Thursday, 1 April 2010

Liberty Bodice by Sian Hughes [entry for The Hippocrates Prize competition]

So back two Wednesdays ago there was this article in The Independent

Verse that will make you feel better.

About a poetry competition which is focused on medical themes, with the winner being announced at a symposium on Poetry and Medicine next week at the University of Warrick. Both of the short listed poems in the article are very good but this one really stands out [I've typed it out in the format from the paper as it is more pleasing to the eye than the version in the online article]

Liberty Bodice
by Sian Hughes

A few days after the operation
the nurses let you in the shower room
alone. The one with the mirror.

The dressing on your left side
is felted, fixed like old fashioned vests
you wore to boarding school-

from this angle, you're twelve,
embarrassed, packed away.
From the other, you're a woman.

You turn one way, and back again.
The nurses listen outside. But it's later
you cry, in your sleep, secretly.

like homesick girls in the dormitory,
down both sides of your face
into your brand new, flatter pyjamas.

I assume that the poor woman has had to had to have a breast removed but by not explaining exactly what has happened or giving a reason for why it makes the poem all the more striking. By removing the disease from the equation you're forced to focus upon the woman's sense of loss, experience the horror of something key and irreplaceble being taken from her.

The nurses listening outside not only speaks of how and why we conceal our personal pain from others but on the flipside we question why they are listening. Has other peoples' suffering become so commonplace to them that it is now a game to guess if she will cry?

Then there are the regular comparisons to being a young girl. That by having a symbol of her womanhood taken from her she has been forced back into childhood, that her worth has been reduced somehow. It leaves you wanting to reach out to the woman and assure her that this is not the case but in a world so obssessed with image, if she turned back and assured you through tear filled eyes that it is the counter-arguement would sit like a ball in your throat.

These are an incredible set of verses, the title not only reinforcing the idea of being forced back into childhood but a cruel play on words as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment