I have been thinking a lot about the poetry of Julia Darling this week. Her work became essential to me a year before I had cancer, when a friend introduced me to her first book of poems Sudden Collapses in Public Places. And when I entered remission, hers was the first poetry I read with my rediscovered concentration.
Lately, I’ve been rereading her posthumously published collected poems Indelible, Miraculous, which is as accurate a title of self-description as I have come across. As the Arc Publications website says, her later poems are about her experience of breast cancer but are not morbid and not only aimed at women. If you do not know her work, it’s time you did.
In particular I’ve been thinking of a line towards the end of that collection’s title poem. It’s a poem of ‘early morning’ virgin spaces: a ‘cold’ pane of glass; an ‘untouched’ patch of grass; a ‘deep pool of silver water’; a beach swept clean after a storm, ready for new footprints. The poem is one of direct address, to the ‘indelible, miraculous’ friend of the title. While never less than affirming of the Psalmist’s knowledge that ‘joy comes with the morning’, it is also a poem of sending out, of encouragement to keep living, even though that will mean ‘danc[ing] alone’.
The poem is able to assert that ‘we all matter’ and ‘we are all/ indelible, miraculous’ because it has successfully persuaded us, via its gorgeous language, of the never-ending tension between celebration and lament. This is what I go to poetry for: an awareness that affirms life in all of its complexity.
But the poem has been on my mind for other reasons, too. That clean beach ‘after the storm’ is lodged in my mind’s eye as a now-impossible dream for the 27 people who lost their lives trying to cross the English Channel earlier this week. If, like me, you have been watching and reading the news in an ever-mounting state of anger mixed with hopelessness, be assured that you are not alone. But you can take action. You might like to look at Freedom From Torture’s campaign against the ‘Nationality & Borders Bill’ (AKA the anti-refugee bill), and then use their simple form to write to your MP. (They are aiming for 1,000 people to take part. The figure is around 650 as I type.)
If I may direct your attention to another issue that is close to my heart, and as we are remembering a great poet who lost her life to breast cancer, you might also consider making a donation to The Amos Trust’s Women 4 Women appeal. As their website says:
Discovering you have breast cancer is devastating but if you live in the Gaza Strip, it is three times more likely to be terminal. There are acute shortages of chemotherapy drugs. Hospitals are not allowed to bring radioisotopes into Gaza, so there is no radiotherapy available.
You need permission to leave Gaza to receive treatment and you have to find the money to pay for it. In an economy on its knees, edging out of another conflict, this is impossible for many people. The best hope is early detection.
I think Julia Darling would approve of this campaign. Though I never knew her, I know she would be angry of its need to exist. We all matter.