‘Due to weather conditions, the evening boat is cancelled.’
Under the risen wind, the waves’ alternate push
and tug unfurls, rolls back, returns again,
while underfoot the shingle shifts and seethes,
a living ground which slides away from me
with a rasping rattle, like hard-won breath.
Graceless, I flail towards the frilled edge
where the foamed sea unrolls itself in greeting.
Sand swirls in the shallows, litter bobs,
and lank fingers of torn weed trail and clutch at me.
But beyond, the deeper reaches free me: I fall forward
into heaven-pale blue-green water which holds
and lifts me—where light is delighting in itself,
and the breeze-beaten surface is a shifting infinity
of tiny planes where sun is shattered into stars.
I blink brine-burned eyes and gasp, spitting salt.
A joy rises in me which joins now with far ago,
where a small child is tossed in sure square hands,
and squeals, and is caught again, and danger
is always safe. I laugh, and weep, and play
till I am spent. Leaving the water, I stoop to lift
a piece of sea-glass. Tumbled into opacity, it holds
the light. Carefully I fold my fingers over it,
its warm smoothness sweet against my salt-scoured skin.
This is a wide-raging anthology of verse from a range of different cultures. Taking loss and grieving as its topic, the anthology is arranged into different sections. It doesn’t use the well-known—and sometimes unfairly-maligned—Kubler-Ross five stages of grieving. Instead, it groups the poems under: ‘reckoning’, ‘regret’, ‘remembrance’, ‘ritual’, ‘recovery’ and ‘redemption’. Apart from betraying the editor’s capacity skilfully to use alliteration (!), this grouping is, I think, a useful one, helping the reader to navigate the book and have a better chance of finding the right text for how that particular moment feels.
For me The Art of Losing is more stimulating than other collections of poems about loss and grief simply because every time I pick it up I meet a new author, or new poem, in which I can delight. Perhaps this is, in part, due to its focus on new and contemporary writing: Young explains that while he he has included a few ‘absolutely necessary’ C19th poems, he has ‘tried to stick to poems that are contemporary classics, or soon ought to be’. Other grief anthologies will give you wisdom, heartbreak and love from across the centuries, reminding you of what is universal in human experience over time. Those anthologies have their place: treasure remains treasure no matter how old it is. But Young gives us the chance to uncover new treasures.
There are too many authors included for me to be able to give any kind of representative list. All I can say is: buy this book. Whether you are grieving now, have grieved, work with those who grieve, or simply want to meet some new poems that will find you, then I don’t think this collection will disappoint. Treat yourself to it.
I came across this line by Robert Frost quite recently on the internet (it’s all over the place) and it got me, in the way that poetry often can.
I heard a voice inside my head go Cor, in an almost Phwoar-y kind of a way (swiftly followed by a quiet, greenly-jealous voice saying I wish I’d written that). Though Frost is probably not, in fact, saying something very different from “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, there’s something so much more palatable for me in coming across the idea in this form; (more…)
“We read to know that we are not alone…”
I facilitate a range of workshops and ongoing groups which are all designed to give people a shared time and space to think about life-stuff—like love, or loss, or change, or living happily and gently in this wondrous and complicated world. They all work in a person-centred way, which means you are welcome just as you are, and will be met with respect, empathy, interest and genuineness.
The exploration of poems, other texts, and interesting ideas is at the heart of the sessions, together with the time to reflect on your own experience. You don’t need to be an expert on anything. You definitely won’t be grilled or put on the spot, nor required to work with others on developing a means of crossing a ravine using only string, biscuits, and 14 copies of War and Peace. No special knowledge or experience is required: only your desire to take some time for yourself—to explore, ponder, and share as much or as little as you like. And, of course, to spend time with like-minded, curious, kindly people.
Some of these sessions I do on my own, some with other people. About to start—autumn 2018 onwards—is a shared reading and “working through” of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. Details of the 42 group and the What Are Words Worth? group can be found on the relevant pages on this site. Please do get in touch if you want to know anything more about any of the sessions.