Kshanti, Wendy Stern
Poetry Space Ltd, 2015 £5.00
Do you need some author bio to appreciate these poems?
The late Wendy Stern was too ill to use pen or laptop; unable to see text or edit visually. She dictated her poems and edited by ear. Not as slowly, I think, as Jean-Dominique Bauby, who dictated by blinking, but still with the same sort of measure of effort. These words did not come lightly.
Do you need to know this when you come to the poems? It’s hard to say. I did know before I began, and it informed the experience and lent a sort of awe to the process of reading. I knew this poet was not being melodramatic when she said
This woman’s pain
And let her
Throw herself towards your feet
In fear or despair
The work is a series of communications from a place you hope never to reach. Her expression is plain, but it has depth. I read some poems over and over, trying to feel my way through their different layers of meaning. Wendy was a practising Buddhist, and some of these pieces are meditations, carefully paced and profound.
I found the production values of the pamphlet less than ideal, and as an editor I should like to have talked to her about capitalisation and punctuation. But the heart of the work itself – is humbling. What would you write in this situation? How would you write it? No poetic artifice here, just hard-won insights, and a demonstration of how important poetry can be.
We inhabit a human body. Most of the time we forget about it because it works. It types. It reads. It races up and downstairs. And then it doesn’t, although we’re still inside it. But from that situation, and even partly because of that situation, something of beauty can be made.
I put down my pen,
Turn off the lamp,
And leave my desk.
(I never did understand the word ‘muse’,
Nor was I one who could use it)
And I take the wooden way,
Up to the room,
Without warmth or detail.
Most of Wendy Stern’s poems can be accessed on the author’s website, her legacy to the world. They display well there. It is a good website, and will make you welcome.