No 732 A Scattering by Christopher Reid

3/10 of March Madness

scatteringChristopher 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

into silence

that argued the end.

yet I knew it happened.

Christopher Reid and Lucinda Gane on their wedding day in 1976

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’.

Read On: Book

Number Read: 15

Number Read March Madness: 3/10

Number Remaining: 731


Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

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