Tuesday 1 May 2018

Inside the Wave

I have been reading 'Inside The Wave' by Helen Dunmore for a few weeks, kept on the bedside table. I have loved her novels and was saddened to read of her death from cancer last year. I had not come across her poetry before, and look forward to reading more of her collections. 

This one, written during her illness, is warm and friendly, reflecting occasionally on her imminent death but more often simply nostalgic. I loved 'Leave the door open' because it reminded me of my own childhood, it is so full of atmospheric details:

"Leave the door open! We cheep and command
From the shared double bed or from the cot
With the bars that make tigers out of the dark.
We want the fume and coil of your cigarettes,
The smoke that has embraced us from birth,

The click of your footsteps in the wooden landing,
The wedge of light that parts us from the dark" (p.22)

And 'The Duration' telling of an old couple visiting the same beach, but without their son who has grown and left:

"Here is the place where he built his dam
Year after year. See, the stream still comes down
Just as it did, and spreads itself on the sand" (p.41)

She has such a lovely eye for tiny detail, and taking the most unassuming of subjects. In 'Ten Books' she describes examining old books of her father's before they are consigned to the tip:

"MacNeice, freckled with brown
From many damps in many different houses.
On the inner page, under my father's autograph
An early flourish of blue crayon
Where I scribbled a figure so primitive
There are not even legs for it to walk upon." (p.61)

But it is death that she returns to at intervals and they were the ones that struck me, poignant but utterly without self-pity, truly someone come to terms with their mortality. In 'September Rain', the penultimate poem:

"I lie and listen
And the life in me stirs like a tide
That knows when it must be gone.

I am on the deep deep water 
Lightly held by one ankle
Out of my depth, waiting." (p.65)

And comparing herself to a flower, in 'My life's stem was cut':

"Wait while the sun moves
And the bees finish their dancing,
I know I am dying
But why not keep flowering
As long as I can
From my cut stem?" (p.23)

The one I felt captured the mood is called 'The shaft', it seems to encapsulate her persistence in seeing the beauty of life:

I don't need to go to the sun -
It lies on my pillow.

Without movement or speech
Day deepens its sweetness.

Sea shanties from the water,
A brush of traffic,

But it's quiet here.
Why would have thought that pain

And weakness had such gifts
Hidden in their rough hearts?" (p.21)

A collection to come back and back to, to copy out and pin up, tiny exquisite moments of appreciation of life.

1 comment:

  1. What lovely extracts from these poems you share. Love that leave the door open, I still call that out to my children, if they inadvertently seek to impose the privacy they wish for on me. I'm more at home with doors, curtains, shutters and in summer windows, all open.


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