Merryn Williams finds that John Mole’s new pamphlet convincingly captures the experience of being seriously ill in hospital


John Mole
Shoestring Press, 2013
ISBN: 978 1 907356 89 6


John Mole has recently been in a place where none of us want to go.  This nine-page booklet is a meditation on his treatment for cancer, and, although he has recovered, that has to be a deeply shocking and distressing ordeal.  It can, however, lead to some fine poetry.

My arm hangs out of the bed
Like Marat’s from his bath.
Diagnosis takes you by surprise,
A swift assassin secretly at work

the poem starts.  We probably all know the famous painting and we feel that this speaker is quite close to death.  He fills in forms.  He is strapped to a machine and suffers waves of nausea.  He loses his beard.  Being a proper Englishman, he tells everyone that he feels fine, and an official visitor asks him, absurdly:

Would you complete
This questionnaire?
It’s all about fatigue
And how you deal with it

Of course, he says yes, and is forced to assess his symptoms on a scale of one to ten (my italics).  It’s quite bad enough trying to grapple with such scales when you are in rude health.

But perhaps people wouldn’t be asked to do the exercise if they were obviously dying.  This book is dedicated to the devoted medical workers who nursed him back to health.  He describes how they put a cauldron of chemicals into his body, and, like the witches in Macbeth, make it firm and good.  He recalls lines from literature, and dead friends, and, in the end, is released from hospital.  As we all should be, he is very conscious of the gift of time.  I’m sure he will use it to write some more excellent poems, and his work may help others in the same situation.