Tag Archives: Ageing

Bringing Death to Life

It’s Demystifying Death Week in Scotland and Larry Butler and Sheila Templeton, editors of a new anthology in progress Living Our Dying, chose the moment to launch their crowdfunder appeal to make the book happen.

Dying is part of life. How we live our dying is fundamentally important. What do we do when someone we know has died? How do we make our own dying part of our lives? Living Our Dying offers a fuller engagement with death, so that life can be rich; it offers ways to engage with pain, fear, anxiety, and loss of dreams. Dying is part of life. How we live our dying is fundamentally important.

The book’s all ready to be printed – here’s the cover with artwork by Pauline McGee. If this is something you’d be interested in supporting or receiving an early copy, please do visit the kickstarter page here.

I have a few poems in the book about ageing, loss and turning towards dying, all with a botanical theme, including this one:

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When news came of her death

there was a breach in the weather,

east wind’s salt breath.

All the garden’s roses

lost their petals as roses

do when summer does

what summers do without

looking back. Not so the poet –

what else to write about?

Love, death, how we react.

I choose a single rose, black,

inked petals, scentless, intact.

Spring might be here but death is still in the air after such a long difficult winter. I’m pleased to have a piece in the latest Dark Mountain Journal, which in its beautiful shroud wrapped cover (by Graeme Walker) ‘revolves around themes of death, loss and renewal’, with a particular emphasis on grief for the world. The collection is a requiem, a memorial, a cairn of many voices.

You can find out more and order a copy here. My piece called Incunabula is reproduced here.

C.S. Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed:

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history…There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.

The Living Our Dying kickstarter launch ended with a beautiful video of Sandy Hutchinson reading his poem, Everything. Sandy is no longer with us but his poem will stand as a coda to the book. You can watch it here.

And so we go on.

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Night Inks

This week at the NCLA we launched John Halliday’s stirring new anthology on Ageing Don’t Bring Me No Rocking Chair (named from a Maya Angelou poem).  Douglas Dunn came down from Scotland to join us and read some wonderful new poems, as well one of his from the book, Poem for a Birthday.

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I have enjoyed being reminded of familiar poems and discovering new ones.  Reading these poems is helping me further rehearse the ageing process and I’m happy to see several with a botanical flavour – plants perfectly reflecting our own cycle of blooming and dying.  Ranunculus Which My Father Called a Poppy by Peter Porter takes us to Australia, where we’re also shown eucalyptus, paw-paw, dahlias, salpiglossis and antirrhinums.  We’re teased with a snatch of Heaven in MacDairmid’s  A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.  Gillian Clarke’s Blue Hydrangeas recalls her mother’s loveliness, the aching intimacy of mortality.  What is it about blue flowers that is so evocative?

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Blue Hydrangeas

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer.  Now a weight of wet silk
in my arms like her blue dress, a load

of night-inks shaken from their hair –
her hair a flame, a shadow against light
as long ago she leaned to kiss goodnight
when downstairs was a bright elsewhere

like a lost bush of blue hydrangeas.
You found them, lovely, silky, dangerous,
their lapis lazulis, their indigos

tide-marked and freckled with the rose
of death, beautiful in decline.
I touch my mother’s skin.  Touch mine.

Gillian Clarke

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Still cold and dark with flurries of snow up this way, we’re not quite ready yet for the short time of Herrick’s Daffodils or for Larkin’s Trees to begin afresh, afresh, afresh.  But soon, soon.

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