To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre, Victoria Bennett

Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2020      £6.00

The intimacy of leave-taking

This moving pamphlet charts a daughter’s relationship with her mother who is terminally ill with mesothelioma. Victoria Bennett’s poems express the power of her mother’s voice and evoke the palpable chemistry of a unique partnership. I relate closely to them, having supported my own mother through end of life care.

The narrator weaves fears, apprehensions and grief into each poem, building a log of the journey towards death and the mutual experience of letting go.

The poem ‘The New Nightdress’ gives a tender, tactile account of personal care. Phrases such as ‘oil of rose’ and ‘sweetness / of these dying days’ convey the sensory nature of such intimacy. There’s a flower-related thread running through the pamphlet which is emphasised in the poem’s final line — ‘This garden has grown wild’ — suggesting the mother’s release from the nightdress’s hold, from constraint and suffering.

In ‘Words For Dying To’, the poet deftly mixes dreamlike prose with dispersed phrases based on the mother’s own commentary on her physical sensations. We are drawn into gobbets of memory and insights into her personality. It’s a moving interpretation by the daughter as the witness to suffering. Here’s how it starts:

How long have I got
                 how will I know
                                  will you tell me
                                                   when the time comes

We live the moment. Again, I found a personal connection to this poem. Mothers and daughters, duty and devotion entwined.

The tactile is evoked throughout the pamphlet, especially so in ‘There is Always More To Lose’. The slipping into end of life is shown through the progressive loss of physical senses: the voice, intonations, familiar words, body movement, touch. Only the mother’s face pursues the narrator, whispering ‘stop / you are forgetting me’ and enfolding her with ‘threads silver / through my hair’.

Beautiful imagery threaded through with love. A Quaker style quality of truth and contemplation.

Maggie Mackay