Poetry review – BLUE TO THE EDGE: Rennie Halstead engages with a collection of very personal poems by Brian Docherty
Blue to the Edge Brian Docherty Independent Publishing Network Book available via https://www.buymeacoffee.com/buymeacoffeebd ISBN 978-1-83853-706-7 £5
Blue to the Edge is Brian Docherty’s tribute to and memoir of his wife Rosemary, who died suddenly in January 2016 after only eleven weeks in their new retirement home in St. Leonards on Sea. Written in the two years after her death, these poems explore the variety of emotions that follow the loss of a beloved partner and friend. The depth and rawness of emotion in some poems is unmistakable. Anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close will immediately identify with the grief, anger and isolation that follows.
It would be easy for the poems to fall into morbid sentimentality, but Docherty avoids this trap. His writing is sharp and clear, with an objectivity that keeps the reader engaged. In the opening poem, “Blue to the Edge”, he writes of the plans to start a new life by the sea after a move from Crouch End in London:
To be free, we left our old lives behind, but we never reached the end of our road, even when we reached our shining sea. So many things we never found time for, never got to see the Taj Mahal or Kyoto, or experience the perfect peace of Iona.
The never-visited sites recur throughout the volume: plans abandoned or simply not realised, as Docherty explores his feelings about going to ‘places we never saw together’ with ‘new friends you never got to meet.’
The sense of missed togetherness is also captured when he says:
And you never met the mermaids under the new moon, crooning Change is now, who let me walk their beach as meditation.
The song of the mermaids – like the sound of the sea – runs through the book like a watermark, a metaphor of both loss and hope.
The shock of sudden illness and death is picked up in the second poem, “Blank in the Calendar”:
One single moment changed our lives, call it 9.50am, when you realised your stomach pain was not indigestion, would not go away. […] An ambulance showed up 4.40pm, they realised this was bad news, half an hour to reach the hospital, straight up to Acute Care; I never spoke to you again.
In time, however, grief and loss becomes tempered with hope. In “Encouragement” Docherty begins remembering Rosemary;
we were each other’s golden mirror, always showing truth, Yes we can our morning mantra.
His thoughts then turn to:
My new friend, who brightened the dark days, has moved away, and yes I encouraged her to do that.
And the poem ends with Docherty finding himself ‘able to say to someone new,/ I still have something to offer, if encouraged.’
Similarly in “Returning to Life”, Docherty muses on the baggage we carry, and how difficult it is to put down or prevent it from owning us. His way through the baggage is to
walk the beach under the new moon, read the shingle for runes, listen to the mermaids, Just let go, try to dance my heart back to life.
Later in the book, Docherty has moved past the immediacy of his grief. In “Gold Time” he reflects:
And if we find ourselves time rich, whatever we have left to enjoy before life is a series of Senior Moments happening more often, then the answer to whatever you think the question is, is obvious, spend that time with someone you love.
In “To Feel Alone” Docherty confronts the meaning of loneliness and the development of self knowledge, and emerges with a positive understanding that ‘you will never be a stranger / to yourself, no matter whom you meet.’ He urges himself to
be happy, there are no wrong choices now, there is nothing to regret only a new life, wherever you are.
By the end of the book the timbre of Docherty’s voice has changed. In “Lifelong Learning” he reflects on all that his love for Rosemary has brought him. Looking back he realizes that ‘What I learned from you / was how to be a real person, // how love truly conquers all.’ And now he discovers
… I am having to learn this all over again, and I hope that someone will open the book and say ‘Come read with me’, and we share Virgil’s truth Amor Vincit Omnia
I thought I would struggle to review a volume of poetry chronicling grief and loss, but found I appreciated the way that Docherty took me from heart-breaking numbness to acceptance and hope. There is something immensely positive, at this difficult time, in the recognition that life somehow reasserts itself. Docherty shows us that as long as we are open to the possibility of a future, we can make time to stop and listen to the mermaids singing underneath the pier and begin to dream again.