I was having a conversation about the Vietnam War this morning and I was told how, out of all the stories one heard of the atrocities, you would know which ones rang true because those stories would contain very little emotion on the part of the narrator. Another way you could tell they were real would be from the lack of Hollywood endings, of dramatic rescue missions and of redemption in the face of evil. In reality, very little of that kind of stuff actually happens; bombs are dropped, soldiers fight, civilians get caught up in the fighting, people die, soldiers come back from the war shellshocked and unable to fit back into society, other victims are forgotten; so Life goes on.
I wrote my first pamphlet during a very traumatic event in my life and after it was finished, I looked back on it and observed how lacking in emotion it was. I thought this was because fundamentally, deep down I must be a very un-feeling person but after hearing about these stories from the Vietnam War I realised I had disassociated myself from the situation just in order to survive it. It helped me to understand the particular way I recorded my version of the trauma. And above all I had highlighted how in fact, Life just does keep going in its quiet way.
Saying that the poet was lacking in emotion whilst writing the pamphlet is not quite true however; yes, the poet was emotionally distant all the way through – to protect herself and those around her – until the last line of the last poem. That is where the breath catches and the reader must take it in very slowly, as the line is in fact, written backwards. This has the effect of making the reader stop and take stock of the whole sequence. It is at this point, when everything is said and done, the sequence is almost finished and we’re asked in the very last act to move physically backwards along the line, that a small drop of sadness is allowed to appear, a small chink in the armour of the trauma is allowed to open.
And it is at this place, I invariably start to cry. It is almost as if re-reading the moments I spent with my brother before he died are as much trauma as the real event itself and to draw again and again to a close by reading slowly back along the last line of the pamphlet is always the saddest thing. The poem sequence has a life of its own, it is an entity its own right; it has the power to evoke emotion through its lack of emotion, it has the force to deliver a certain kind of quiet promise– and even though life does go on and there are no Hollywood endings to stories such as this, at the end of the day, this particular story is undoubtedly and can be nothing but, real.