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Book review
A scattering
  1. Columba Quigley
  1. Correspondence to Dr Columba Quigley, Queens Park, London, UK; columba.quigley{at}

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Written by Christopher Reid, Published by Arete Ltd, Oxford, UK, 2009, pp 62, £7.99, ISBN-978-0955455360.

A Scattering, which recently won the overall Costa Book award, is a tribute to the poet's Christopher Reid wife, Lucinda Gane, who died of cancer in 2005. The poems not only celebrate her life, but also share, first, the experience of witnessing her final illness and her death, and, second, the experience of life without her.

The collection consists of four poetic sequences, The Flowers of Crete, written during her final illness, The Unfinished, A Widower's Dozen and Lucinda's Way, written after her death.

The book opens with the couple's last holiday together in Crete. We quickly realise that, for Reid and his wife, time is running out. He addresses the sun:

‘Of course I accept your paltry currency, your small change

of days and hours.’

Yet within that realisation, life outwardly continues:

‘we take our breakfast of coffee and yoghurt out in the sun.’

This is the unique power of poetry, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and an individual moment or experience becomes a link, something that can be instantly shared with the reader.

The third stanza introduces the ‘skulking sarcoma’:

‘The first was despatched

by a trick with a ball of string;

the second cannot be reached

by medical science.’

For the first time, we become aware of Lucinda's spirited nature:

‘Yet it seems its defiance

has been met and matched

by yours…’

Although Reid intimately observes Lucinda's illness, he is keenly aware that the experience of serious illness and facing death is ultimately an individual and unshareable one. The sufferer and the carer are on increasingly divergent journeys:

‘Please pardon the crimes

of your husband the poet,

as he mazes the pages

of his notebook, in pursuit

of some safe way out.’

As Reid and his wife explored together the paths and flora …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.