Pale cover with rows and rows of Jelly Babies. Black letteringWith others in your absence, by Zosia Kuczyńska  

The Emma Press, 2021    £6.50

Finding a way to write about grief

Before I’d read a word of this moving pamphlet, I became fascinated by the cover, which shows a 6 x 4 array of Jelly Babies in different colours, as if a child has printed them using actual Jelly Babies. ‘A playful pamphlet?’ I speculated. Then I looked again. The fourth jelly baby on the third row was missing. And as I scrutinised the squat little figures, they seemed more like swaddled, or mummified, infants. I was less sure what to expect.

The poems themselves feel unsettled at first — raw, as if struggling for their form. Half-way through, in the poem ‘Intermission’, we read, ‘I can’t abide these poems sometimes.’  But in the second half, the writing becomes (intentionally, I think) more lyrical, and happier in its skin. The pamphlet is a tribute to Zosia Kuczyńska’s late father and to the friends who, it says in the poem ‘2017’, ‘offered me their ears / and arms and company like Jelly Babies because I’m sad / and we don’t know what to do.’

There are several references to Pink Floyd and Dr Who (both passions of Zosia’s father). This gives energy and humour to the writing despite the unhappy circumstances. Describing her mental state, also in ‘2017’, Zosia asks us to:

Imagine being a brain inside a jar, like Morbius, the alien war criminal
who cheated death on the planet Karn. Imagine your brain fell on
the floor and lay there pulsing horribly like a winded mushroom until,
with unhinged care, some space age Victor Frankenstein picked you
up and placed you safe inside a goldfish bowl.

My favourite poem was ‘A Boat Lies Waiting’ which describes a piece of music composed by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd for late bandmate Richard Wright, using old audio footage of the two playing and talking:

            This is the kind of haunting for which there is no remedy:
the realisation that you were always already mourning; that the
living room in which you were forced to listen to The Division Bell
for months on end in 1994 contains the music you will choose
for a memorial in 2017; that the elegiac was always already at
your fingertips.

Annie Fisher