on 7 June 2014
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………………..
on 5 April 2014
Losing a child must be the worst thing in the world. And, maybe, the only thing that could increase that (for most of us, mercifully) unimaginable pain is the knowledge, virtually from the moment of the child's birth, that her time on Earth will be tragically short. That's what happened to Rebecca Goss and her husband, when their daughter, Ella, was born in 2007. These poems offer a beautifully constructed account of Ella's life, death, and the following years, as her bewildered parents slowly dragged themselves, and each other, from their abyss of grief. In "Stretch Marks", Goss tells of her regret that her swimming and exercising meant that there was no physical reminder of her pregnancy on her own body: deeply visceral emotions that, I suspect, only a mother could understand fully. In "Helpline", she tells of women in their eighties who are still grieving for their lost child ("He would have been sixty"), with the certain knowledge that her own grief will never end.
In 2010, Goss and her husband welcomed another daughter, Molly (thankfully, healthy and perfect). In "Telling The Tale", Goss anticipates the day when she'll tell Molly about the big sister who should be around to play with her - a tale no parent should have to tell, and no child should have to hear: but it'll have to be done. And in "Last Poem" - well, I'll try not to spoil it, but the book ends with such a life-affirming sentiment that I wept tears of joy.
I can honestly say that this little book of poems moved me more than anything else I've ever read. And I hope readers of this review will understand what I mean when I say I wish it had never been written: no-one should have to know what Goss knows, or feel what she's felt. Ella, I never knew you but I miss you, too. Rest in peace, little one.