Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Words for grief

How do we write about grief? Or rather, in its immediate wake? And where does a lifelong love of poetry leave us then? This short collection is a moving reflection on these things. How grief changes everything (to a different key) but can also render us wordless. The resultant soft, self-doubting poems are themselves delicate elegies.

The opening poem, ‘The Rebuke’, is in two halves. The first half describes life up till now — a musical delight in language running in tandem to the everyday:

Driven by language, as a pianist
By the sight of ivories, and restless
When not at the keyboard
Improvising word after word
To discover myself

The second half, ‘In bereavement’s wake’, describes a new and different state: one of drifting, as he characterises it, ‘From one false start to another’; the rebuke being, in part, ‘that such wordiness / Should seek for reassurance’.

‘A Premonition’ talks about ‘wordlessness’ — where words fail, or are inadequate? Or maybe just the hubbub of their habit to make-sense breaks down? Music is a better consolation: ‘a wordlessness which mends’.

Let birdsong,
Risen above all incidental sounds,
Leave its crescendo with the living
As music is a wordlessness which mends.

Why do words fail him? He also weighs ambivalence, or guilt perhaps, around putting loss into words: ‘Hacked’ is a strong exploration around this. ‘Find the body where it fell. / All is very far from well. / This is a story that will sell.’ The poem ends on the harsh note ‘Grief is worth its weight in gold’.

A Different Key closes on a note of acceptance — for the time being at least. Wordlessness for now, then. Or just these imperfect words:

But does it help me at all
to write like this? Probably not
so to those who have read thus far
I give you leave to go,
as I shall now, about the business
of getting on

Charlotte Gann