White cover with blue and white print of a house in a wood. Black letteringWith Invisible Rain, Polly Atkin

New Walk Editions, 2018    £5.00

Pain repeats

There’s a lot of repetition in this pamphlet — not least, in the 3⅓-page poem ‘Dorothy’s Rain’, which I enjoyed inordinately. It’s built from extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, a bewitching record of Lake District weather:

Very rainy — all day      Rain!      Rain!
Rain comes on      Rainy morning
wet evening      showers      a little Rain      Misty
rain      Rain      all day      Rain

And repetition, which is a recurring pattern in this pamphlet, is like wallpaper, and like rain. It’s also like the pamphlet’s other main concern: pain. The back cover tells us the sequence ‘v/s’

explores experience of Genetic Haemochromatosis, the treatment for which involves having pints of blood taken to counteract iron overload.

The first poem in the book (a found poem) is wonderfully laden. Entitled ‘From the mystery of pain’ it, too, is full of repetition:

This book is addressed to the sorrowful in over
balance, pain a mystery of native
circumstance, unoppressed difficulty, to whom
pain is a daily intolerable teacher,
sharing their capable gleam of immense
incredible pain

Other poems also have repetitions: ‘still’ in ‘Still’; the letter ‘v’, and ‘bled’, ‘bleed’, ‘blood’, in ‘Slitting the Vein’; and ‘body’ in ‘From being ill’, to give examples. All this iteration has a cumulative effect. On one hand, I find it reassuring, a bit like the rhythms of the body. At the same time, I find it splintering: it disrupts concentration. ‘From being ill’ ends: ‘We close our heads / and act.’

‘Much with Body’ is again taken from Dorothy Wordsworth. Here, pain and rain intermingle, both repeating in a routine of bodily existence:

Heavy rain. So ill
as not to be able to dress. My limbs

like marble. Again in much pain. Rain
rain & gently but rain

There’s something deeply forlorn and comfortingly-animal about all this. ‘On This Island’ ends ‘We rise to sleep, / wake sweating from a dream we are dying. Repeat.’ It’s very elemental — as illness is. And ‘Still’ captures it too, I think:

This is the body’s refusal.    It throws
its hands up.    Listen to the hidden.    I am not
paying the right attention.

A fascinating, hypnotic collection.

Charlotte Gann