Rheuma, William Gee
Bad Betty Press, 2020 £6.00
A body of pain
The title of this pamphlet Rheuma can be seen to allude to many kinds of pain. William Gee unpicks the way pain impacts on the body — and the work reveals, often very poignantly, different aspects.
In ‘mother, like me’, he explores the borders between pain and love, with the double meaning of ‘sponge’, a cake baked by the mother, but also an image for something that absorbs pain:
I am the wringing out of pain
I am always
In the poem ‘nonrestorative sleep’, he finds a way to deal with pain by reframing it:
if it hurts name it
pain flowers in my back
It is unusual, I feel, to have a whole pamphlet dedicated so overtly to pain, but it’s done in a highly sensitive and thought-provoking way. Gee doesn’t let his poems wallow in any way; rather they bring pain into sharp relief (forgive the pun!).
In ‘oh soul’, the body is changed by the experience of loss:
I baby my body into this
when you leave I am one
sad question mark
The poem ‘literally it’s all the fingers’, about a sexual experience, also harks back to a boyhood lack of confidence in the body. The compression of the last two lines expresses the pain of this:
However, he also uses long lines of unpunctuated text in many of the poems — which adds to the sense of drawn-out suffering. In ‘tomorrow my brother died’, this suggests a disturbance in time and a disturbed sense of cause and effect.
And the use of this form in the poem ‘young man,’ suggests the difficult uncertainty of youth: ‘your body lacking in the confidence of your bedroom’. The poem ends with a painful image:
come back […] when you’ve died
at all the punctured versions of yourself
I loved this description in ‘please my pain’:
and it’s painful when a promise goes on breaking in the long unbeautiful
William Gee takes us into a convoluted world of pain. His ability to write honestly about the associated feelings is impressive.