Re-visiting poetry

· mumblings ·

It’s interesting how your perspective on things shifts as you get older.

A little while after Valentine’s Day this year, I remembered an experience (many years ago) when I came across a poem while browsing in a bookshop, just after Valentine’s Day. I had just endured a very painful and messy break-up of a relationship, and my bookshop meandering was an attempt to distract myself for a while. I picked up a book of poetry at random (Michèle Roberts' collection ‘All the selves I was’), and opened a page at random. Bam.

The poem I had opened the book at was ‘poem on St Valentine’s Day’. My heart beat faster. I read the short poem and it was one of those magical moments where it felt as if the poet was inside my head, reading my thoughts, and had written a poem — right there on the spot — especially for me.

The poem is beautiful but brutal. It describes the aftermath of a break up when you have to separate your life from someone else’s, and uses surgical imagery to evoke the pain and difficulty of this process, unpicking stitches and exposing “the wound / red and raw to the february wind”. The shock of the poem nearly brought me to tears on the spot and I (of course) bought a copy of the book.

Happily, I haven’t had to endure that kind of pain for many years, but for some reason, I thought of the poem this past Valentine’s Day, and read it again. I remember the shock of reading it originally, but I found it interesting that one particular part of the imagery in the poem has subtly shifted its meaning for me in the intervening years.

At the end of the poem, she writes:

learning to save myself, learning to live
alone through the long winter nights
means so much unknotting, unknitting
unravelling, untying the mother-cord
— so much undoing

Over the intervening years, I’ve done a lot of metaphorical unknotting and unravelling, and plenty of literal unknitting and unpicking too. I’ve come to see those processes not as failure but as an integral part of the making process. Making and unmaking are part of the same thing, and if you want to learn, to grow, to experiment, to be bold, you often have to unmake. Yes, it can be frustrating or even painful, but it’s a good thing. Unmaking and making anew almost always results in something better and stronger, and in the process, you learn. You just have to be brave, take a deep breath, and get out your seam ripper.