‘A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide’ by Helen Calcutt is the IS&T October 2019 Pick of the Month

 

It is fitting that Helen Calcutt‘s ‘A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide’ is the Ink Sweat & Tears Pick of the Month for October 2019. The theme of National Poetry Day in October was Truth and what can be more truthful, more honest than explaining to a child about the suicide of someone close? And then to write something so painful and so raw that also offers hope? As one voter put it: ‘Broke my heart. Then restarted it.’

Helen is the author of two books of poetry, Sudden rainfall (Perdika, 2014) a PBS Choice, and Unable Mother published by V.Press in September 2018. Her writing is published internationally, including award-winning essays and reviews for The Wales Arts Review, The Brooklyn Review, The London Review, Poetry Scotland and Boundless. She is creator and editor of Eighty-Four a poetry anthology on the subject of male suicide. Website: https://helencalcutt.org/

 

A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide

She is awake.

The moon is bright and the clouds have parted.
The trees are painted trees, living a still life.

She tells me my brother is in the moon.
I’ve bathed her, given her milk
and as I fold the sheets from her knees

to her lap, she asks me how he died.
‘He was very sad’ I say
and she seems to understand.

She rubs the milk away from her lips with her hands
as if the moon had kissed her
and then asks why.

I try to explain.
‘Sadness can make you very tired.
It can make you want to sleep.

It can make you want to close your eyes on everything.’

Her hands are like two leaves
resting on the bedcovers. She asks me if I miss him
and when I say I do

her eyes go big and round
and she asks me again, how he died
if the sadness of missing him

will make me die.

I hold her then, I accept
the weight of her. I can feel her widening like the stillness of a tree –

my child, coming into a still life…

Then we talk about the moon being
the shape of an egg, upside down.
We watch branches touch on drifting clouds
and agree – we want to see everything.

We stay up half the night finding patterns on the walls.
Different kinds of windows.

 

*********

 

 

Other voters’ comments included:

Given the devastating statistics of male suicide this is one of those poems that pushes through the poetry landscape as a signpost to show people where suicide takes those left behind. It is so personal and brave that it takes the breath away but comforts, disturbs and educates like poetry should. It is a timeless poem like Frieda Hughes poem also about her brother Nicholas’ suicide. Beautiful

A painfully, beautiful and brave poem. I’m voting not for the subject matter alone, but for the quality of the poem, which is up to the task.

An honest, brave poem that tackles a very difficult subject

Unbelievably sad and hopeful in equal measure.

A beautiful piece. The pain, honesty and love found in this poem is captivating.

Heartfelt words. Moments shared between mother & daughter. As a parent how can you explain death, particularly suicide, to a child?! This poem addresses that precious shared time as death affects us all – beautifully yet so clearly written.

tough subject handled beautifully. ..such delicacy…and the charming innocence of her child…the deceptive simplicity and wonderful leafy images. An open window of a poem despite the sorrow of loss etc

Such a sad tale told beautifully

A poignant and sensitive piece evoking the aching resonance of grief yet offering a glimpse of a stronger future. Beautiful!

Deeply moving to read. So perfectly crafted, that the craft is practically invisible – which is quite something to do when the subject matter is so painful to the poet. Not a trace of self indulgence – which unfortunately can affect so many poems of this deeply personal nature. Really up there as a genuinely great poem – one that will last.

If ‘truth’ were a poem, this is it.

It’s uncompromising, quiet power, its raw, intimate poignancy. She speaks of a motherhood I feel know, though I’ve never experienced what she has. The poem leads me to believe I have.

It’s a brave, beautiful, painful, but ultimately hopeful poem,and speaks with a clear, true voice.

Suicide being very close and personal to a lot of people hearts is still very unspoken about. This poem perfectly uses imagery to evoke the emotions surrounding this. It also depicts family, and the effect on small children, how do you explain suicide to young ones? This poem is fragile, yet strong. Sad, yet hopeful. But most importantly, truthful. When you read the poem it feels like it’s coming straight from the heart of truth and for me that is amazingly vulnerable.

The dynamic between mother and daughter over a painful subject is skillfully handled, the tension built and overcome together.

The tenderness and bravery of this poem is inspirational, it leaves an impression long after it has been read.

