Books: Closer to the Edge
by Pam Kelly
In 2002, I wrote a book, “On the Edge”, having been told by my surgeons that I could suffer a further cerebral haemorrhage at any time —my mother had died from one at the same age.
I wrote a poem about it:
Intimations of Mortality
Last year, in France,
I had – by chance – this stroke of luck….
Oh fuck! A stroke?
A clot ?
A clot stuck in my brain?
Well, that makes – really – quite a lot
of difference .
It means – well, it means you’re going
to die ( and note the “you’re” – it can’t be me, you see )
and then again
it means I’m in a hurry ;
you play it fast when every day means living on the edge,
no time for hedging bets
or worrying, no time for thinking of the past,
no time to care what happens next but only happy that
the time is there.
And now each morning this hastily-wrapped package
arrives at my threshold
and I play pass-the-parcel
and every day there is another gift inside
and still the music plays on.
It is time, I think, to break the silence and take a hard look at what has become the last taboo, i.e. talking about death.
I am still here but closer every day to my own death and many dear friends have passed from my life for ever over the last few years. Since writing the poem above, I am acutely aware how important it is to fully live one's life and therefore to fully live one's death.
Thus “Closer to the Edge” and all that that implies.
“Country music star Gretchen Peters recently described her powerful new CD Blackbirds as her “death album.” It’s fair enough – the songs are heavy with the reality and the idea of death, killing, the impact of war on soldiers, the feelings of loss when someone you love has died. Shaftesbury poet Pam Kelly could perhaps say that her new anthology, Closer To The Edge, is her death collection.
It’s not a new subject for her, as she notes at the start, recalling that when she was 30 her children gave her The Oxford Book of Death for Christmas, because it was “her favourite subject.” This is her seventh book and links back to her first, On The Edge, published in 2002 after a brush with death, when her surgeons had told her that she could suffer another cerebral haemorrhage at any time.
Pam wrote a poem about her experiences at that time, and in the ensuing years has lived life to the full and published six books of passionate and often blackly funny poems about politics, the world around her, sex, friendship and love.
She felt the time had come to “break the silence and take a hard look at what has become the last taboo – talking about death.” And make no mistake about it – these poems are about death, with titles like “La Petite Mort,”, “Killer Hands,” “Slaughter,” “On Writing My Will” and “Beheading.”
There is a powerful connection in many of the poems between sex and death – La Petite Mort is about orgasm, Killer Hands about sex with a lover after he has killed a pike. But there is real death too: “Seven friends have died this year,” she writes in Me Next? “Seven lives which touched my own. Me next?”
Some of the poems are inspired by events outside Pam’s own life, horrifying events to which we are silent and uncomprehending witnesses – a child’s brutal death by starvation and neglect in Betrayal, the murder of a much-loved teacher in Love Is Not Always Enough, Isis militants glorying in death, captured on video for a social media generation, in Beheading.
Death is inevitable, but how do those left behind deal with it? Pam speculates what to do with a jar of “Peanut Butter (chunky)” in a poem for a friend for whom she kept a jar for his favourite peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Should she throw it out “the way you did with your far-from finished life?” she asks.
Some deaths touch so deeply, are so cruel in the way they snuff out young lives, so unexpected and unpredictable. On Christmas Day In The Morning is a sonnet to the tragic loss of young boys killed in a horrific car crash on their way to a Christmas get-together. “God did not send a warning.”
This is a topical, brave and deeply movingl collection from a poet who gives voice to the eternal emotions and experiences of our lives, fearlessly but with warmth and generosity, anger and dark humour.”
Fanny Charles in The Fine Times Recorder
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