Drop in by Kate Boston-Williams

Today’s drop in is by another poet from the Dreich stable, Kate Boston-Williams, reflecting on a poem from her debut collection, Snake Skins. Welcome Kate.

Thank you Nigel for showing an interest in my first collection of poems “Snake Skins” and for inviting me to share my processes and inspirations for one particular poem. It’s been strange looking at it again after some time and trying to fathom exactly why I did choose to write it like that. Not as easy as I first thought. Perhaps that’s why I’ve chosen “Under Snow” it seems a quiet unassuming little poem and I suspect that’s why it’s where it is in the collection – but don’t be fooled.

These poems decided to group themselves together and shuffle about into an order. I couldn’t see the thread at first but then with careful peering a shape and a meaning emerged. They speak of loss, becoming something else because of that loss, like shedding skins; loss of youth, parents, children flying the nest, one’s wits and re-evaluating life’s usual navigation points. A few hark back to childhood experiences – that mine of riches that keeps on giving.

“Under Snow” comes right in the middle of the collection – almost buried. It’s simple in structure and calm in tone like I felt the night Mum died. The poem addresses her directly, I believe that’s a literary device called “apostrophe” not that I made a conscious decision to use it. It’s an intimate whisper about that night and the chaos snow brings in its silent wake.

It was late November 2010, holding Mum’s hand as she left us, the snow started to fall. I saw it from the hospital window, drifting down in mesmerising motion, great gobbets of it. It continued for weeks. Everything seemed to grind to a halt. “The snow, buried everything” I thought, how apt. Mum’s funeral date was delayed. Finally we managed to gather, the hearse sliding its way to the crematorium. Family members had their flights cancelled; they either couldn’t get to Newcastle or they couldn’t get home afterwards. The fact that everyone was so inconvenienced would have appealed to her irreverent sense of humour. The fuss made her passing all the more memorable but also deflected from it, typical of her! “Weather has the knack/of keeping us busy.” Snow is contradictory, it delights and irritates.

Mum was in her early 80s and had moved North from Cornwall to be near me and her grandchildren – she had always been a nomad. Moving from Canada aged 13 when her parents died and World War II began. Shoved about amongst various family members then packed off to boarding school, she eventually found my father after a failed marriage and a peripatetic life. Bright and glamourous, always with a witty quip; “such a to-do/ you would have been pleased.” A staunch socialist I often wonder what she would have made of the mess we’re in now – she would certainly have kept us entertained with a running commentary.

She loved the theatre, my father was an actor when they met and she became part of that scene in Oxford and London in the 1950s and early 60s alluded to with; “Your curtain call” and “your keen sense of the dramatic.” There’s reference to my childhood and our bond; “I stroked your hair as you once did mine” The icy temperature indicates to a life ending. Snow, it’s a good leveller, reducing the world to monochrome, “hiding details” a blanket to smother feelings. The weather forces us to be still, to fight against it is folly. We do though, try and carry on regardless as though nothing has changed. We should give ourselves the grace to acknowledge it and accept it, as with death.

I wanted the poem to convey a sense of my mother, how events around her death was very much in keeping with the way she lived. She could stir up a room full of people by saying something controversial and then sweep out with a flourish leaving them all to unravel her meaning. Infuriating but immensely lovable.

Next week read my review of this wonderful debut collection.

Unmuted, the latest collection by Nigel Kent is available NOW for £7 + P&P (£1.90) UK only, for more details, including how to order, click here and message him using the contact form.

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