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A Scattering, Christopher Reid

Christopher Reid, A Scattering, Arete Books

Christopher Reid is no stranger to literary accolades. His first poetry collection, Arcadia, won the 1980 Somerset Maugham Award and the Hawthornden Prize. Last year he also won the coveted Costa Prize for his poignant collection, A Scattering, written as a tribute to the memory of his late wife, Lucinda Gane, who died in October 2005.

A Scattering consists of four poetic sequences, the first during her final illness, and the other three in intervals following her death. The first sequence, entitled The Flowers of Crete, shows the poet seeking to process, or simply even escaping, what is going on, as he writes:

Please pardon the crimes/of your husband, the poet/as he mazes the pages/of his notebook, in pursuit/of some safe way out.

Yet whilst there may be the odd moments of escape he delicately and honestly weaves the facts of his wife’s treatment in this sequence, with melancholic diversions by way of a well-placed objective correlative, in this case being:

A man with a long garment/is playing guitar/in a field full of birds/horns of consecration/and double-axes.

Before asking whether there is:

anything more absurd/than the Englishman abroad/with his panama hat and his hay-fever/firing off left, right and centre...

Reid’s use of alliteration, as one can expect from a poet of his calibre, is gentle, particularly when moving into the second sequence, after Lucinda’s death, when he describes:

Those last few days/of drug-drowse, coma-comfort

It is in the longest third sequence, A Widower’s Dozen, that Reid illuminates the collection’s title in the poem of the same name, describing the ritual of mourning elephants who, upon finding the bones ‘of one of their own kind’ pick them up and scatter them, which ‘has an air/of deliberate ritual, ancient and necessary’.

It is in ‘Turns’ that I found, what was for me, the most memorable lines:

I know she’s dead and I don’t believe in ghosts/Nor that the house has
been saving up/Old echoes as rationed treats and rewards./It's my
brain that’s all, turned whimsically ventriloquist.

Despite what could be seen by some as a collection of a melancholy nature, one comes away feeling more about life, which, after all, is the purpose of death.

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