In which I avoid a difficult subject with a poem about snow

Julia Copus

I have mentioned before that I attend a Royal Literary Fund ‘Reading Matters’ group every week. It is a wonderful idea; led by fabulous poet Julia Copus we listen to her read a short story and a poem each week, taking time to comment and express our thoughts about each in a friendly and supportive environment. It has been an inspiration to me – introducing me to short story writers and poets I might never have discovered for myself and teaching me so much about the short story form that I am experimenting with my own.

But this week, Julia inspired me in another area of writing that I have so far held back from. She encouraged us to listen to her Radio 3 piece ‘Ghostlines’ broadcast last week. In it she recounts in verse and her own personal testimony the experience of IVF. It is an intense emotional experience – frank and open about the disappointments, the pain and the actual process of treatment and it made me think very hard about a subject I could write on, but have so far avoided in any emotional sense. My breast cancer.

I am a writer and as such should write from experience. Having cancer (it is still hard even to type that word, even though I am happily in remission) has been part of my life for the past five years so to avoid it has probably been unhealthy. However, I have always thought that many brave women have gone before me to describe vividly the way cancer shook their world and I could add little to their stories. I have concentrated on my love of poetry, of history and genealogy, without really recognising that my cancer IS part of my family history, of my children’s experience.

So I have decided to write about it on here, occasionally, in as creative way as I possibly can – after all it is not a subject people are easy with and I don’t want to alienate those of you good enough to read my blog.  Julia and indeed my great writer friend Rivenrod (who has expressed with great creative power his anger at being turned from a seemingly healthy, active man into someone devastated by heart attacks) have helped me decide that it is time to use the most intense experience of my life to inform my writing and perhaps improve it. I hope no aspect of my expressions in this blog will seem tragic – after all I am still here and hope to be so for many years yet – but they might at times be uncomfortable. Please forgive me those moments.

In fact it is so uncomfortable that I decided to break myself in gently. Warn my readers that at some point in the future they may find a post or two a little different from those I put up more regularly.

Louis MacNeice

So I digress, in my frequently random way, with a poem appropriate to the season and to the weather many have experienced in the past few days; one that is, apparently, a ‘poets poem’ – admired as a masterpiece of 20th century literature. I love it for the line ‘World is crazier and more of it than we think’ and I can understand how it might be to ‘feel the drunkenness of things being various’. My breath is literally taken away by the last two lines.

It is far from a ‘seasonal’ poem and I don’t mean to attempt to explain what it actually means but it relates to a world far away from a drawing-room window and a vase of roses – the Spanish Civil war, the troubles in Ireland, the rise of fascism. The 1930’s, when ‘Snow’ was written, was in W.H. Auden’s words a ‘low, dishonest decade’.

Certainly there is a much greater bridge between the roses and the snow than a mere pane of glass.

Snow – Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one’s hands –
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Perhaps it is not such a digression. The world I have to delve into was a crazy one; the feelings of calm that came over me at the strangest times during treatment or the raging anxiety that consumed me at others. And the world was by turns more cruel and more wonderful than I ever supposed.

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One Response to In which I avoid a difficult subject with a poem about snow

  1. Rivenrod says:

    I’m more pleased than you could possibly imagine. There’s nothing like “Stuff” to re-calibrate perspective. But, don’t be afraid of anger.

    I’ll tell you what Suzie, anger’s good, anger’s like rocket fuel. When it blows, white hot steaming anger, your head’s thrown back, mouth agape, gasping with the force of acceleration. Then there’s an episode of rushing hell for leather, bashing, beating, time running out, never enough of the damned stuff. I spent days making lists of things for others to do when I wasn’t around any more. And then, after a while when it’s spent and you roll smoothly to a stop there’s such a sense of blissful release. Everything has been adjusted.

    No, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my viscous reminder of my own mortality is that it does no good to pussy foot around. Go for it and be proud!


    PS A striking poem. It’s one of those that rattles round the head for days, weeks maybe. What the hell, it means everything and nothing. During a sleep over the weekend, for some reason I heard Meatloaf reciting it. A thumping rock base and drum beat out of it just as he utters – There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses – then a billowing crescendo of slithering organ and slippery strings, rising, rising. I woke with a headache and an understanding of what it means to have all the senses bombarded at once. Such words!

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