Some mothers and daughters are bound by a shared love of baking; my mother and I had always been united by poetry. I was a child again, lying in bed as she read to me. It turned out that all these years she had been keeping a book of snippets of poetry, prayer and anecdotes that had particularly struck her, entitled ‘consolations’.
“Some mothers and daughters are bound by a shared love of baking; my mother and I had always been united by poetry.”
I drank up the collection as if it were ice-cool water offered to a parched traveller. I wasn’t well enough to listen to, let alone read, anything longer than a few verses. Even that could exhaust me. I didn’t have the attention span to read an entire novel. So poetry’s brevity was a blessing. So too was the way it dissolved the feeling of solitude: I wasn’t alone, others had suffered and made something of their suffering. They had reordered the seemingly random cruelty of the illness into some kind of sense.
Poetry absorbed and revitalised me. Its condensed nature and sophisticated vocabulary required a concentration that shocked me into the moment in an almost physical way, freeing me from worries past and future.
My mother and I began with short poems, many of which are dotted through the text of Black Rainbow, a memoir I wrote about this time in my life. One favourite was New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge. It particularly helped at the painful start of the day:
Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning,
Troubles forecasted and possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.