It’s always exciting for lovers of poetry when a new small poetry press publishes its first pamphlet. If Niki Strange’s debut pamphlet is anything to go by Flight of the Dragonfly Press has an eye for exciting new talent. Here she is to talk about a poem from Body Talk, (Flight of the Dragonfly Press, 2022).
Thank you to Nigel for the opportunity to reflect on this poem, which is in my first poetry pamphlet, Body Talk, published in October 2022 by Flight of the Dragonfly Press.
This poem was originally conceived as a response to my frustration at how having cancer had impacted on my life (spoiler alert – it ended up somewhere quite different!) Specifically, at how having a melanoma skin cancer in 2018 meant that I could no longer think about being out in the sunshine, of having the warmth of sunlight on my skin, without immediately feeling anxiety – did I have sun screen on, where’s my hat, cross the road to walk in shadow and so on.
What I was mourning here was the loss of a sense of spontaneity and freedom to bask in lightness. The poem became a meditation on how writing enables us to place ourselves in spaces and states of being that may no longer be possible in everyday life – where facts have no consequence and instead ‘all is shadowless velocity’ where I am ‘lit up, let loose’. I liked the sense that with each letter written on the page one can transport the ‘matter’ of myself to experience new or lost sensations, emotions and places.
In the repetition of ‘I can write myself’ I also played with the idea of ‘right-ing’ myself through this process – I’m very interested in writing for wellbeing. Following my second cancer diagnosis a year after my first – this time with breast cancer in 2019 – I won Arts Council funding for a residency at Macmillan’s Horizon Centre in Brighton, devising and delivering 16 poetry workshops for people affected by cancer. I saw not just through my own experience but through running these workshops the power of poetry to support health and wellbeing.
So in this poem I wanted to echo the sense of ‘writing oneself’ and its connection with ‘right-ing’ oneself, both mentally but also physically because I talk about the ‘lost nodes, radiated breast, sleeved right arm’ being parts of a ‘new entirety’ that is balanced and restored through a new way of being in the world.
My poetry often comes to me through a combination of a nagging question I want to answer for myself (or at least explore as I often end up with more questions than answers!) combined with a set of strong visuals I see in my mind’s eye.
The sense of craving freedom and release ties the central images of the careering car and the dive from the high board together though at the top of the dive is a moment of reflection – we’re ‘suspended in defiance of Earth’s pull’. I felt the poem needed a moment to breath, to slow down and as the ‘tuck’ before the revolution echoes my sense of being curled up in bed, frightened (ooh those long nights when you’re awaiting scan results or following chemo).
That moment is also about gaining control, the ‘in defiance of Earth’s pull’. From the pause we then regain momentum (with the enjambment helping here to underscore the sense of falling) to plunge ‘as steel in to the quenching water, written stronger’. So a poem born of frustration and mourning loss took me to a place of acceptance but beyond that of being strengthened by those experiences and also by the process of writing itself.
This poem is the last in my first pamphlet, Body Talk, and in many ways encapsulates the themes explored therein. That the body has its tales to tell – though so often silenced or dismissed – and through listening we may find healing or at least a deeper understanding of ourselves and of each other.
Next week read my review of this fine debut!
One thought on “Drop-in by Niki Strange”
Thanks Nigel. My brother-in-law passed away from cancer night before last and although I haven’t been able to write any poetry for a while due to my own challenges that hit the spot and was a comfort. Keep me a signed copy of Benchwarmers if you can Nigel and I’ll get it from you shortly sir. I look forward to your full review of Body Talk. Hope you and yours are keeping well Nigel.