Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"One story and the other" by Sarah Broom, 1972 - 2013

My stomach churns like stormwater
running to the sea

and in the wake of the storm
I am strewn with debris.


When you look at me
with that innocent face,
as artless as the full moon,
as simple as the round
of cream at the top
of those old glass bottles –

then I forget
your other side,
the veiled moon,
the averted head,
the shuttered eyes.


This afternoon the harbour
was still and sultry

only the white butterflies
carried on their dance,
their frantic, balletic pairings

everything else was overcome

but then when I swam
in the too warm sea
the current was strong –
twenty seconds on my back,
staring at the clouds,
and the jetty was a good
long swim away –

twenty minutes
and I’d have crossed the bar.


I could not see the open sea
because two headlands were in the way.
One was near and one was far.


And it is true that there is always one story
and the other:

the moon with its two faces;

the lash of the storm and its relenting;

the fever grip of the days that pass
thick and fast among stumbling feet
and soft jammy mouths,
and the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark;

the harbour with its come-hither looks,
its nests and whispered secrets,
the tug and sigh and doze of tides

and then the open sea –
you knew I would return to it –

the open sea
of which, in fact, we know nothing.

Only that it pitches, rocks and keens

and agitates
in our dreams.
© Sarah Broom, 2013
From: Gleam by Sarah Broom, Auckland University Press, 2013
Reproduced on The Tuesday Poem Hub with permission.

My first encounter with Sarah's poetry was in 2010, when I read and loved her first collection, Tigers at Awhitu (Auckland Universty Press, NZ; Carcanet, UK.) News of her death earlier this year was a great sadness to me, and although I looked forward to the publication of her second collection, Gleam (Auckland Universty Press) in August, I still felt deep regret that the poet would no longer be with us and part of all that release of a book means.

In her obituary for Sarah, written for Carcanet, Sarah’s UK publisher, Selina Guinness wrote:  Gleam … is a collection written in extremis, and contains some of the most beautiful and startling poems about dying I have ever read.”

I agree that Gleam is very much a testament to Sarah's long illness and dying. I also feel that when you look at a poem like One Story and the other it is a poem that is as much about life as about death, and also about the "being here" that encompasses both. In this sense, I believe the poem offers a key to the collection. The sea is a constant companion throughout Gleam: its myriad voices, its constant change and yet its immutability. I feel it is no accident that the poem both begins and ends with the sea, although there is also a still heart to the poem, contained within the many unfolding boxes of moon, tide, "the fever grip of days":
… the slow inner breath,
a room expanding and shrinking
like a paper lantern, its ivory coolness
swinging through the dark …
Reading Gleam, I was put in mind of the AS Byatt quote:

'Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.'

Sarah and I never met in person although we emailed, and talked once on the phone. But when I sat down with Gleam and read poems like One story and the other in particular, in that space I did indeed feel like we were alone together, with a friend speaking to me from every line.
Sarah Broom’s first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Auckland University Press (AUP) in 2010, and simultaneously by Carcanet Press in the UK.  She also wrote Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006.  Her second collection, Gleam, was published by Auckland University Press in August 2013. To hear Sarah read from and discuss Tigers at Awhitu, click on the following Scottish Poetry Library podcast interview: Sarah Broom.

Sarah died on April 18, 2013, after a five year illness with lung cancer. She is survived by her husband and three children.

Today's editor, Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet and interviewer whose work has been published, broadcast and anthologized in New Zealand and internationally. Her first novel Thornspell, (Knopf) was published to critical praise in 2008, and in 2012 The Heir Of Night, won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog and can also be found on Twitter: @helenl0we
In addition to One story and the other, be sure to check out the wonderful poems featured by the other Tuesday Poets, using our blog roll to the left of this posting.


susan t. landry said...

ohhh, a wonderful poem...and a new-to-me poet. thank you so much, helen.

Helen Lowe said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Susan. Thank you for commenting.

Michelle Elvy said...

This poem has such depth, such reach... all that floating, gazing, feeling one's way out to sea. The returning to it, the mystery of it -- only that we know it pitches and churns in our dreams. Absolutely beautiful, and heartbreaking, and brave.

Thanks for posting this poem, Helen. Sarah's poetry moves me every time I come across it. And your commentary is so lovely, too, Helen. I like how much you share about your own personal reading of her poetry -- and the AS Byatt quote is perfect, too.

I feel alone, and full, reading this poem. And a lot of love for Sarah and her words.

Thank you.