What follows is essentially an article which was recently published in a national magazine. If you follow this blog, you'll have read the poems before but the text was written specially.
One word where ten will do
A personal exploration of the
value of poetry in grieving
“I wasn’t sure if you would want this”
tentative gift of a book
of poems ‘of grief and healing’.
“I seem to remember you like poetry.”
I do, and I like poems about hard things
so eventually I read the book
and start to write my own poems again.
This was the first poem I wrote after the death of my second
husband and marked the start of a burst of poetry writing. I like to write, both poetry and prose, but
don’t do it often. I’m a bit of a talker
as well so perhaps I only write when saying something is not enough and I want
My most notable piece of prose was an article entitled “It’s
Your Funeral” after the death of my first husband in 1991. Back then many people were completely unaware
that you can have whatever kind of funeral you like and I wanted to spread the
word. It was satisfying writing it (and
even more satisfying having it published!) but still, even with rigorous
editing, prose can just take too long and sometimes the things you really want
to say get lost.
My first husband was a writer (and teacher) who wrote
wonderful poetry and during the eighteen months he was ill with leukaemia we
both wrote poems about our experience.
After he died I tried getting the collection published but was
unsuccessful, so I printed some out and had them spiral bound. I sent a copy to each of the hospital
departments who had treated him and without exception they were pleased to
receive them. The haematology consultant
said she was going to encourage all new staff on the ward to read them before
they started working there. I felt I had
done something worthwhile.
Then just over twenty years since that first major
bereavement I suffered three in a row: two of my closest friends and finally my
second husband. I learned that all
bereavements are both different and the same and after a period of not writing
very much, I began to write poems again.
This time there were plenty of opportunities to publish on social media
and the immediacy meant that I received instant feedback too. One friend in particular, whose husband had
died a few years earlier, commented that she wished she had felt able to speak
out as I did and that she was very grateful for the chance to read my work. I’m not trying to force people into reading,
but it’s my experience that they’re often glad of the opportunity being put in
front of them rather than somewhere they can avoid. You can do that quite easily with a poem.
Poetry doesn’t take long to read. It either moves you or it doesn’t but if it’s
any good, it contains everything it needs to, condensed into a few words. How many of you would pick up a book on bereavement? You’re reading this article, though, and the
poems it contains, although some people may find the poems painful.
Poetry is also good for the writer, certainly in the case of
bereavement. It helps to clarify things
and because it’s short, you need to get to the point. A number of times I thought “I can’t write
that, it’s too awful” but I carried on because bereavement is awful. If you’re going to write about it, you may as
well say so.
Poetry doesn’t take grief away, nor would it be valuable if
it did. Its contribution to the grieving
process is more by way of a focus. I
often start writing when I have a bunch of feelings I don’t understand and
through the writing the meaning soon becomes apparent. If it’s a good poem someone else may read it
and think “That’s what I feel!”
I write for me but I also write for others to read and
choosing the poems to include here was difficult. The selection that follows briefly charts
three years’ progress. In spite of the
last poem, I know the process isn’t complete because I’m not sure it ever is. If you have got something out of reading
these poems and would like to read more, or if you would like to comment, I
would be pleased to hear from you.
nothing is enough
nothing is enough
with no more
I sit here
and carry on, though,
that are enough
just not enough
there will be things
that are enough
I know that
the knowing means
I can survive
this time when
nothing is enough
So often I’ve talked of my specialism
Mikes, born late summer 1942.
Red beards, ex-teachers because of stress
Divorced, two children:
an older daughter with red hair,
a dark-haired son born in ‘77.
And now another thing they share:
Dead, leaving me behind.
a different grief
and now unexpectedly
I didn’t know
I hadn’t done
has been about the ending
of your suffering
I couldn’t have done more
but always wondering
here you are
of all the good times
after your funeral
now I am suddenly
reconnected with the real you
able to miss you
at your best
and not the worst
of those final months
Coming out the other side
I feel different
and at first can’t say how
then I realise
the place I’ve been
from the outside world
yet when you’re in it
so clearly existing
behind a force field
through which you cannot break
not where I am
each of us makes our own journey
through where it is
not the past but not the future
(behind my back) of
doing it unnaturally fast
yet here I am again
a relatively short time on
coming out the other side
this is right.