Caldbeck, Jenny Pagdin
Eyewear Publishing Ltd, 2017, £6.00
This pamphlet tells a story, but tells it slant. The blurb explains that the work draws on Pagdin’s experience of postnatal psychosis. The poems are far from straightforward, fittingly for a group that look so carefully and questioningly at sanity and madness.
The very first poem ‘Definition of love’ is a wonderfully weird pseudo-dictionary entry, in which every item works beautifully in itself, but the accumulation spins off into crazy excess (quite rightly for a state, as the poem puts it, ‘beyond all reason’):
Verbal noun: something known by its actions
(as the wind is), noun: nothing (in a contest);
Verb intrans: to be one with the birds in flight
and one with the deer that skits across the forest floor
The conceit of definitions, of lists, of an attempted putting in order of life in extreme circumstances, continues throughout the pamphlet. For example, ‘What to pack for the Caldbeck Mother and Baby Unit’ is another list poem (so much so it is bullet-pointed!), of fairy-tale surrealism and hinted desperation:
- an empty purse for emergencies
- cheese, for parties
- a list of false names, for your child
One of the pamphlet’s most striking pages contains two short definition poems, which read, in their entirety:
My mind blew open so wide, I couldn’t trust the sun to set
Was like trying to make a sandwich out of breadcrumbs
And the pamphlet ends, pleasingly, with ‘Definition of hope’, as a balance and response to the opening poem. Characteristically, there is no indication of whether we’re supposed to regard hope as the opposite of love or its twin. As with the whole of this wise and honest pamphlet, we are just shown how it was, how it seemed, and left to interpret and define for ourselves:
Verb intrans: to want something to happen:
‘they hoped for a long remission, perhaps till death’.
Archaic: absolute trust. Antonym: nothing.