Tag Archives: grief

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Invisible Man’ by @MargaretAtwood #poetry

At Christmas I was given Dearly, the slim hardback book of Margaret Atwood’s poems. I’ve never thought of her as a poet but Dearly is a revelation. As with her novels, Atwood crystalises those intense emotional moments of life, the ones that stay with us, and sets them into everyday context. This is a wonderful collection about growing old, rememberings, endings and beginnings, passing by and moving on. Dedicated to her partner it is a personal collection, and very touching.

Margaret Atwood

[photo: Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo – Alamy Stock Photo]

The poem I have chosen is ‘Invisible Man’. A short poem of five verses, full of how it feels to lose your lifelong partner. The absence at the table, on a walk, like an invisible man in comic books, still there but seen only by the one left behind, remembering

This poem is subject to copyright restrictions so here’s the first verse as a taster. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Invisible Man’
It was a problem in comic books:
drawing an invisible man.
They’d solve it with a dotted line
that no one but us could see’

Margaret AtwoodBUY THE BOOK

Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:-
Tulips’ by Wendy Cope
Serious’ by James Fenton
Sounds of the Day’ by Norman MacCaig

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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#BookReview ‘All Our Squandered Beauty’ by @troutiemcfish #novella #grief

At 122 pages, All Our Squandered Beauty by Yorkshire writer Amanda Huggins packs a powerful punch. It is a sensitively managed novella of a teenager navigating young love, relationships and sex while pulled underwater by grief for the father who died when she was young. His disappearance at sea has never been explained, his body never found; but gossip is becoming history. Kara Bradshaw, believing he would never leave her, hangs on to memories of time they spent together, sure of his love. Amanda Huggins

It is 1978 at Elmwick Bay in Yorkshire. Kara’s youth was punctuated by life beside the sea, gathering sea glass from the sand, identifying the birds flying overhead, watching stars in the night sky, tales of local legends and folklore. All occupations she enjoyed with her father. Now as a seventeen-year-old, Kara hangs out with bikers at Charelli’s café and the amusement arcade but fancies her art teacher, Leo. A thread running throughout the book is that all is not always as it seems, something Kara must understand if she is to accept the past and move on into adulthood. But first she must acknowledge her grief and let her father go.

A promising artist, Kara cannot wait to leave school for university in London. But her best friend Louise seems happy to settle for a life at home with her boyfriend, and Kara’s mother has moved inland where the sea is out of sight. Kara knows her boyfriend Marty would like to marry her and have babies, but she wants more. More love, more life, just more. Huggins writes with delicacy about a fragile teenager who knows what she wants but not why, seeking a path of learning without a father to guide her. Seven years have passed since villagers gossiped that Ged Bradshaw hadn’t really died at sea but ran away with Lola Armitage. Kara sees Lola everywhere, follows her only to discover it is someone she has never seen before.

Kara, unable to understand she still grieves for her father in hundreds of small ways, is seeking definitive answers to unanswerable questions. She looks for escape and finds it in art teacher Leo who offers her place at a summer art school in Greece, funded by the Philip Patou Art Foundation. Kara jumps at the chance. What she finds in Greece is not what she expected. Huggins is a successful travel writer and her description of the island of Lyros is beautiful, seen through the eyes of artist Kara who compares it with her seaside hometown.

This coming-of-age story passes quickly, I read it in two sittings and was left curious. I longed to see more – of Kara’s childhood and of the woman she will become. All Our Squandered Beauty is the story of one summer in her life, interwoven with reminiscences of her father. Huggins’ writing is, as always, delightful, her technical skill invisible on the page leaving the reader to dwell on the emotions. The short fiction form doesn’t allow the exploration in depth of all Huggins’ themes, and hopefully she is turning her attention to a novel.

Read my reviews of Amanda Huggins’ short story collections, Brightly Coloured Horses and Separated from the Sea and her poetry collection, The Collective Noun for Birds.

Why is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Amanda’s favourite comfort read?

If you like this, try:-
A Week in Paris’ by Rachel Hore
The Last Day’ by Claire Dyer
The Cheesemaker’s House’ by Jane Cable

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:-
ALL OUR SQUANDERED BEAUTY by @troutiemcfish #novella https://wp.me/p5gEM4-56j via @SandraDanby

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas #poetry

Dylan Thomas’s most famous, arguably most familiar, poem is a villanelle with five stanzas of three lines followed by a single stanza of four lines, making a total of 19 lines. It is structured with two repeating rhymes, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘Rage, rage, against the dying of the light’. Written in 1947 when Thomas was in Florence with his family, it is popularly thought to refer to the death of his father though his father did not die until 1952. In contrast to many poems of death, popular for reading at funerals, this speaks clearly and strongly at the anger and resentment at dying.

