When my Mum died in September I felt an intense urgency to work on a poem that I had written the month before. I had to do it, but I was rather concerned about my behaviour, and thought maybe I was avoiding thinking about ‘things’ … but when, and only when I had finished the poem did my sister and I realise that it was what I should read at Mum’s funeral. And so I now feel it was my way of honouring Mum.
Separately, my father died in April. As soon as I knew that he had finally slipped away I went to the computer and read his words that I had filed under “lovely emails”, looked out the birthday poems he’d written for me, the operatic limericks and read from his book Tirade. I spent the afternoon laughing and with him. It was easier, the second time, to give into the voice inside telling me you need to do this, now.
I don’t know how people cope with their own losses, if they are not writers, artists, musicians. I guess they too fall back onto what matters most to them – a long solitary run, making that person’s favourite meal, renaming one of their model trains?
But I do understand why both Christopher Reid, and Rebecca Goss were driven to write..
Christopher Reid’s “A Scattering” was published in 2009 by Arete Books, and has four poetic sequences – the first written during his wife’s final illness in 2004, and the other three at intervals after her death. It was Costa Book Awards’ Book of the Year.. oh and so deserved. It is joyful and heart breaking. It is intensely personal and within its raw truth it is universal.
It is beautifully beautifully written and goes to the places that seem to be taboo to talk about and so are even more important … to know that you are not weird having these thoughts and experiences. It is pared down to the essence in a startling joy in words and strength in feeling. It is a privilege to read
And in fact this is also exactly how I feel about Rebecca Goss’ Her Birth, published in 2013 by Carcanet. In 2007 her first baby was born and immediately diagnosed with a rare and incurable heart condition. Ella died just over sixteen months later. Personally, I chose not to have children – but wow these poems reached inside and squeezed my heart tight – they are joyful and full of life aswell as bitter and desperate.
Death is the one inevitability. Life and death are two sides of the same coin. I feel more whole I must say, from my own experiences this year which is not what I was expecting. And of course, I was lucky – as both my parents were in their eighties and had lived lives to the full.
Some extracts…. I almost haven’t as how do I choose? and anyway the poem is diminished in an extract, and the poem, each poem, sits in the collection, so shouldn’t even be removed from the collection… but here goes anyway !!
from Christopher Reid – A Scattering:
Late home one night, I found
she was not yet home herself.
So I got into bed and waited
under my blanket mound,
until I heard her come in
and hurry upstairs.
My back was to the door.
Without turning round,
I greeted her, but my voice
made only a hollow, parched-throated
k-, k-, k- sound,
which I could not convert into words
and which, anyway, lacked
the force to carry.
Nonplussed, but not distraught,
I listened to her undress,
then sidle along the far side
of our bed and lift the covers,
Of course, I’d forgotten she’d died.
Adjusting my arm for the usual
cuddle and caress,………………………………………..
from Rebecca Goss Her Birth
You’re Lucky You Can Dream About Her
and I haven’t got the nerve
to tell this woman, twenty years
bereft, that I don’t like it. Unlike her
who longs to see the early shape
she held for only hours…………
Days are hard enough, fifteen hours
strewn with her image. In my bed
I want peace. ……………………….
On the wall, petunias,
painted in Walberswick,
I call to you, say
That’s a good omen,
that’s a good sign,
gripping the hospital bed.
Walberswick is where
I holidayed, every childhood
summer. It’s where we announced
the news. Sixteen months
aqfter the effort of her birth,
we collect a faux-walnut
box from Jenkins & Sons.
Inside, a clear sachet,
weightless as dreid herbs.
We drive two hundred
and eighty-one miles
for that cold, unstoppable
wave to suck the sachet clean
and I ask you………………..