As part of our 2016 Saboteur Showcase, we asked the five shortlisted poets to take part in a series of anonymous close readings. Each poet was assigned one of the other shortlisted poems, without being told the identity of the writer. Three of the shortlisted poets agreed to take part in the challenge, and the remaining two poems were given anonymous close readings by members of The Missing Slate’s poetry team.
In response to ‘Life Just Swallows You Up’
I’m laughing, then thinking and feeling, and then admiring. I’ve read ‘Life Just Swallows You Up’ and I immediately want to re-read and then I want to see how this poem is managing all these effects. Here is a wonderful study in economy, but also sleight of hand: the poem appears to be straightforward, but actually an awful lot is happening here.
The extended metaphor is a good one; plenty of poems deal with death but few poems deal with something else central to our lives, eating, and even fewer combine the two! So here we are in a study of our lives — a tale told about three people, in three courses and three stanzas. We see form married to content in the way we start in one place, but by way of the inevitable unfolding of life end up somewhere else. I’m reminded of when I told someone my father had just died and they talked about how I was no longer in the same place — the world had shifted. I’m struck by the word “orphaned” and realise that ultimately that is (or should be) the fate of us all; I like poems that I can nod along to as lines hit home and connect.
Of course, battling through the dish of life is all one can do. Life’s bruises might leave you without appetite and energy to continue but what else can be done? Somehow you have to continue. I’m reminded of the witnesses to the boy’s death at the end of Frost’s ‘Out, Out’: “And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.” It is easy to be critical of this apparently heartless response, but perhaps they turn to their affairs with broken hearts, and besides, what else can they do but continue their lives. In ‘Life just Swallows You Up’ the mother knows to continue and the speaker, perhaps daunted by the vastness of what has happened and what is left, however disinclined, also knows that they will need to get through dessert somehow.
~ Neil Elder