Tuesday 31 January 2023

The intertwining of life and death, Rebecca Farmer's A Separate Appointment

Nine years ago, I reviewed Rebecca Farmer’s first pamphlet, Not Really (Smith-Doorstep, 2014) on this blog, admiring its subtle treatment of love, suffering and death, noting…

the role of ghosts. They crop up in several poems. They are characters. They take on human traits. As such, their haunting qualities are exacerbated.

And today, as I sit down to write about her second pamphlet,
A Separate Appointment (New Walk Editions, 2022), I’m struck by how much of my previous review holds true for these new poems, which seem to present two different strands - roughly speaking, hospitals and those afore-mentioned ghosts - that intertwine. In these poems, Farmer reminds us that death cannot exist without life, and that the living have to contend with others’ deaths.

In this context, the final stanza of
The Ghosts regret joining a self-help group provides an excellent illustration of the latent tension between life and death, Farmer’s work inhabiting a no-man’s land between the two. canvas It might seem cheesy and trite to state that her poetry occupies a liminal space, but in her case it’s actually true…

…Punched by the absurdity of death
the ghosts wonder why they never recognised
how they could have lived the life they had.
They used to go to classes to be taken out of themselves
but now they’d give anything to be put back in.

The everyday, natural rhythms of these lines belie the tension that they gradually build, never overstraining for effect.

And in the poems about hospitals and doctors, death is always hovering in the background, waiting to intrude, knowing the narrator will eventually join those ghosts, as in the following extract from the opening lines of

The surgeon shows the x-ray
of my left hand. I expect
to see its history in
black and white but
the image is as grey
as the sky before rain.
In it I catch a glimpse
of the start of my ghost…

The coherence and cohesion of Rebecca Farmer’s two pamphlets leave me wanting to see her poems on a broader
canvas. The format of a full collection would enable the reader to get to grips with her uncomfortable yet vital world. The question now is which publisher might step up to the plate and grant us that pleasure…

No comments:

Post a Comment