I will forever be grateful to Emma Metcalfe from the Bath Festivals’ Write Team for recommending to me Mandy Coe’s wonderful book Clay, from which the poem below is taken.
I am slightly ashamed that I needed to be recommended the book in the first place, as Mandy is an old friend and colleague whose work I have always loved and admired. My excuse for not knowing about Clay is that in my slow recovery from treatment of cancer in 2007-08 I did not much feel like reading very much. I am not proud to admit that when news did reach me of books of friends I was content to let the opportunity of reading them pass by.
I was exhausted, physically and mentally. And I could not understand why I kept wanting to cry in public places.
Without overstating it, I do think that with a small number of other books of poems Clay is what got me reading poetry again. If you have not seen it, please check it out, you will not be sorry.
For one thing, Mandy does great titles. ‘Sunflower Sex’, anyone? ‘Creationist Homework’? ‘Sometimes it Occurs to me That I am Dead?’
For another thing, Mandy Coe is an original. No one looks at and writes about the world like she does. ‘Stair-space is mysterious;/altering time and matter’ she says in one poem (‘You Only Notice Stairs During Strange Times’). In another poem a gecko ‘pauses, receiving’. I love the minute attention to detail in that line, an almost Blakean sense of the divine in living things.
Everything in Mandy’s world seems light. This is not to say she is not serious. I think everything Mandy writes is deadly serious, but wearing a grin and a cackle. Her project I think is to notice absolutely everything; not to do so, she seems to be saying, is not to live properly.
Which brings me to the perfect and devastating poem ‘Let’s Celebrate’. As I say, when I first read it I was still feeling my way into recovery and ‘normal’ life, including that of work. If I am honest I found it hard to believe that my diagnosis and treatment had happened to me. I could not believe that the world seemed to have gone on perfectly well without me contributing to it in any significant way other than to shuffle with my son backwards and forwards to his primary school.
When I reached the end of the poem I actually felt winded. Few poems have the power both to acknowledge life in extremis while offering a vision of how it might be otherwise. I think Yeats called this a possession of both ‘reality and justice’.
All I want to say to Mandy, and to her wonderful poem and book of poems, is thank you for noticing, and in noticing, giving me time to notice what is around me, even when ‘nothing’ is happening.
where nothing happens.
that fill our lives.
Not the field bright with poppies, but
the times you walked, seeing
no leaves, no sky, only one foot
We are sleeping
(it’s not midnight and
there is no dream).
We enter a room – no one is in it.
We run a tap,
queue to buy a stamp.
These are the straw moments
that give substance
to our astonishments;
moments the homesick dream of;
the bereaved, the diagnosed.
Mandy Coe, from Clay (Shoestring Press)