BE-FORE — AVANT by Beatrice Machet
Thank you, Beatrice, for your poem responding to mine, which is a distinct poem in itself. Like mine, yours raises questions about how to respond to this crisis. We are lucky in Australia to have largely avoided the death toll and unbearable suffering experienced in much of the world, but still there are effects. Last year I lost my job due to Covid – it was a complete shock, as I was a permanent employee of the company, but ‘permanence’ seems to have changed its meaning over the last year. The experience of loss fed into the poem – I had actually moved to the house I was living in to be closer to my workplace – so after the dismissal, I was in a strange place that no longer meant what it had, and in lockdown where everything had changed anyway. It was a strange feeling, set adrift and walking around the same streets at night, knowing nothing was the same – something that many, many people have experienced during the last year. In writing the poem I felt akin to the approach that Craig Raine and the ‘Martian’ poetry had adopted – as an alien, seeing everything from the outside, as if new – well, because everything wasnew.
That’s the thing I reckon – as you ask in your poem –
before loneliness is the norm
these « before » times
were they more free
– there must be huge benefits as well that this interruption of the world in its thudding, ongoing progress can deliver – potentially anyway – if each person is willing to look at things differently. Is it loneliness or solitude? A break from the machine that is disfiguring the world?
My job, for example, was really only that of a glorified proofreader – mundane and unfulfilling – so when the HR manager delivered the news, after the shock wore off, I told him that it wasn’t so bad since I was thinking of leaving anyway, as I wanted my future to be more about creative work. He was a little taken aback, then said, well, that’s good, and he told me of another man whom he had just dismissed – most of the people made redundant were over sixty – and the man had responded: ‘Well, my life is over then…’
I don’t want to diminish this man’s suffering and loss – but I hope there came a time after it had all sunk in that he said, ‘well, what now?’
I could go on about all this for a long time, but better writers than me have talked about it from many angles. Such experiences as these can turn any person into a poet – confronted by a complete disruption of their daily lives, in which we often don’t need to think or even feel in our comfort – how do they act and communicate this confusion? Asking questions may be the beginning.
The first draft of my poem had eight lines more, which I later cut. They ask more questions, and I wonder if the ‘wraiths’ in these lines are punishing ghosts, or questions that we haven’t yet asked? Thanks again for your response, Beatrice.
…who is out there now, who can look at the stars
and imagine skies that will always be clear?
when the lovers of the earth will stay inside
staring at partners who are always near
and far away the wraiths that cross the fields
are moving towards us with unstaring eyes
who will welcome them when they arrive?
who will watch the closing of the gates?