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Peterborough

Recycled cassette is link to a family’s past

  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.

    At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago. Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.

  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby stumbled on a cassette tape with poems Swift Corwin had recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was Corwins neighbor and baby sat his children.

    At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby stumbled on a cassette tape with poems Swift Corwin had recorded over 20 years ago. Selby was Corwins neighbor and baby sat his children.

  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.

    At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago. Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.

  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.
  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby stumbled on a cassette tape with poems Swift Corwin had recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was Corwins neighbor and baby sat his children.
  • At the Mini Mall, Caitlin Selby discovered a cassette tape of Swift Corwin's poetry he recorded over 20 years ago.  Selby was the Corwins neighbor and babysitter around when Corwin made the tape.

Caitlin Selby and her 9-year-old daughter Lucy recently stumbled on a treasure while sifting through used cassette tapes at the Mini Mall, or swap shop at the Peterborough Recycling Center. In between used albums by Wham! and Sting was a tape with a handwritten label, “Poetry – Swift Corwin Jr.” Corwin was Selby’s longtime neighbor, starting all the way back in 1984, when she was just 9. Selby heard Corwin’s poems before when she babysat the Corwins’ children, Lucy and Swifty — the youngest Corwin, Fern, had yet to be born at that point. Corwin used to read his latest poems out loud.

In the Recycling Center parking lot, Selby pushed the tape into her car’s cassette player. At the start of the first track, Selby and her daughter were amused and laughing. But Selby said she and her daughter quickly realized Swift’s words were a lot deeper than just a tape they fished out of the dump.

The Selbys drove around for an hour until they listened all the way through.

Selby next snapped a picture of the ’80s artifact and posted it on Corwin’s Facebook page.

Corwin’s reaction? “No way!” Although he can’t stand to listen to himself on it for more than 30 seconds at a time, it’s like “time traveling,” he said.

“I’m hearing myself when I’m 30 years old.”

Corwin said oftentimes now he has an ethereal vision of himself straddling the two realities, the two time periods that are now linked. He picks up a ringing telephone. He is holding a smartphone to one ear. To the other, he is holding a telephone receiver with a pigtail cable.

Corwin said he started writing poetry around time he and his wife started having children, eventually filling the hour-long cassette with him reading his poetry out loud. The tape became his last Christmas gift to his parents, he said, to give them a window into his family’s life. His father died a few months afterward. His mother eventually moved to RiverMead Retirement Community. Corwin isn’t sure how his recorded poems wound up in a stack of outdated tapes 25 years later.

Tapes have a surprising amount of shelf-life compared to photographs, Corwin said.

“To see where I was at a certain point in my life, how I was with my family, where I was with them, what I was doing,” he said of the tape.

One of Corwin’s favorite poems on that tape is “Mosquitoes.” He relates the annoying, biting insects to having young children.

At the start of the poem, Corwin writes, mosquitoes and children “Under skin to get/Incessant noise to make/To turn an otherwise pleasant season:/summer/Into a trial of patience and self-examination/At night resting/A fitful sleep may be broken by a whine.”

The poem finishes, “Mosquitoes these and children those/These you will never feel guilty slapping/Must I wait for autumn for them to go away?/ I fear when that time comes:

/Summer, I might miss/Mosquitoes and all.”

These days, Corwin’s children are all in their 20’s and out in the world. His oldest daughter lives in Port Townsend, Wash. His son is engaged. And his youngest daughter will be a senior in college this autumn.

“I immediately understood I was going to look back at [the poem] someday,” Corwin said. That was me holding the analog telephone receiver to me now.”

Selby holds another one of Corwin’s recorded poems close to her heart. She said that poem is about Corwin using his hand to spell out his daughter’s name, “L-U-C-Y,” on the peach fuzz of her back. Selby said it’s a poem she heard Corwin recite decades ago.

Selby loved that poem the first time she heard it. “Hearing it 25 or 30 years later,” she said, “was incredible.”

“It was totally differing hearing it now, growing up with my child of my own than when I was 12.”

Selby named her daughter Lucy after Lucy Corwin.

All of this is also special for Selby for another reason.

“The fact that I’ve been connected with this family since I was age 9. It feels like we have a lot of connections. This was just a reinforcer that something out there that is keeping us connected with this family.”

Selby lived next to the Corwins until she left for college. When she was married, she and her husband moved back to Peterborough. They coincidentally bought a house next to the Corwins. The Selbys recently moved a mile away across town. But Selby said her children still have a cousin-like relationship to all three of Corwin’s children.

Selby actually nudged Corwin into writing a poem about this whole series of events. Towards the end of the poem, Corwin quotes Selby, “Inspiration comes from strange places for me/Never when I expect it or even want it.”

Corwin then ends, “But what of the tape?/It sits in my drawer by my socks and his cuff links. I am scared to listen to it/Because it is a first draft,/From a one draft life.”

Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or brosen@ledgertranscript.com.

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