Drop in by Ross McGivern

I’m particularly pleased to invite, fellow Open University Society Poet, Ross McGivern, to reflect on a poem from his inspirational Fragments and Stages.

As is customary I confess my indecision as to which poem I should present and how the heck would I write about it. Pity the poor poem! First they witness fellow darlings killed and then look on as I pick a teacher’s pet. But here we: A Respite of Bluebells.

‘we navigate paths studded by ferns’

I am unsure if this is my favourite from or indeed representative of Fragments and Stages as a whole. I suspect this stems from how long I have spent with the poems and how I view it conceptually, especially as I have lived with it since 2016. I never intended to write a collection of poems about this subject – I found the thought of doing so exploitative, but a life-writing prompt given to Open University creative writing students unlocked memories and it spilled out. It’s been prose, prose-poetry, a sequence, a cycle and eventually these poems. Although the raw edges of fragmented prose-cum-prose-poetry morphed into a cohesive narrative arc, I wanted to retain a feeling of fractured images – as if I was holding twenty-two polaroids. In theory, those polaroids could be shuffled and it still make sense.

‘her opaque skin summons an infusion’

Fragments and Stages is collection of twenty-two poems exploring a year which saw my wife, Fiona, undergo treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma. Twenty-two poems about Cancer? ‘Cheery’, I hear you say.

Do not fear.

Whilst it is true there is a sombre tone to some of the poems (especially in the first half), as the poems developed, I knew that I did not want to end up with twenty gut punches. Where’s the fun in that? To have done so would have been disingenuous, instead I needed to write about the mundanely practical stuff that gave structure, the humour (wry, surreal and gallows), and the small details which blossomed into life affirming moments; after all, Fiona’s mantra for the year was “having fun with Cancer”.

‘Framed within Cypress and Fir’

A Respite of Bluebells was inspired by a walk in Southey Woods, located somewhere in the hinterland between Peterborough and Stamford.  It is a well known spot to stumble across swathes of wild garlic, historic re-enactments and dogging. I will leave it to your imagination to work out which two we encountered.

We loaded a rucksack with petrol station meal deals and a couple of leaky flasks. We wrapped up to counter the capricious spring weather and meandered the desire lines that steer you into the heart of the woods. Re-reading this poem evokes that walk vividly for us. That walk felt like an optical illusion; the sky was grey, the ground was soft and mulched; each footstep stirred that particular woodland mustiness. Yet the canopy remained vibrant and the blues of the titular bluebells were so striking, they could have smelled like oil paint. The evergreen cathedral stood proud that day (disclaimer: the image of the evergreen cathedral was directly inspired by a chapter title in Ben Myers’ 2012 novel Pig Iron)

I am inspired by image and the chance to play with figurative language, I enjoy losing myself in wormholes of metaphor, simile and playing around with collective nouns, and in that regard, this poem is reflective of my approach to writing. I am not sure if my imagery could be described as delicate as I fear living in the flat browns of the Fens means I tend to see in bolder blocks and blobs of colour. Add in to that mix an admiration of vignettes created by post-impressionism’s energy and evocation, and you can start to peek behind the wizard’s curtain.

But there is more to it that showing off that I know a little about the significance of the impasto swish of a painterly brush. Although at this stage the prognosis was positive, there remained a heightened sense of making the most of our time and recalibrating our lives.

‘…to lead me through this salvation of bluebells’

It was one of life’s perversities that it took a combination of nervous breakdowns and Cancer to reach that mindset, so it was important to me to reflect what that walk meant to us at that moment – a breathless walk away from the fortnightly cycle of treatment; freedom from four walls; holding fragile hands in a silent wood; an escape from reality.

Which brings us to the soft, gooey caramel centre: A Respite of Bluebells is also about our relationship and how inspirational Fiona is; Fiona leads us through the woods; Fiona leads us towards the Bluebells. I am an observer watching her reconnect with the simple things in life and soaking up the sensuousness. Even now, I remember her giddy, uninhibited joy.

Reminiscent of eager dates

Next week read my review of this stunning chapbook, Fragments and Stages.

Buy my new collection, Unmuted, at the special price of £5 + P&P. For more details click here.

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