How it will happen, Lisa Blackwell
Maytree Press, 2022 £8.00
What happens when a poet writes about personal experience using ‘you’ instead of ‘I’? There’s no escape from ‘you’ in these sixteen prose poems which take you (the reader, that is) through the poet’s life, from age four onwards. In the early poems, age is significant, right there at the start of each piece —
It is your parents’ wedding day. You are four years old. [‘Confetti’]
You are thirteen. [‘Green custard’]
You are almost ten years old, an early developer. [‘Stick insect’]
It’s like being prodded by a determined finger: you, you, you. Yes, this is about the poet but it’s also pushing out into your space, your memories. My memories. I’ve never had a stick insect but that’s not what ‘Stick insect’ is about: it’s about developing breasts, about men and boys and what to do with strange new feelings. That resonates with me.
When the narrator is twenty-six, her chronological age vanishes from the poems. But the life-experiences are still presented from the perspective of ‘you’: marriage, death of a close friend, childbirth, funerals, a mix of incidents in a larger life. These are events most of us have known in some way. We recognise the emotions (often painful) that drive the poems.
Would these poems have had the same impact if Blackwell opted for ‘I’? The ‘you’ has the effect of distancing her from anecdote; it’s as though she’s an objective observer, watching how ‘you’ react in the real world. This, and the edge-of-seat use of the present tense, draw me — her reader — in more closely, to share her remembered experience.
The following quotation is from ‘How it will happen’, the title poem and nine-part sequence on a friend’s death, after hearing the news at work —
You go home on the train. Out of the window the
black bare tree branches reach their very nerve
endings into the greying sky. And you read and take
your blank self someplace else and almost miss your
train stop and have to rush out of the door as it’s
The consistency of ‘you’ holds me to each page, to the whole pamphlet. It’s compelling in its insistence. It’s disturbing. It’s good.