Dylan Thomas

[photo: poetryfoundation.org]

Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot reproduce the whole poem here. Please search for the full poem in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and race at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Dylan ThomasBUY THE BOOK

Dylan ThomasThomas’s best known poem has been referenced frequently in popular culture. In the 1996 film Independence Day, the president gives a rousing speech to his bedraggled army as they prepare to fight the aliens, saying “We will not go quietly into the night.”

Dylan ThomasIn the 2014 film Interstellar, the poem is quoted frequently by Michael Caine’s character, Professor John Brand, while Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are sent into hyper sleep with the words, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:-
Dunt: A Poem for a Dried-Up River’ by Alice Oswald 
After a Row’ by Tom Pickard
My Mother’ by Ruby Robinson

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
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#Bookreview ‘Smash All The Windows’ by Jane Davis @janedavisauthor #literary

Jane DavisThought-provoking, sometimes difficult, always moving, Smash All The Windows by Jane Davis starts at a run as we are pitched straight into emotional turmoil, grief, anger and betrayal. There is an inquest investigating an accident thirteen years earlier, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice. In turn we meet the survivors, and the relatives of the victims. Davis follows the paths of each person to their own resolution; there is no self-help book to follow, they must each must work it out for themselves. We see flashbacks to the days and hours before the accident as Davis unravels the real truth of what happened.

This is a complex story with legal twists and turns, misunderstandings and minute step-by-step detail of what happened on that day, thirteen years ago, when over-crowding at St Botolph and Old Billingsgate tube stations in London ended in death. For thirteen years, blame has been thrown around, scapegoats have been targeted, the media has dug for dirt. This is an imaginary accident but with echoes of so many disasters – Hillsborough, Grenfell, Kings Cross – that it can’t help but be affecting.

There are a lot of victims and survivors, a lot of relatives. The high number of characters causes initial confusion: who is who, who is alive and who is dead, what was the actual accident. As I read the first quarter of the book, I longed for a short summary of what happened. But as the story progressed I understood that my confusion mirrors the confusion of an accident as it happens, the disorientation of victims, the powerlessness of the loved ones who are waiting. It is a purposeful obfuscation by the author to reflect the opacity of what happens, the difficulty of finding the truth in any inquest or public enquiry, and ultimately the slippery nature of memory.

The survivors and relatives of victims are now living fractured lives. Gina lost her son. Her daughter Tamsin has grown into a young woman, still living at home to support her mother after Gina’s husband left, as husband and wife dealt with grief in different ways. Gina often forgets in the bottom of a glass. Donovan lost his pregnant daughter, her partner and his unborn grandchild; grief has caused his wife to withdraw into her own world, agoraphobic she stays at home. Maggie lost her daughter, newly-promoted station supervisor Rosie; Rosie is the scapegoat and Maggie receives hate mail. She understands the need of people to blame someone, and tries to deal with the anger and bitterness thrown her way, but is unable to ‘move on’ as her husband can. Jules lost his wife and is raising his young son alone. None of these people were there on the day but they are also victims. Add to this mix the two lawyers, Eric and Sorrel. It is Eric’s cussedness, his determination to unravel the truth, to read obscure documents about operating procedures and identify the failings, that makes the new inquest possible. He proves that accidents happen because of an unpredictable collision of small things.  I found Eric’s sections about the minutae of the accident, the legal arguments, the leaden language of official documents, to be a slow read that interupts the flow of emotions as Gina, Tamsin, Donovan, Maggie and Jules process their grief.

Ultimately, Jules is the catalyst for resolution. Transformed from plumber to artist, his reputation has gradually grown. Now a commission from the Tate Modern to produce a collection of art about the disaster allows ‘the 59’ to achieve a form of public resolution to their grief. The story came alive for me with Jules and his art. He takes the story of each survivor or relative and uses small items to tell a huge story, about their grief, their anger, the need to hit out, the need to be recognised.

Davis writes well about the powerful emotion unleashed by the accident, and its lasting effects. This book is about the nature of victimhood and how it is possible to shake it off if you have the will to do so. But that does not mean forgetting. Davis shows the transition of remembering; at the beginning, the second inquest has refreshed the trauma anew; but at the end, memories are welcomed in.

