Clare Best

Clare Best: Featured Poet

The surgeon’s album

He turns the pages for me:
full and partial reconstruction, implants,
muscle flaps from back and stomach. Creations
to match and balance. But how would I look
flat? No extras. Straightforward scars.
He frowns at a lop-sided photo.
The absence doubled
? I’ve not done that before.

Twelve months on, he wants
my picture, conforming to house style:
no head, arms at forty-five degrees to clavicle.
I stand anonymous against a stripped pine door,
knots and fissures dark behind my skin —
a knife-thrower’s object, still
until the last blade hangs from the wood.

First published in Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, Volume 28, nos 2,3, Spring 2011


Clare Best has always lived closely with words: she has been a bookbinder, a bookseller and an editor. She currently teaches creative writing at Brighton University and the Open University. Her poems are widely published in journals and anthologies. Treasure Ground (HappenStance, 2009) brings together poems from a residency at Woodlands Organic Farm on the Lincolnshire Fens. Excisions, her first book-length collection, will be published by Waterloo Press in September 2011.

12 thoughts on “Clare Best: Featured Poet”

  1. Thanks for this poem. You show us the irony of the scenes being so much “about” the doctor. “The absence doubled?” is the line I keep returning to in my mind. And the shape of the poem is the shape of two breasts. I live in Canada and am familiar with the Canadian Woman Studies journal (it’s available at our local university library). I see from the web site that your poem appeared in an issue entirely devoted to women and cancer. Thanks again.

    1. Good to hear from you Elly. Whereabouts in Canada are you?

      It’s an extraordinary issue of the journal, SO much interesting reading!


  2. Thanks for your message Karen.

    I’ll put your name on a ‘prompt’ list and will send you an email in Sept when ‘Excisions’ is published.

    Best wishes, Clare

  3. There is such a lot in this poem Clare – I find more each time I read it. I get the sense of defiance in the woman – not conforming to the surgeon’s expectations. I was particularly moved by the imagery in the last four lines – I can see this so clearly – the arms out like a cross and the analogy with a knife throwing circus show. Powerful reading. Thank you.

  4. Can I add another comment because I forgot to say that your poem left me with a strong sense of loss – loss of something very important and of identity. That’s how the last lines resonated with me. The ‘clinical’ voice of the doctor makes this so much more powerful. It reminds me of being in hospital and feeling no more than a number on a wrist band. Very thought provoking.

    1. Thanks so much for your comments Valerie. I really appreciate your thoughts.

      This poem was a trial to write – because I wanted it to say so many things. It came quite late in the order of writing my sequence ‘Self-portrait without Breasts’, but in the published order it comes quite early on.

      There’s so much to say about this, but I suppose that I had to wait until my sense of my own identity was really strong again, in my new shape, before I could write this poem about contemplating ‘losing’ my identity, or having to question it so fundamentally.


  5. ….and what I liked (apart from all of it) was “knots and fissures dark behind my skin “—
    thanks, cheers becky gethin

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