Misprints in poetry
I was reading an article in the magazine of the Society of Authors the other day about the extra care that is needed to avoid misprints in poetry. ‘In poetry, every word counts,’ wrote the poet John Greening. Misprints can be brought about by the need to transcribe a poet’s hand writing or, these days, by an over enthusiastic spellchecker.
John Greening’s article struck a chord with me. When my daughter died at the age of 32 I took on the task of transcribing her poetry, mostly handwritten, contained in a scruffy old folder. Subsequently I published a selection of her poems in a book about her life, Wordsmith: the Gift of a Soul.
I was very conscious of the responsibility I held in my hands. I was able to follow the way in which she had worked on the poems, the crossings out, the minor substitutions. Sometimes I poured over lone words with a magnifying glass. Sometimes I was asking myself – is that a comma or a full stop. It mattered.
One of the poems I had difficulty with is called Gustav’s Venus. This is a poem which resonates with me deeply. It is a poem which asks questions about death and the spirit. The title is a reference to The Planets by Gustav Holst. Venus is the bringer of peace.
Megan’s work as a veterinary surgeon and poet
Megan was a veterinary surgeon. She wrote the poem when, newly qualified, she was doing emergency weekend work. This is difficult work. Most of the animals that are brought in to emergency care are very ill. Many do not survive.
Megan wrote this poem on a piece of paper that must have been to hand at the time. It bears the heading of an equine medicine supplier. The paper is stained, maybe with coffee, maybe something less pleasant.
I wonder if, when I made my choices, I knew
How grave would be my dominion,
How many times each week, each day, some days each hour
I would hold a life in my hands, to be restored – or not,
That I would be a messenger of death.
And had I known that, would anything at all have changed.
I wonder what made me such a one
Who would lead so many to that dark place,
With whose heart those final beats would resonate,
By whose hand so many last breaths would drift away.
And if I could somehow hold that air in the room
Would the life remain there too.
I am she who maketh them to lie down in green pastures.
I am she who walks beside each one into the shadows.
I am she who pays the ferryman with a portion of my soul to ease their passing.
I am, each week, each day, some days each hour
An instrument of death.
We are few, the privileged ones for whom this is our calling.
Fewer still who know the weight of each life’s end.
I wonder, had I known this, would my choices
Have been the same and am I glad
That I can be for some amongst my fellows
A bringer of peace.
by Megan Young