But whose death is timely or planned? I knew the poet moderately. We frequented the same dinners, the same cafes and the same reading circuits. Sometimes I got to perform my work before her, mostly prose about a childhood spent in warm foreign climates. I moved around a lot as a child.
She was talented, and like so many other notable female poets, was well educated at a high-ranking university. She had the brain to be anything, but instead of being anything (a doctor or a lawyer) she chose to invest her time in words. She discovered her love of poetry in a class and honed it in an extra curricular club. She, of course, had the monetary support and the emotional derision of disappointed parents.
She came from money, and died with none. I guess that’s the most romantic way to die. She spent most of hers on décor. She hated copies; lack of originality. She would only fill her house with costly vintage and originals. She had original couches, artwork and cutlery. I wish I could have visited her dwelling in the countryside to see some of those dying cupboards and tragic mantelpieces.
She hated my work. I walked into a green room at a notable literature festival near Wales to hear her use the word “fluffy,” in reference to my name. She did not respect my tales of sweltering heat and mosquito nets and mud tracks viewed from a four-wheeled car. I suppose she had a point. I played the ignorant and went straight for the free ginger nut biscuits and watery coffee.
She was first published in the 1960’s in a small anthology of authors local to her. Her short poem on the possibility of a life without men was met with smiles, a pat on a head and support from what she would later refer to as the “pointed leftfield.” She hated the leftfield. She thought it was pointed. She thought it highlighted her subject matter as different and effected rather then being just there. She pretended she didn’t court attention but all her follow up work was offensive and contested and debated.
I discovered her at the library during a summer spent in staticness. My family had moved back to the UK and I knew no one my age so was left in isolation, but not loneliness, and would read to fill up time and promise. I was looking for something to really side wind me and she was in a section I had not explored.
The slim volume of poetry confused me at first. I was not educated in the beauty of linguistics and my emotional intellect was only just beginning to flourish. I did not understand the sly references to burgeoning sexuality and although I thought I knew why my older sister cried, I didn’t really know why my older sister cried but I did find a morsel of intrigue in those twelve poems. There was something in it which excited me but I found it difficult to articulate, like explaining the reasons behind your favourite colour or parent.
She went on to win prizes and pass comment and declare how ill at ease she was with these labels, but she kept on appearing on the television and she kept being the mouthpiece, for me, for others.
I tried to write like her, like so many women of my age and ilk and I went to university and tried to carbon copy myself but without the same incentive. My incentive was not my own.
I married a nice quiet man, and she did the same.
Her nice quiet man was a few decades older then her and her work changed and mellowed, filled with love and platitudes, whilst mine became bitter. Hers was a pre-emptive strike against the death of the older man and mine was a postnatal strike against the death of imaginary children.
She mourned her husband before he was gone but she did it with armour off and a best seller in her hands.
He died five years later and her words lost their simple beauty. They became steel cut again. She lost the brief softness of love and found a hatred of God and the ever-turning ball of nature. She was childless and I was barren, but I did not long for children anymore. I wrote, and my husband, the naïve man who was always less then the creativity would allow, encouraged me economically and with regular hot drinks.
She aged, and her work became less relevant. Other people overtook her, and soon her ideas became commonplace and people forgot they were hers to start with. They were foundations that wore down, and I soon tired of her inability to adapt and change. She was the original and the origins were shifting. I began to write of my ex pat childhood and people liked it, the people in the right places. My husband and I kept trying for babies and I never told him I could not produce.
I wrote in volumes and I spoke at schools, theatres and on the radio. I was published in newspapers and all my talk of tigers seen through the luxury of a well-built porch became a part of my ghost children’s curriculum.
She spoke out more and more, and said things that were considered ridiculous, relic and dinosaur like with a focus on the past. She said things hadn’t changed, but others insisted they had. She took on young lovers, and I would see her at these public appearances shepherded around with men I always assumed to be her nephews, but there caresses were more then friendly, more then intimate.
I moved to be near her but after that “fluffy” comment she refused to acknowledge me. When my husband left me for someone else I sat in a café she came into hoping she would offer me a tissue for my tears. Or a pen. Or a knife. But she didn’t, she floated by indifferently, alone or with a young man. Drinking coffee or red wine. Eating spinach or a cake.
When she died under suspicious circumstances people lauded her up again. They wrote about her genius, her unhappiness, her depression and her drinking. They ventured guesses to her private mind and printed them as truth. They started charities and bursaries in her name and they asked me, a natural successor according to some, to write about her influence on me. I did not.
I wrote poisonous words about my ex husband, and his new pregnant wife. I wrote about the plumpness of her ankles, and I compared the child to a mollusc, to a tumour. I sent it to a prominent newspaper, and they published it in a special on post-modern poetry.
They found her newest work, unfinished, and her family claimed it was her greatest, it was going back to the roots and they cashed in her cheques and I found it meagre and wanting. Her poem on the woman in the café who wished to dance on her grave with oversized shoes seemed particularly derivative.