 

 

 

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Jonathan Chant

 

 

 

Bringing It All Back Home

To leave one’s notebook in plain view signals some kind of declaration, a piece of the secret realm rendered visible. I sit in my dressing gown, smoking in a room where I shouldn’t, play games in perspectives,

the tin lantern with glass chimney becomes a primitive hut,
star cut holes sealed with emerald glass, windows.

It’s too cold to write. I try anyway. Stitch images

The moon illumines frosted leaves at the window.
Runic pines silhouetted on the snow-clad hillside.
White blobs of stars and two raised discs,
earthworks on the horizon.

A bridge crosses a stream full of stars

That kind of thing.

Those shapes on the hill, if only I knew the language.

Was that creak a footstep? The door left ajar…

I’m the tramp in the forest
bringing the key home to you.

 

 

Jonathan Chant is a lecturer, poet and performer. He has been published in Obsessed With The Pipe Work, Tears In The FenceCaduceusInternational Times and by New River Press.

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Carole Bromley reviews ‘Heart Murmur’ by Emma Storr

 

 

In this outstanding debut pamphlet, Emma Storr, medic and poet, gives us a masterclass in how to write about medicine.

Equally at home writing about the personal or the professional, she shows us the experience of the patient as well as the doctor. I loved ‘Delivery’ with its calm account of the experience of an emergency section from the mother’s point of view. In this twin delivery

 

‘Midnight slipped between their births,
the witching hour split in two.’

 

Elsewhere, we see the GP’s human side when a patient ‘took off half her face’ and placed it on the desk. She admits to ‘my own repulsion/ veiled with fascination’.

‘Six-week Check’ is one of two poems placed in the Hippocrates Prize and deservedly so. We feel we are examining the infant with the poet who notes ‘your baked cub-like scent’ and seems moved anew by this new life in her hands, though ending on a humorous note ‘We won’t need to meet again.’

Humour, too, in the beautifully controlled anger behind the poem ‘Clinical Trials’ in which she forensically examines a relationship in technical language which breaks down at the end of each stanza with the words ‘you bastard’. The poem ends

 

‘You did not have ethics approval.
Your control group was out of control.
Your random sampling was not so bloody random.

You bastard’

 

The revenge is sweet and this one goes down particularly well at readings!

I loved the title poem, ‘Heart Murmur’ for its intelligent and effective mix of the clinical and the emotional in delicately controlled couplets.

 

‘My heart doesn’t have to think.
It works on impulse: squeeze, relax.

It speeds up when I climb hills,
slow dances during sleep

until it’s hijacked, slewed by lust,
the chemicals of longing’

 

There is emotion in the job, too. Doctors make mistakes and there is real sadness and empathy in ‘Missed’

 

‘I prescribed you medicine.
I didn’t think when you told me.
The scan shocked us both.
I am a bad doctor. I failed you.’

 

There is a generosity about the sharing of such experiences as well as those poems in which the poet turns her observant eye onto herself, as in ‘Your Skin’ which is a beautiful and honest look at a woman’s life through the changes which take place in her skin;

‘History is seared

in its layers

the half-moon burn

the white tracks of

your babies’ escape

that burst appendix’

 

Honesty, too, in rueful reflections on the limitations of what a GP can do for her patients

‘Every ten minutes
a patient leaves
gripping a script
for plasters,
pills, placebos –
I didn’t want to sign.’

There is a wide variety of form in this collection too and a sureness of touch which promises great things when Emma Storr brings out a full collection. I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime I really recommend sampling her work in this excellent pamphlet. Read it. You will be in safe hands.

 

 

Carole Bromley lives in York. Winner of 2019 Hamish Canham Award, she has a new collection due out from Valley Press in 2020 and a pamphlet, Sodium 136, will be published by Calder Valley Poetry in November. www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk Twitter @CaroleBromley1

Order your copy of Heart Murmur by Emma Storr (Calder Valley Poetry) here: https://caldervalleypoetry.com/authors/emma-storr/

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Sue Wallace-Shaddad

 

 

 

As Safe as Houses

Cracks are first to appear,
then walls burst their seams.
Windows rattle out of frames,
the roof lifting its lid to the sky.

