Rheuma, William GeeThe jacket, like all current Bad Betty titles, is black. Text and image are white. First the title in bold lower case, but fairly small centred in the top third. Centred in the middle is the image of a rib-eye steak, not huge but bigger than either piece of text. The author name is in the bottom third in bold small caps.

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
particular shape
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.

Sue Wallace-Shaddad