valuation visits in one day; four men in loosely-slung ties arrived in succession with their crisp print-outs and sweaty socks (I made them take their shoes off but this left a snail trail on the shiny flooring). Each ‘Senior’ Valuer glanced briefly at the rooms and then spent the rest of the hour brandishing brochures and data sheets to persuade me that their agency was the only real player in town. Their visit was not for them to evaluate my flat since they’d done this before arriving; it was for me to listen to their marketing spiel. There was nothing personal or customised about the experience and I felt pretty ‘Doh!” afterwards for inviting them in.

Around the same time, I received a stray text from a poet who I first met eleven or so years ago: Lemn Sissay was then Artist-in-Residence at the South Bank Centre. He’s now Chancellor of Manchester University where no doubt his gift for imbuing people with self-confidence is still giving; his previous willingness to meet and advise me - a complete stranger clutching her file of simpleton poems - was typical of his generosity. He read my work carefully, asked questions, encouraged me and suggested getting some regular, formalised feedback because, he warned, relying solely on a partner for a balanced critique would end badly. (Mine was a comedian whose disappointment in my poems’ lack of punch lines proved the point.) Following a few terms at the Poetry School, I moved on to a master's at UEA - all that criticism was very good at showing me how not to write and what to aspire to.

Back to the text - it was actually meant for another Jackie, but its arrival somehow combined the sender with the estate agents in my mind, and I slept on the mix. I wrote up the resulting dream as a poem, a playful homage to Lemn Sissay’s positivity, and his rhythmic, alliterative style:

I Dreamt That Lemn Sissay Was My Estate Agent

He came in clouds

and the grey skies broke

across his smile.

He came without paper or pen,

preferring to memorise all that he felt,

the melting of rooms into words

and the words into worlds

where the reader might live.

He pulled in the corners,

he let all the skirting boards speak,

asserting the power of edges,

the joy of collision,

and made the decision

that photographs paint an elision

while speech gives the reader

the paintbrush to tell their own tale.

He needed no measure.

Pacing the spaces,

the span of the garden,

was his speciality -

most of the rooms were

two Lemns and a half -

he swapped them;

unlocked every shape

so the floorplan coul­­d flex

and the angles became

Mother Hubbardly,

no longer stubbornly regular.

He showed me a secret.

Even a windowless bathroom

can offer love:

switch on the light, feel its radiance

warm you as if for the very first time

and the people will open their

mouths in an ‘o’,

and the people will know

they are home.