Interview by Peter Molnar
[Content warning for trypanophobia/fear of needles]
A punchy, intriguing ending can hold me in its thrall as a reader
As if this is a Dreamscape
Lantis Insulin Driver, 7:43am.
A needle pricked to skin’s breaking, the driver clicking, a cold burn streaking, seeping through this strip of fatty tissue. Cold quiver across my body, hot flashing temples, white light. Each day is probing, thumbing for new entry points, a stomach and all its woundings coined blue; hips are bruised saddles of flesh. There’s no hope, just pain. The undertow. I bend over my pale, outstretched thighs to find an area recently untouched – “maximise absorption”. The firm skin buckles, pulps, around the sharp, steel point releasing, then a tiny dot of red welling that will cloud the upper surface dark. Some days I just stare down, feeling that I can’t. Diminished. Still life: an unclothed creature in the mirror, side-gazing, wide-eyed, ageing; a folded cradle-shape of self, readying with muscles wracked and locking, to ease in the needle’s sharpness, grimacing gritting teeth to jack up. The body’s an interconnection of tied up, filled sacks ready to burst with ash and light. Some days she’s there, my angel, to administer, a study of quiet intent. As if there is hope. As if this is a dreamscape when she smiles. As if this is not pain. As if the white lights are a great ride flashing by and the smooth, sprung heart leaps from its mottled, spent body.
There is a strong naturalistic element in your poem, especially present in the contrast between the body in decay and the immortality of the soul. Is this purely an artistic intent or does it spring from a desire to convey a religious message?
Your observation has really got me thinking. I didn’t intend to make a direct religious message in ‘As if this is a Dreamscape’ but it found its way through. I was brought up in the Catholic church and I often experiment with themes and motifs from the Bible. The poem can be seen as putting forward a tantalising illusion of the human spirit and immortality, transcending the temporality and limitations of the body. I first focused on emphasising the physical effects of needing daily insulin injections as a diabetic and attempted to create an immersive poem by stressing the pain in quite microscopic detail. I would say the poem is visceral and graphic but there is a suggestion of release, ‘the sprung heart’, hoping to escape from pain and worry and the language and form of the poems changes to represent this.
Your imagery often builds on striking, strong bodily impulses, bringing about a sense of overbearance. Is the formatting of the stanzas (a longer, descriptive listing of phenomena, then a short, piercing emotive conclusion) meant to starken that sense? Do you always strive to create assonance of form and meaning in your poetry?
I focus pretty intently on sound patterning in my writing to create an intense experience of sound, which can heighten and emphasise different emotional states. I use assonance, alliteration and sibilance to create a heady experience at different moments of the poem and this is something I work on in my poetry, although I try to be restrained from over-using this. The repetition of the present participle – ‘ing’ – also supports the building sense of detail and the parallelism of ‘As if this…’., something illusory and fantastical towards the end. The descriptive build-up is something I very much intended before the shift, or kick, at the end. This is a technique I like to read in a lot of haiku, imagist poetry and poets such as John McCullough and Natalie Ann Holborow. A punchy, intriguing ending can hold me in its thrall as a reader. The ‘sprung heart’, the ‘dreamscape’ and the ‘great ride’ at the end, however temporary, represent freedom, ecstasy and relief from diabetes.
I found the figure of the angel in the closing stanza most intriguing, as I couldn’t be sure whether her role was beneficial for the narrator. She seems to be the bringer of salvation, yet her presence entails a hypothetical stand; salvation is an illusion. How should the reader approach her figure?
You’ve picked up on a deliberate ambiguity. The angel is a saviour, a person in a position of care who does the injecting. It’s a difficult thing to do because the needle can slide in with no sensation or be very painful. The injection of insulin can be quick and painless or can feel like a cold, burning streak. The angel brings love and devotion but also brief moments of fear and stinging pain. As a writer, I’m interested in this duality and I’ve explored this elsewhere. Overall, although the angel may seem an idealised figure, there are many people, such as nurses or carers who become saviours when we are at our weakest.
There’s a shift from the ‘I’ in the poem, who details the process and effects of injecting insulin and the abrupt change to the third person, ‘Still life: an unclothed creature in the mirror […] a folded cradle-shape of self’. Why this shift? Was it deliberate?
I’ve witnessed myself injecting, and being injected, in the mirror a few times. I was disturbed by my grimacing expression and looking so pained; I didn’t recognise myself. In the poem, I distance myself from this person who I see as being weak and diminished, portraying this figure as stripped right down. I instinctively went for a startling change at this point to distance myself from being a patient. This is an act of denial.