Smash All The Windows won the inaugural 2019 Selfies award, a new award celebrating the quality of indie authors. Selfies is run by Book Brunch in association with the London Book Fair and sponsored by IngramSpark. Read more about Jane Davis’s other books here.

If you like this, try:-
In the Midst of Winter’ by Isabel Allende
The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty
The Little Red Chairs’ by Edna O’Brien

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SMASH ALL THE WINDOWS by @janedavisauthor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3TP via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘When All Is Said’ by Anne Griffin @AnneGriffin_ #Irish

Anne GriffinThis book stayed with me a long time after I finished it. Three words sum up When All is Said by Anne Griffin. Masterful. Emotional. Funny. It is the story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits at a bar one evening. He drinks a toast to five people and tells the story of his life. It is one of those Irish novels which makes your emotions tingle and say ‘yes, it is like that’, which makes tears prick your eyes and laughter rise in your chest. This is Griffin’s debut novel but she is an accomplished prizewinning writer who knows how to tell a story. It is unbearingly touching and will, without fail, make you cry.

Maurice is in the bar of the Rainsford House Hotel in Rainsford, Co Meath, Ireland. At the beginning we don’t know why he is there, the first few pages are an introduction to Maurice, how he feels his age, as he conducts an imaginary conversation with his son Kevin who lives in America. His first drink is a bottle of stout and as he drinks, he tells the story of his brother Tony and their childhood. A key incident in this section has reverberations throughout Maurice’s life and throughout this novel; a gentle reminder that we all may grow old, we may live in the same place or move away, but our childhood and our actions stay with us. We are introduced to Emily, owner of the hotel, and Svetlana, barmaid. Griffin has a talent with sense of place; she makes the hotel come alive.

Four more drinks follow. For Molly, a glass of Bushmills 21-year old malt. For Noreen, a bottle of stout. For Kevin, a rare whiskey, Jefferson’s Presidential Select. And for his wife Sadie, Maurice drinks a glass of Midleton whiskey. “Svetlana places my final drink down in front of me: Midleton, you can’t fault it. Majestic stuff. I look at it like she has just handed me the keys to a new harvester. It’s the autumn colours that get me. It’s the earth of it, the trees, the leaves, the late evening sky.”

As each story is told, Anne Griffin weaves in the present day so the two strands blend and the past explains Maurice’s situation, why he feels as he does, why he longs for what he longs for. This is a beautiful Irish novel about love, dyslexia, grumpiness, family, bullying, forgiveness and whiskey. I loved it and didn’t want it to end.
Read more at Anne Griffin’s website.

If you like this, try:-
A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne
Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín 
That They May Face the Rising Sun’ by John McGahern

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
WHEN ALL IS SAID by @AnneGriffin_ #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Qg via @SandraDanby

A #poem to read in the bath… ‘I loved her like the leaves’

The sense of loss in this Japanese poem is unquenchable. Written by Kakinonoto Hitomaro in 7th century Japan, it speaks of emptiness so great there is no hope or comfort. Hitomaro was a poet of the Asuka period [538-710], serving as court poet to the Empress Jitō, and is considered to be one of the four greatest poets in Japanese history along with Fujiwara no Teika, Sōgi and Bashō.

Kakinonoto Hitomaro

Kakinomoto Hitomaro by Kikuchi Yosai

‘I loved her like the leaves,
The lush green leaves of spring
That pulled down the willows
on the bank’s edge
where we walked
while she was of this world.
I built my life on her.
But man cannot flout
the laws of this world.
To the shimmering wide fields
hidden by the white cloud,
white as white silk scarf
she soared away like the morning bird,
hid from our world like the setting sun.
The child, the gift she left behind –
he cries for food; but always
finding nothing that I might give him,
I pick him up and hold him in my arms.
On the pillow where we lay,
My wife and I, as one,
I pass the daylight lonely till the dusk,
the black night sighing till the dawn.
I grieve and grieve and know no remedy.
I ache and know no road where I might meet her.

[NB. This poem features in two editions of poems that I own and, owing to different translations, there are variations]

The poem features in many anthologies, including my own The Picador Book of Funeral Poems and The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.

Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin
‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri
‘After a row’ by Tom Pickard

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A #poem to read in the bath: ‘I loved her like the leaves’ by Kakinonoto Hitomaro https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dY via @SandraDanby

A poem to read in the bath… ‘A thousand years, you said’

Written in 8th century Japan, this poem speaks of the longing of love shadowed by impending death, and it is as relevant today as it was then. I discovered this poem in The Picador Book of Funeral Poems, and then stumbled on it again in an old paperback on my bookshelf, The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. It was written by Lady Heguri in mid-late eighth century. No details are known of her, except that her poems are addressed to Yakamochi.

