Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A year of wringing hands (Part 2)

In part one I said that 'Missing the match in McDonald's', while exploring child abuse in the wake of the Jimmy Savile affair, drew on my experience of losing two daughters in a rancorous divorce. Here I want to draw your attention to a few of the other poems in A Limited Season that draw on my own story.

We need turn no further than page 14, to 'Declaration of war'. Notice how most (the middle four couplets) of this tiny poem, which is all one sentence, are a parenthetical aside. Strip down the poem's syntax and you get a very simple statement:

‘Can either of you tell me,’ 
the conciliator said, 
‘when you first noticed 
your marriage was failing?’

This came from several events combined into one painful memory, times when my ex and I came into contact with social workers, counsellors and doctors. Of course, none of them actually said what I wrote in the poem, except by omission. It was the proverbial elephant in the consulting room for a while. And the mortgage advice? Well, we had money troubles too, back then, which no doubt played a part in our break up. But then doesn't every cloud have a silver lining?


And those money troubles once brought me to the edge of madness. (Or mental illness, as we are supposed to refer to it now.) I was twenty-four and I walked into a doctor's surgery to complain of sleeplessness and irritability. I had been working very long hours, I was burdened with debt, my first child was on the way. The doctor asked me in his kindest tone, 'What is the trouble?', and I broke down in tears. I can attest to the efficacy of antidepressants. I didn't go back to work for three months after that, and when I did, it was to hand in my resignation.

Cue the poem 'Maiden flight'. For it was as if I had stepped back from a precipice, from which I had surveyed the abyss. Out of it hope had risen, hard to see from within a rut, but easy when you're staring out into oblivion. It showed me there was freedom in going with the flow, following the currents wherever they lead. Oh, I just realised we're back at faith again. Funny that.

Anyway, the 'take home', as snake oil peddling management consultants call it, is this: antidepressants only address symptoms, the cure for living hell is a life better lived.


One should start, perhaps, with a clear conscience. But I say it would be easier if you could start out carrying in your heart all the pain you caused others in your previous life, metaphorically of course. But just knowing that we start out tainted would make it so much less painful to be good. How much finer it would be to win love than to lose it, and to look at oneself and say 'this does not have to be as it is, I can change me'. There is something in original sin.

Each of the three images portrayed in 'A quantum perspective on splitting the nuclear family' is an real and painful memory. (However, the cat is allegorical. No moggies were drowned in the making of this poem!) 

The beach was in Hastings. We had gone there after the disintegration of my first marriage, my mother having lost her daughter-in-law and lost contact with her grandchildren. The sea was frozen along the shore. It was 1987. A year later, having lost touch with my family, I walked out on someone I loved leaving a note asking her to be gone by the time I returned. And all through everything, my father acted as though I were the perfect son - and how that burned!

And, yes, at times I drank to forget.


The cat, of course, was the one Schrodinger imagined leaving in a box, a cat that theoretically would be both dead and alive until the box was opened. (The title did state it was a quantum perspective - pay attention!) Observant readers will have noted the reappearance of that cat later in A Limited Season. He crops up in my favourite poem in the book, 'Letting the cat out'.

Before I explain my fondness for that poem, let me tell you about the epigram (included on the blog but omitted from A Limited Season). At the weekends I live in a delightful village in Cheshire. A short distance from my village lies the Ellesmere Port Vauxhall car plant (the UK brand of General Motors). In 2012 the plant was threatened with closure, and for several months no one knew if it would survive. It was completely out of everyone in the UK's hands - the management, the unions, the politicians. Everyone waited for a decision from Detroit. And meanwhile - you guessed it! - the plant was both dead and alive. Here, pussy!

I'm almost as fond of that cat as I am of this poem. I'm always much happier that the cat survives.

As I said, 'Letting the cat out' is one of my favourite poems. It ticks several boxes for me. First, it is a sonnet, and I am a sucker for sonnets. You only have to count up the fourteen-liners in A Limited Season to know that: there are - wait for it - fourteen of them (and I'm not going to claim that was an accident!). Second, it is so visceral. Can't you just feel - and hear - that 'slurping birthing squelch' as the box is brought up? Third, it is full of unobtrusive rhymes (my favourite being 'we rubbed oil of cloves / under our noses'. Finally, just read it aloud - savour its texture, its rhythms, its melody! Okay, so I sound like a comedian laughing at his own joke, but if I can't love my poems, can I really expect you to?