A slim pamphlet even by poetry standards, only 24 pages of writing, but what writing!
It opens with a breathtakingly poem, the retelling of a violent assault Blunt Force Trauma, describing the things Penny “need(s) / to be true, and to not be true.“; things like, “Not true, the lifelong trauma, the blunt force of ‘care’“, “the meaning of the word countrecoup” – which I had to look up – and the closing lines, which I won’t spoil.
I believe that I have been told that the subject of this poem was the partner or ex-partner of Penny’s, but I am not certain of that. Whatever the truth of the matter, the stark power of the poem and what follows from it is undeniable. The next poem details the mundanity, and in that the horror, of her daily journeys between Manchester and Leeds visiting him in hospital – she lists the Things I See on the Hard Shoulder of the M62, noting how dangerously distracting they were.
The remainder of the first section deals with the waiting and is set out like a minimalist play – Sarah Kane in particular spring to mind – with various locations (hospital, garden, house) and various voices: voices which arrive, without introduction, speak and disappear again. The effect is haunting:
Woman: (on the number of cigarettes she is smoking) “counting makes me feel that I am / in control when I am not.“
There are Dream passages in which she keeps returning to the “blue lit public toilets” where he kissed her, which are contrasted with the eventual white-out of her loss, an absence that is “outrageous” to her.
Woman: “Other white things I spend my time considering are ashes in the fire / pit reminiscent of another scattering of ashes, fake pearls clinging to a / dress, cocaine, lies. More lies. A tribe of cats, blank pages in a note- / book, feathers flying from a slit pillow.“
The poems in part two speak sparely of funerals and “the dreadful cargo” that must be carried at them; the flowers, “awkward grief tilts / in an ugly vase“; and the time afterwards.
It is slight, but it is visceral, profound and beautiful.
(available from smith|doorstep: https://poetrybusiness.co.uk/product/in-your-absence/)