Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two Stones, One Song

I have been down with a cold that is not sure precisely in what form it wishes to manifest and is capricious. Should it settle in the head for a while? Yes, but then maybe no, it fancies the throat and chest, then gets bored goes back up for a bit, can’t settle and decides finally to home in on the larynx. It’s very odd when you open your mouth and nothing comes out – as though someone had turned the volume down to zero. Calling from the bedroom of Mount Everest to the kitchen of the valleys below for a peppermint tea produced not so much as a squeak, and in any case the Other Half is also down with it and had his head in a bowl of eucalyptus steam.

At a poetry conference yesterday my voice had recovered sufficiently to read a couple of poems and it was perhaps fitting that they should have been read in a voice that was broken and cracking because they were grief poems. Reading in public gives an opportunity to really “hear” one’s work. I don’t feel, as some do, that a poem only really comes alive when it is spoken; some poems work best within the intimate one-to-one connection of reader and page. But some poems do reveal themselves most substantially on being read aloud, so I usually welcome the opportunity. It was also the way for me to mark a kind of closure, or the beginning of such.

A few years ago I lost two fathers. I think it was Lady Bracknell who remarked that to lose one parent was unfortunate but losing two suggested carelessness. Call me careless then, especially as both were precious beyond reckoning. The first, my stepfather, was lost because he cut himself off, without warning, from everyone he knew, at the insistence of a much younger woman who had a form of paranoia and upon whom he had come to depend. The story is complicated, my grief also. He had only, in fact, been my stepfather for about five years, but so essential, so necessary was the bond between us (to me at any rate), that I continued to refer to him as stepfather and he to me as stepdaughter, and I compromised the already difficult relationship that existed between me and my mother.

The second, my natural father, was lost because, as I’ve written before, he died in hospital after a stroke. But I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
The poems that came after my father’s death poured out like song, the only one I really wanted to sing, something pure after the broken language that followed the iron curtain cut-off from my stepfather. I thought the “singing would never be done” – but realised, three years after his death, that I had probably written the last one; that there may be more poems, but this particular song had ended; I had, as they say, “moved on.” It took the fragments of Sappho to lend me a form in which to swansong the ending of a relationship to the other father, still living but dead to any that love him. I didn’t set out to do this. I don’t do poetry as therapy (if it happens to be so, it’s secondary). But when I’d written it I saw that it was good and it was the end. And yesterday I read the poem, it was received and something in and beyond it is completed

7 comments:

Anna MR said...

Signs, my dear - where can I find your poetry so I could read it?

Lovely post, by the way - although "lovely" (or indeed any other single evaluative word) is a silly choice of phrase when commenting on something as personal and open as what you have here written.

Warmth from the North in your direction...x

The Moon Topples said...

I, too, have a cold which keeps changing addresses. Hope you feel better soon.

I am glad your poetry seems to have been received well. It sounds like the kind which uses your whole heart to create.

Still love your words...

Reading the Signs said...

Hi anna - it's a bit here and there, when my grand collection is published I'll probably blow a trumpet.

I think it's fine to say what you did about a post that presents the personal (of course I might feel differently if you had said what a rubbish post it was) - there is a difference, I think, between the personal and the confessional (a fine line perhaps), though the latter is ok too but not, I feel, what this is. Though it is open, yes, and for this reason Warmth from the North particularly appreciated. And today is the most miserable of Bank holidays you can imagine.

Mr. Moon, it is that kind of poetry, yes. Sometimes nothing else will do.

And thank you for your words.

nmj said...

hey signs, yup, these cold viruses just move in, it's an illegal occupation, and just not on! i think voices croaky with the cold are sexy . . . i find the stuff with your step-dad too too sad, how do you bear it?

Reading the Signs said...

I don't know, nmj - it's taken over four years to get a distance and feel (remarkably) accepting of it.

I've stopped sounding sexy now and just have the headaches, always the last of the occupiers to go.

goodthomas said...

You write so beautifully, even when writing about writing. I am with anna mr, and I would love love love to read your poetry, though I guess we must all wait for the publishers to do their bit.

I am very happy for you that you felt a sense of completeness, that your poem was in a good place. That you felt it rose to your emotions, that it measured the moments. And I smile here across the pond knowing that your voice held out, that the sound of your own voice marked a transition in the poem.

I am happy for you, Signs. And I love, love, love the Lady Bracknell quote, "To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness."

Reading the Signs said...

Thank you goodthomas, lovely to see you - and I have just been over to yours and read your poem. I am trying to be more organised about sending work off with the idea of (at some point) having a collection.