Tag Archives: death

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:

Tattoo

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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Portrait of the Artist

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Visiting the Laura Knight exhibition at the Laing, I was struck once again with artist-envy:  the direct presentation of ‘the world of things’ so much more possible for the painter than the poet.  Her portraits are striking and strong, but also suggest a wistfulness, the sense of more happening below the surface, something essentially human that we all share.

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The show includes drawings, preparatory sketches for the larger paintings – a reminder that such persuasive images don’t just appear by magic.  Like a poem that goes through many drafts before it finds its final form, to appear effortless a portrait might need hours, days of behind-the-scenes work. Laura Knight’s painting of the munitions worker Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring took three weeks’ careful research on the factory floor.

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People as a rule, most of us, we glance, we don’t see, don’t look.  And I think it is the artist, who is a true artist, who looks to see and understand the marvel of the universe.

Dame Laura Knight

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 The fact is, as soon as you start with words, you’re locked into a debate, forced to take a position with respect to others, confirming or rebutting what has been said before.  Nothing you say stands alone or is complete in the present: it has its roots in the past and pushes feelers into the future.  And as we grow heated, marking out our corner, staking our claim, we stop noticing the breath on the lips, the tension in our fingers, the pressure of the ground under our toes, the tick of time in the blood.

From Teach Us To Stand Still by Tim Parks (Vintage 2011)

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To help heal the persistent rift between idea and reality, mind and body, I enjoy reading (and writing) poems that don’t let us forget the physical.  Isn’t it only by keeping our feet firmly on the ground that we are able to soar?  Last week I heard this poem read at a funeral.  It had helped the friend reading it’s mother to die.  It’s still in the air, helping those of us left behind to live, and remember what our bodies are made of.

What the Body Says

 

I was born here, and

I belong here, and

I will never leave.

 

The blue heron’s

gray smoke will flow over me for years

and the wind will decide all directions

until I am safely and entirely something else.

 

I am thinking this, this winter morning

of transformation,

Of course

I wonder about the mystery

that is surely up there in starry space

and how some part of me will go there at last.

 

But I am talking now

of the way the body speaks,

and the wind, that keeps saying,

firmly, lovingly:

a little while and then this body

will be stone;

then it will be water;

then it will be air.

 

Mary Oliver

 

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