Friday, December 29, 2017

One Word Where Ten Will Do

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 more permanence. 

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
any more
with no more

I sit here
and carry on, though,
doing things
that are enough
in themselves
for themselves
just not enough
for me

one day
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
in husbands:

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
different grief
I didn’t know
I hadn’t done

two years
has been about the ending
bad memories
of your suffering
I couldn’t have done more
but always wondering

now suddenly
here you are
being Mike-ish
loving me
reminding me
of all the good times

two years
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 notice
I feel different
and at first can’t say how

then I realise
the place I’ve been
sometimes indefinable
sometimes indistinguishable
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

no anniversary
or event
no clue
nothing sudden

each of us makes our own journey
through where it is
not the past but not the future
accused once
(behind my back) of
doing it unnaturally fast
yet here I am again
a relatively short time on
coming out the other side
and knowing

this is right.


  1. You write it well. I like parcticularly a different grief, it is one I can relate too.