How might poetry help us articulate the body in illness, in work, and in love? Tiffany Atkinson’s fourth collection includes the sequence ‘Dolorimeter’, which won the 2014 Medicine Unboxed Prize. Taking fragments of speech and found text from a hospital residency at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth to pay homage to the inventiveness and humour of patients and staff, this series of 19 ‘readings’ is a meditation on the notion that pain resists language. Away from the wards, other poems consider the strangeness of the workplace and the embarrassing incursions of desire into everyday life, celebrating the ability of poetic language to lay awkwardness and uncertainty alongside unexpected openings and revelation.

 

Accident & Emergency

Anyone claiming that time
is objective deserves a night
in A & E      And there we were

for a thousand years
as the plumbing dried up
the vending-machine un-

invented itself and left
to our wipe-clean seats we
dropped so deep into ourselves

it was another wound
of sorts      Only the smokers
as the doors sucked in / out

strung us to the outside
on a burnt thread      Through
that sea of greenish light

as night cranked on the pivot
of itself      the boy with the appendix
(no bed      nil by mouth)

rose on a private tide
until his pain swayed all of us
The clubbers on their hobbled feet

the sports-day kids      the junkies
ticcing and my father      half-
in      half-out      Where was help

What good our million faculties
The world shrank to the hot
rooms of our hands      Then sea-

change      Nurses flying with their
sails up and a lone consultant
clattering from deep within

the engine of the place      It was
a scene from distant childhood –
drifts of women acting softly

round the patriarch
who moves in glittering belief
This is how the world works

still      my father said
as I shouldered his weight
towards the unthinkable exit

 

Song of a pain

I was born on a breath like a tumble of notes
She cried out and I scattered

flexing the force of myself through the nerves
like a new god      gathering brilliance

as I spun in time and space
with bright hooks out for landing

How was I ever not here? Impossible
In this garden

I have always been the dark rose
What do I know of my openings

and deaths except this      now
this being airborne like a voice

above her soft ground      drawing tight
so when she breathes I’ll swoop back in—

From ‘Dolorimeter’ in the collection Lumen (Bloodaxe Books 2021, £10.99)

 

Tiffany Atkinson was born in Berlin in 1972 to an army family, and lived in Wales after moving to Cardiff to take a PhD in Critical Theory. After teaching at Aberystwyth University for some years, she is now Professor in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her previous collections are Kink and Particle (Seren, 2006), Catulla et al (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) and So Many Moving Parts (Bloodaxe Books, 2014). Lumen is out now from Bloodaxe Books.
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@ariskindt
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 Author portrait © Peter Thomas

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