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When I think of my body as a horse’ by Wendy Pratt – reviewed by Sue Watling

When I think of my body as a horse
Wendy Pratt
The Poetry Business
£9.95

aMotherhood is a club many women take for granted, until they find its entrance is permanently closed. The poems in ‘When I think of my Body as a Horse’ by Wendy Pratt, are about one couple’s personal struggle to gain membership. The collection is a testimony, not only to their daughter Matilda, but also her siblings who were conceived and lost. Beauty and heartbreak exist side by side as Wendy and her husband Chris embark on the journey of parenting, not knowing what lies ahead, while the reader travels with them through 50 poems which speak of love, loss and resolution.

I wasn’t sure where exactly Matilda first appears in the collection, but she is there in the wonderfully titled Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare, dedicated to the memory of M. The following poem, Nesting, is about the preparation for motherhood, including shopping for ‘tiny baby bits’ and ‘putting up the Moses basket’ to the depiction of a universal sense of creation.

‘…knitting the seas to the land, the sun to the sky,
no longer an observer of miracles.
I was the miracle.’

After Nesting, comes My Favourite Memory which describes feeling like a Russian doll with infinite babies inside. This trio of poems fill the reader with hope, until Tachycardia, followed by Air, a funeral poem with reference to a white coffin, tiny grave and containing the heart-breaking cry; 

‘Houdini Girl, how did you disappear?’ 

Throughout the collection runs the theme of ‘hares’. These poems include the wonderful When Nan Hardwicke Turns into a HareHare Enters the Bedroom, and The Hare Refuses to Speak. Hares are icons for fertility and a symbol of hope, but in this collection it’s the pattern of loss which continues. 

These are intensely personal poems. The collection takes the reader through the years following Matilda’s death.  In Sixth Birthday, Wendy imagines a day with Chris and their daughter at the seaside. In Seven, Matilda’s grave is visited and in Packing the Maternity Clothes Away, another step on the journey of acceptance is painfully taken. The poem Eight revisits the time Wendy and Chris spent with Matilda after her birth.

‘I held you like a doll. 
I should have touched 
those still-wet curls, 
sucked those little fingers
kissed your foot soles 
while you were warm.’

For me, it’s the poem Nine which contains one of the saddest lines in the collection, and reminds us of the tenacious nature of grief.

‘The pause where we 
wait to hear your first breath
has lasted nine years.’

After a bereavement, family, friends and strangers inevitably say things like ‘time heals’, or’ you’ll get over it’, and ‘you can always try again’. The truth is, you don’t get over it and nothing will ever be the same. The bereaved have to find ways to live with loss, but it’s within this process that something can eventually shift, and Wendy shows this beautifully in Nine Years of Mourning.

‘Today I climb out of my skin;
my mourning dress. I am nude and white
as a stripped willow branch. I leave the dress behind,
stiff with the sweat of surviving.’

The title poem, When I Think of my Body as a Horse, speaks again about acceptance.

‘I do not blame it for lost babies, 
it did its best. I do not blame 
myself for lost babies. I did my best.

I ride my body in a slow companionship.
Comforting it at the end of the day
and I say, Body, you are beautiful, 
you are beautiful.’

At the end of the collection there is hope of a different kind as the time comes to abandon the fertility clinics and rounds of IVF.  Two people who met, and fell in love, continue to exist and in the intenseness of heartbreak and loss, it’s recognising and cherishing this partnership that matters most of all. Couples are rarely taught how to live fulfilling lives without children, or helped to cope with multiple failures to conceive. This collection, will resonate with anyone in a similar position, or who knows somebody who is. The poems contain words which need to be read as much as they needed to be written.

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Sue Watling lives near the River Humber in the UK, where she has an allotment and keeps honeybees.  Sue has had work published in a range of journals including The Adriatic, Seaborne Magazine, Tide Rises, Amethyst Review, DawnTreader, Saravasti, Green Ink Poetry, ASP Literary Journal, and Dream Catcher.

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