A rumbling boom
hurtles down the street.
Stunned
passers-by turn their heads

imagine the worst.
A black pall clambers high
hovers like a fallen angel
over newly empty       space.

 

 

 

Sue Wallace-Shaddad is currently undertaking the second year of the Newcastle University/Poetry School MA in Writing Poetry. She has poems published by London Grip, Ink Sweat & Tears, Poetry Space, The French Literary Review and in magazines and anthologies. Sue is Secretary of Suffolk Poetry Society.

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Sam Hickford

 

 

 

A Burial Corridor

“Surely what is needed now is a grand strategic vision for green burial places to reclaim our cities with urban and peri-urban woods and forests and for it to be a requirement for trunk transport routes to include linear wildlife burial corridors alongside them” – Professor John Ashton, ‘Necropolis in crisis’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Is there a better way to see you off
than amidst the screeching and the hum
of wheedling engines, feistily gobbling
automated fuel? There is no better. I remember
hirpling over the dream-M62
past crop-circles. Past cottages and cotton-clouds
& you in the passenger-seat. I felt you breathe
against the dashboard & I reckoned that
somehow I’d clawed a road into your heart
(or, at least, some blocked-off artery…)

They grew an oak tree. Day by day, it guides –
miniature – the frantic traffic through the road
burdened with busy prayers & sacred sights
& burdened with my deaf-drone pilgrimage
among the whiplash-sky and metal-rain.
There is no better. God or this guide has seated you
among a gas-leak meadow in the stars.

 

 

 

Sam Hickford is a poet and journalist who has never been naked on a golf course before, contrary to popular belief. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Tablet, Ink Sweat & Tears, Amethyst Review, The Ofi Press, and on selected banana skins in the Greater London area.

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Ian Heffernan

 

 

 

The Running Club

This morning not their normal urban route:
The busy paths beside dual carriageways,
The quiet in the longer avenues,
The brief, ill-thought-out streets where people tend
Their flower beds like grudges and the cars
Are parked along the pavement on both sides.

Instead the dip and lift of country lanes,
Uncertain tarmac, little muddy pools,
A loneliness of clearings, half-attempts
At tracks which jink away between the trees,
And, early in the run, a hidden bridge
Adjacent to the point where two streams meet.

They pass in groups and then in single file.
One checks his watch, another’s spectacles
Are covered with the scribblings of light rain.
These runners represent the mind engaged
In settling inner debts, but doing this
Through physical activity, which means

The press of blood in artery and vein,
The solemn rasp of breath, warm knots of sweat,
The grimaces and intermittent farts.
For thirteen miles or so they pay their debts.
They see a crash between two builder’s vans,
A girl outside an isolated pub,

Two rabbits dart across a drainage ditch,
A roadkill badger stretched out on its side
(A black-brown turd protruding from its rear).
The world flows backwards from their tight-strung frames,
Their bleak ascesis strengthens with each stride,
The sound of their own footfalls goads them on.

 

 

Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in the High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar, FourXFour, the Moth and elsewhere.

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Anna Maria Mickiewicz

 

 

 

The Hidden

Once they were hidden
Forest covered the fear
Drowned out the silence…
Darkness stood on the way home
The clock of the heart was beating in seconds

Dash up there quickly, spread the arms
Hair will fall down gently 

Hidden from brightness,
Hidden from fate

It is a dream…

Today
In the London thicket they are still invisible
Yet they feel the power
Hidden in a short smile,
Just for a second.
They fix taps
They drink strong coffee
They don’t have to eat much,
Sometimes only a sandwich.

 

 

Anna Maria Mickiewicz (http://faleliterackie.com) is a Polish-born poet, writer and editor who writes both in Polish and English. Anna moved to California, and then to London, where she has lived for many years. She edits the annual literary magazine Pamiętnik Literacki (The Literary Memoir), London, and is a member of English Pen. Her first collection was published in 1985. Publications include short stories and essays Okruchy z Okrągłego Stołu (Breadcrumbs from the Round Table) in 2000, Londyńskie bagaże literackie in 2019, and collections Proscenium in 2010, London Manuscript, (Poetry Space, Bristol, 2014) and The Mystery of Time, (Flutter Press, USA 2019.) With Danuta Błaszak she co-editor of Flying Between Words, Contemporary Writers of Poland (Florida: 2015).

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