‘A thousand years, you said,
As our two hearts melted.
I look at the hand you held
And the ache is too hard to bear.’


‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson
Amazon UK

Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari
‘Winter Song’ by Wilfred Owen
‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #poem to read in the bath: ‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dS via @SandraDanby

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Because I could not stop for Death’

This lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson sees the poet meet Death who, as a gentleman caller, takes a leisurely carriage drive with her. It was first published posthumously under the title ‘The Chariot’ in Poems: Series 1 in 1890, the edition assembled and edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Here are the first two verses.
‘Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility.’

The poem has since been set to music by Aaron Copland as the twelfth song of his cycle The Twelve Poems of Emily DickinsonEmily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson


‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador]

Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn
‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves
‘The Roses’ by Katherine Tempest

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A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dG via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Museum of You

Carys BrayThis novel by Carys Bray starts with a wonderful description of twelve-year-old Clover watering her father’s allotment on a hot summer’s day. It is the beginning of the summer holidays and it is the first time she has her own front door key and is allowed out on her own. I smelt the dust, could see the shimmering heat and feel the cool of the water splashing from the tap.

It is not a book in which a lot happens; rather it is a sensitive portrait of a single father and his daughter and how the past refuses to be ignored.

After a school trip to the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool, Clover decides her holiday project will be to curate an exhibit of her mother. She has no memories of her mum, who died soon after Clover was born, and her father never talks about the past. Clover never used to mind about this, not wanting to press him and cause distress. But now, poised on the edge of womanhood, her curiosity mounts. And so she ventures into the spare bedroom, a repository of the unwanted and unused. Amongst the piles of old clothes and broken things, she discovers objects which enchant her, things which belonged to her mother. From these pieces she compiles a picture of the mother she never knew.

What follows is an enchanting tale of a motherless girl, her bus driver father, neighbour Mrs Mackerel (what a great name), grandfather and unpredictable Uncle Jim. It took me quite a while to sort out who is who. We see Clover’s life through the lens of her childlike but observant eyes, balanced by the story of her father Darren who feels the daily struggle of a man raising a daughter alone: how to tie a towel turban on her head, what to tell her about boyfriends. It is a very real story about an ordinary family, touching but sometimes caustic, funny and believable. It could be a mawkish read about long-term grief, but Clover energises the story. Her family is surviving, despite the difficulties it faces. Darren’s sections tells us the truth about the things Clover finds, which makes some of her museum exhibits so poignant. I loved the scenes between Clover and schoolfriend Dagmar at the allotment, though Mrs Mackerel’s malapropisms became a little wearing towards the end.

If you like ‘The Museum of You’, try these other novels about family secrets:-
‘The Girls’ by Lisa Jewell
‘Somewhere Inside of Happy’ by Anna McPartlin
‘Beginnings’ by Helen J Christmas

‘The Museum of You’ by Carys Bray [UK: Hutchinson] Buy at Amazon

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Book review: Yuki Chan in Bronte Country

Mick JacksonThis was an unexpected novel. Unusual, charming, offbeat. A young Japanese tourist visits Haworth, birthplace of the Bronte sisters, though she has not read their novels. Why is she there amongst a busload of pensioners? And why, when it’s time to leave, does she do a runner and ignore phone calls from her sister?

This is a novel about grief, acceptance and friendship. There are other things going on too – the science of snow, spirit photography – but basically it is a road novel. Yukiko Chan leaves Japan for England to follow in the footsteps of her mother, who died ten years previously. ‘She is like Columbo, gathering evidence.’ But, in the way of road novels, Yuki finds answers to questions about herself she had not considered, and friendship and help from unexpected quarters.

The reasons for the road trip are drip-fed, this is a slow, thoughtful book, so read it with patience. I loved it. It is touching and quirky, as is Yuki herself, from her thoughts on how airports should be designed, to plans for more revolving restaurants. And why, she puzzles, are the biscuits in the Bronte gift tins not shaped liked the three sisters?

Read more about Mick Jackson’s books at his website.

If you like ‘Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’, try these other novels about grief:-
‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes’ by Anna McPartlin
‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín
‘Did You Ever Have a Family’ by Bill Clegg

‘Yuki Chan in Bronte Country’ by Mick Jackson [UK: Faber] Buy at Amazon

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