Two year ago on a gorgeous summer day, I first encountered Josephine Lay reading poems from her second collection, Unravelling, at Evesham’s Festival of Words. I was so impressed I went straight home and bought a copy. Therefore I’m particularly delighted that Josephine has agreed to drop in to reflect upon a poem from her recently published second collection, A Quietus.
Thank you, Nigel, for inviting me to ‘Drop In’ and discuss a poem from my recent collection A Quietus, published 2021, by Black Eyes Publishing UK.
It took me a while to choose which poem to feature, but finally I decided on Abscission. Abscission, for those who haven’t come across the term, is the process of separation of leaf from tree as the length of day shortens. It’s a natural structural and chemical change at the base of the leaf; the plant creates a layer of thin-walled cells where the break will eventually occur. But it’s this slow process that causes the brilliant colour changes we see in Autumn.
Last year, 2020, the Autumn was glorious, I walked among the trees, and the colour of the dying leaves filled my eyes and lifted my spirit. Here was a glory that far outweighed the sadness of the dying year. I came home and wrote Abscission.
Here, Death is a Woman, young and vibrant and I love her. It was one of those fabulous occasions where the poem seemed to write itself, and the editing process was the minor element of its development, and when I came to place it on the page the line breaks fell as naturally as the leaves. This poem epitomises the way I wish to approach death, and is pivotal to the collection.
For a period, my poetry became obsessed with death. Everything I wrote seemed to be connected to that subject, in fact it became a joke in the workshops I was attending at the time. I looked at my emotions around the demise of my own loved ones, and realized that not all my responses were dark or sad, and that actually sadness has a beauty of its own. This poem helped me view my own demise. I’m an agnostic. I don’t, personally, believe in a life beyond this one. We now live in a largely secular society, so how then are we to view death when religion is left behind? It seems a taboo subject. People mourn alone, they are expected to ‘move on’, and we talk of death euphemistically. I wanted to paint death in Autumnal colour, embrace the concept without entering the darkness it’s been shrouded in for centuries.
I quoted Emily Dickenson at the start of the book; she viewed dying, ‘as a wild night and a new road,’ and that is a concept I admire.
I’d like to add that A Quietus is not just about death. It’s also about the quietness that exists between life’s more frenetic moments, about nature and our place within it. But to say more here might pre-empt Nigel’s review process, so I think I’ll leave it there.
Next week come back to read my review of A Quietus by Josephine Lay.