Wendy French recognises the heartfelt experience behind a very personal poetry collection from Avril Chester
Avril Chester’s book of poems about cancer, (the disease no nobody wants to be told they have) is arresting, sincere and told from a very personal perspective. Avril has written a ‘Thank you’ as a preface to the poems in which she expresses gratitude, first and foremost, her parents and then names all the other people who have helped her on this significant part of her life’s journey.
The book contains all rhyming poems and so the reader is taken at a fast pace through the awfulness of first wondering if you have cancer then hearing getting the diagnosis and treatment – along with the fear, the compassion, and the emotional and physical help from others. Finally we arrive at the last poem which is a celebratory note of personal survival.
The first poem in the book ends with the following four lines:
To encourage you all to write your feelings, Scribbling notes, fears and dreams is key Breast cancer sparks so many emotions, This is for you and for me.
The poems are all printed on the right hand side of the page and on the left on every page are the encouraging words: For your notes, inspirations, scribbles, sighs, frustrations, tears, hopes and dreams. Just these words and then the rest of the page is blank to give the reader time to fill in their own thoughts and scribbles from whatever perspective they want. So the book becomes an interaction between poet and reader.
But then the last pages differ and the words are the following:
This is for you to repeat and write in your own I am… I am bold I am brave I am bursting with life I am dazzling I am dignified I am defiant in life…
The very last poem in the whole collection ends with the words:
I will be triumphant in life
Some of the poems take their style from adaptations of more well-known sources. Sometimes they have the jungle of a nursery rhyme:
Little Ms Patient Had hesitation…
Sometimes they borrow from Shakespeare:
Shall I compare thee to a stormy day? Thou are more still and breathless…
Elsewhere there are echoes of Kipling
If you can remember the memories If you can let go and trust… or – somewhat more up to date – of Mayo Angelou
You may be looking with sorrow but still, like dust, I’ll rise.
And there are more like this but for the sake of this review I won’t name them all so you’ll have surprises when you buy the book and read the poems.
This is a brave and personal book that will bring comfort to others going through the ordeal of mastectomy. For the reader who has not had a personal encounter with cancer it will enlighten them to the fears and expectations, denials and hopes that each day brings. Also it has been written to encourage others to write down their feelings. As the great novelist EM Forster said, How do I know what I feel until I see it written down?
A note informs the reader that: At least 10% from every book sold will be donated to Breast Cancer Care. For that reason as well as for the poems themselves it is worth purchasing.
Website: wendyfrench.co.uk. Her latest collection Thinks Itself A Hawk is published by Hippocrates Press, 2016