Poetry. It gets under your skin. Says the things you don’t know you could say; didn’t know how to say. Let’s the feeling flesh out the words as they strip you to your bones.

Poetry. Its riches rediscovered because of Mother’s dementia; the way we found to communicate still when conversation was impossible. The way I could tell her over and over I loved her and she understood. Poetry was where she still had a place in this world. And now she is out of it, where the world still articulates her.

Mother introduced me to poetry. She wasn’t much of one for novels. Not enough time. She liked her scriptures and the psalms; and language. Radio 4 was her university. I was attending poetry group before Mother declined, but the intensity and the thrill of poetry was rekindled by those last years when I would read to her, poem after poem while she held my hand and listened with a tuned ear. Smiled. Squeezed my fingers to the beat of the words. Her passport to a still place in a world that pushed her off balance into fear and anxiety time and time again.

For all the fear and confusion that dementia left in its wake, it could not destroy that love of language that she had. The rhythms and cadences still connected. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to poets too numerous to list. I wish I had known Dannie Abse’s poetry to read to her. He is my ninety-year-old pin up; his voice a comet, blazing into his tenth decade, lighting the way for those who follow.

Poetry. If we ever scatter her ashes this is the poem I will read:

The Scattering
I cast you into the waters.
Be lake, or random moon.

Be first light,
lifting up its beggar’s cup.

I scatter your ashes.
Be the gale teaching autumn
to mend its ways,
or leopard so proud of his spotted coat.

Be the mentor of cherry trees.

I cast your dust far and wide,
a sower broadcasting seed:
Be wild rose or hellebore or all-heal.

Descend as a vein of silver,
never to be seen,
deep in the lynx-eyed earth.

Rise as barn owl white as dusk;
dove or raven marvelling at his flight.
Know different delights.

Penelope Shuttle
in collection, Sandgrain and Hourglass, 2010, Bloodaxe Books,
ISBN 1-85228-82-3


16 thoughts on “Poetry

    • I was at a poetry reading evening last night. One of the most powerful set of poems was about one of the poets’ grandmothers with whom she lived for two years at the end of her grandmother’s life. She had been her carer. They were extremely moving.

    • I treated myself to two books by Dannie Abse at the weekend via AbeBooks. He was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize and had the audience in the palm of his hand. I bought his latest volume, Speak Old Parrot, and Ash on. A Young Man’s Sleeve. I expect to be immersed in Welshness…
      My next purchase will probably be Helen Mort who was also shortlisted. She is only in her twenties, but what a poet.

  1. Pingback: RIP My Ninety Year Old Pin Up | IsobelandCat's Blog

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