Talking to the Dead by Gordon Hodgeon (Smokestack, £4.99)

If anyone mentions writer’s block, I’d be minded to recommend Talking to the Dead by Gordon Hodgeon (Smokestack, £4.99), just to say, come on, get on with it… Because Gordon, once healthy, writes his poems one letter at a time. He cannot speak, he can only breathe with a ventilator. He writes his poems and communicates with the outside world by blinking at a computer screen. This really is writing at the furthest edge of human endurance.  At least the wonderful historian Tony Judt, who was also incapable of moving, dictated his last essays, having memorised the text during the long nights. Gordon can only blink and his condition has deteriorated since his last, ironically-titled collection Still Life.

Inevitably, Gordon mines his condition for material. The fly that lands on his scalp appears more than once, the second time the poem being in the voice of the fly which ‘taste[s] your sweaty pores/harvest the flakes of skin’ feeling though that his ‘…days diminish, / the rusting leaves spell autumn, / the end of our dominion.’ But ‘We shall return, always, / the world requires us. / We shall assist you, save you, / we shall see you through.’

Perhaps equally inevitably, Gordon mines the past – he has time to think and remember, the time that is lost to us in our more hurried lives. There’s George, the author’s parental grandfather, remembered, and Fred, from the generation when ‘There was your weekly flutter on the Pools. / You sat by the wireless Saturday tea time / checking the results, a win, a draw, a loss… Your winnings fifteen quid over some thirty years. ‘  and then there’s Percy Stott , left behind when Gordon ‘…was the only one to scrape a pass’ in the ‘Mid-fifties, sons of Lancashire, Leigh Grammar’ with poor Percy the targets of schoolboy ‘bloodsport’.

Gordon can no longer speak, but his poems do.

Ross Bradshaw

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