Monday, 14 October 2019

Some thoughts on loss

It's always fascinating to me how one thing can spark off another - how you read one thing and it makes you think of another and then that leads to another and so on...

In the latest issue of Poetry Review there's an article by Rebecca Goss which tells her story of how the loss of her baby daughter led to her poetry collection and how the work itself and her performing the poetry affected her grieving process. It's a moving and striking account. It made me think about my own poetry, and also about the effect of making your poetry public.

A great deal of what I write is about loss - the loss of people I've loved, the loss of relationships, health, the life I used to have, the anticipation of loss, the inevitability of it. It's a common enough theme for poets, but handled in so many different ways - and with different effects. When the poem is no longer just in front of you, but out in the world, what effect does it have on others, and how does that affect you?

I scribbled in the margins of the article: 'sometimes you need someone to put an arm round your shoulder and take you home' - and I thought poetry can sometimes give you that.

Helen Dunmore's last poems, written when she had received her terminal diagnosis, reminded me of someone close to me who, while having to deal with her own pain and her feelings about her imminent death, managed to extend an arm to others to help them deal with it too.

I thought too, of this, from 'The Hours' by Michael Cunningham:

'There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there where our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined...' 

(I should, perhaps, say that the rest of that particular passage is a lot less positive.)

In Dunmore's poems, and In those of so many others - Mary Oliver, Elaine Feinstein, Hugo Williams - to just randomly name a few I have been reading recently - the pain is not hidden, the loss is not denied, but there are moments that are conjured  - those 'hours' where life seems to burst open - that offer consolation.

These may seem, or even be, little things - which reminded me in turn of a line I remembered from a poem from long ago :

'A man whose life was made of little things that mattered.'

I then spent ages trying to find the poem. It's actually from 'These are facts' by Ruthven Todd - and is an incredibly powerful poem - angry, and not at all designed to console. But the line had stuck in my head (actually for over 40 years, as the book I finally found it in was one I had at university), because of the importance of those 'little things'.

One other thought I had. We do the best we can to deal with loss, and indeed to deal with life. And at the end, we want people to know that, I think - to know we did our best.

Elaine Feinstein: 'forgive me, I did all I could'.

Sorry if that's not totally coherent - just a few sparks perhaps.

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