At Risk, Diana Cant
Dempsey & Windle, 2021 £8.00
Drawing on her work as a child psychotherapist, Diana Cant gives us twenty-four poems, thirteen of which are supported by footnotes. This is where the statistics come in. A poem in the voice of (or about) a young person trying to manage, say, dyslexia or an eating disorder, tells an individual story. Poet (and reader) focus, rightly, on that unique voice.
Each voice, however, is part of a wider social context and is speaking up for those with similar need for support. Under ‘Playground’, it’s salutary — and horrifying — to be told that 42% of children aged 10-15 years in England and Wales experienced some form of bullying in the year ending March 2020, and that 17% of those experienced cyber-bullying.
In the footnote below ‘The Art of Disappearance’, we learn that hospital admissions for eating disorders rose by 37% between 2018 and 2019.
These aren’t figures that would sit easily within poems, where the language focuses on the complex emotions (surface and buried) of young people. ‘The Art of Disappearance’ shows the outward appearance of an individual —
Her body is the theatre
of a many-frontiered war,
her parents’ battles etched
deep beneath her flesh before
she put her body armour on.
War and the wreckage from battles make a powerful image. The girl observed is deeply scarred. Survival has required her to create her own ‘body armour’.
What does this ‘armour’ look like? We’re not told. It’s best left to the reader’s imagination. Incorporating statistics at this point would only distract. That necessary footnote, however, reinforces the pain within the image, not just for this girl but for all the others in the 37%.
Not every poem needs a foundation of statistics, however. The opening poem, ‘Archaeology of Loss’, is about the methodology of uncovering pain —
We must go gently
for every sinew sings of pain
and every tendon tenses
to the pulse of blood long stilled.
The central image in this first poem — the gentle revealing by the archaeologist’s trowel — prepares readers for the pain behind the statistics that will be footnoted as the collection unfolds.
D A Prince