At first I find it hard to choose a poem from Judi Benson’s Hole in the Wall. She became Writer in Residence at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary just a year after the death of her husband, Ken Smith, and there are lines in this book which I find painful to read.
‘If I didn’t dream I’d never see you’, she writes in Waking Thought.
In Threads, she holds close the clothes her husband wore:
Not the shirt so much that I want to preserve
but the way he wore it through to thread
bold and bare with it, every piece a story to be told.
Yet the words are also full of light and life, written with the often humorous energy you might expect of an enthusiastic Green Gym volunteer at the East Ham Nature Reserve. She writes with vigour about getting stuck into taming nettles and rooting out brambles among gravestones and other allotments.
Born in California, living in London, Judi Benson was Writer in Residence in the oncology and palliative care unit of the infirmary from 2004 to 2007, and her poems reflect the life and death reality of hospital wards her as well as the wild joy of the landscape around her.
We are all common
Revisiting the collection now, it carries a comforting message in a winter of rampaging flu, overcrowded hospitals, and political uncertainty about how to heal the health service. Love, life, birth and death – the great levellers. We are all ‘common, one of the flock’. (Happy new year!).
So let’s settle on this one which seems to convey a characteristic tone of voice echoing through the book: “the voice always clear in the ear – reveals a warm confiding humanity…” as Carol Ann Duffy commented on an earlier Judi Benson collection.
My day begins with copulation,
lying on my back studying clouds,
watching gulls on the rooftop across the way
Oh they’ve got their foreplay
as close as beak-ed things come to kissing.
Peck-pecking, doing a dainty dance around
each other in that almost-touching flamenco way.
As close as they get to hugging, and so and so.
Tap tap, slap slap on the tiles awhile
then enough of that, as he takes off, graceful lands atop her,
a showy span of white wing,
doing the jiggery-pokery thing.
She’s uninvolved, looking down at her feet,
Thinking she needs to see a podiatrist, psychiatrist.
It’s all too much
all this fuss and feathers
just to end up sitting on a nest
like all the rest.
Common, one of the flock
First published on the author’s website.