No 732 A Scattering by Christopher Reid
3/10 of March Madness
Christopher Reid won the Costa Book Award in 2009 for this collection of poetry documenting the death of his wife, the actress Lucinda Gane. I bought it shortly after and was never able to read it due to the fact that my mother died in 2009 and my father a mere 14 months later in 2010.
When I came to it this week, I thought I would read a poem here, a poem there, carve out the emotional reaction into shorter bursts, but I read it in one, admittedly tearful sitting. This is a beautiful collection. No breast beating self-pity here, rather, Reid presents us a lucid, unsentimental landscape of grief, loss and its’ aftermath from the first diagnosis of illness to a grudging acceptance of life without his ‘dashing heroine’.
The book opens with “The Flowers of Crete” written during a last holiday together, as he grapples with the fear of what lies ahead and asks his wife to
Please pardon the crimes
of your husband poet,
as he mazes the pages
of his notebook
in pursuit of some safe way out
But there is no safe way out. ‘The Unfinished’ describes with an unflinching simplicity and detachment, the pain of the deathbed vigil.
Sparse breaths, then none-
and it was done.
listening and hugging hard,
between mouthings of sweet next to nothings
into her ear –
pillow talk cum prayer-
I never heard
the precise cadence
that argued the end.
yet I knew it happened.
Where death, grief and loss have a tendency to ratchet up the emotion of writing, Reid takes a quiet approach. The lack of sentimentality does not serve to obfuscate his love, instead that love and his loss of it is illuminated. A series of vignette’s called A Widower’s Dozen dramatise the day to day pain of continuing to live after the loved one is gone – talking to her, imagining he feels her come to bed, sorting through her papers.
Late home one night, I found
she was not yet home herself.
So I got into bed and waited
under my blanket mound,
until I heard her come in
and hurry upstairs.
My back was to the door.
Without turning round,
I greeted her, but my voice
made only a hollow, parched-throated
k-, k-, k- sound,
which I could not convert into words
and which, anyway, lacked
the force to carry.
Nonplussed, but not distraught,
I listened to her undress,
then sidle along the far side
of our bed and lift the covers.
Of course, I’d forgotten she’d died.
Adjusting my arm for the usual
cuddle and caress,
I felt mattress and bedboards
welcome her weight
as she rolled and settled towards me,
but, before I caught her,
it was already too late
and she’d wisped clean away
What Christopher Reid does with this collection, is not so much to explore grief in general, but to explore his own grief in the context of his own loss, and by doing so creates something universal.
He asks his dead wife ‘Can’t you somehow contrive/ to be both dead and alive’
Yet in some ways he is doing just that. Reid conjures his wife brilliantly for the reader – Lucinda Gane comes across as a wonderful, strong, funny, radiant and intelligent woman, interested in everything, fighting to the painful end. It is as an act of devotion and gratitude that A Scattering really succeeds, beginning and ending as it does with the words ‘blessed’ and ‘blessing’.
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Number Read: 15
Number Read March Madness: 3/10
Number Remaining: 731
Uncategorized a scattering christopher reid costa book awards crete grief and loss love Lucinda Gane march madness poetry
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I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!
Great review – I can’t add anything to what you’ve said, except I totally agree! A beautiful & moving tribute to his wife.
Thanks. It was such a beautiful collection.
Oh thank you for those excerpts from Reid’s poems. They really catch the heart, quietly and intensely
Oh that’s a lovely way of describing his writing. The poems do catch the heart and they are hard to shake. Glad you enjoyed them…
What beautifully moving poems. I’d never heard of this so thank you for the heads up.
Keep the tissues handy Kaggy!