Red Room Blog
8th September 2015
An Imaginary Journey Into The Next World - Rhyming The Dead - Reflections - Fiona Britton
By Fiona Britton
It was a treat and a privilege to sink, even just a little, into Dorothy Porter’s work. Yet I was struck from the start by the daunting responsibilities attached to writing on the subject of death, in response to her work. Her death was recent — and too soon. I felt bound to consider the people left behind; people whose hearts would still be sore from loss and, perhaps, weary of intrusions.
A loved one’s death is a private thing. Yet a poet’s work has a public life in its own right. How to navigate these sensitivities?
Black Inc publishing’s volume, The Best 100 poems of Dorothy Porter became my constant companion. I felt that these poems, chosen by Dorothy’s partner Andrea Goldsmith, represented a link between the work of the ‘dead poet’ and the world of the living. I sought a path, in my own thinking, to a happy resolution of my concerns. I wrote about poetry’s great strength in writing about difficult matters on my blog:
Why is poetry an especially good medium for writing about death? Because it pairs the concrete with the abstract to illuminate hidden ‘truths’. Because it slips easily between THE REAL AND THE IMAGINED, to form new associations, to capture the strange and liminal.
Because … when we write poetry, we declare to the world: the story I need to tell doesn’t fit neatly into sentences or scenes. It is wonky and raw. It needs space but also constraint. It needs to tear a hole in the page.
I found a method, in the end: I used the form of an imagined conversation between the poet and a death messenger to sketch a journey to death. I was attracted to the elemental and celestial imagery in Porter’s work; in ‘Summoning the river snake’ the death messenger, a snake, takes the poet on a river journey to the place where the elements collide — water become air, air becomes space and so on.
To me this ending was important. I like to imagine death as a kind of scattering, a multiplication. It is an ending without an end; it entails the possibility of another kind of existence. The final image of taking a ride on a comet’s fiery tail — the comet is an image in Porter’s own work — echoes this sense of euphoric transport to the next world.
Fiona is a poet commissioned for the Rhyming The Dead Radio Series.
Fiona Britton is a Sydney poet and writer. She is a communications consultant and partner in Archer & Arrow and is currently doing a PhD in Creative Writing at UWA. She is completing a novel which also received mentoring support from the Australian Society of Authors. Fiona was the 2010 winner of the Shoalhaven Literary Award and the 2011 joint winner of the Dorothy Porter Prize for poetry. She looks forward to the time when artists, thinkers and liquorice lovers take over the world.