In our eighties we will all be exiles: one of the bleaker insights from a reading by the fabulous Philip Gross at the Norwegian Church this week, from his new anthology ‘Later’.
The event in aid of Age Connects offered a series of tender and moving reflections on being alongside a parent in their last years; commuting over the ‘knobble-back spine’ of Wales, revealing to staff that his father could stay five steps ahead in chess despite exile from other memories (‘Nimzo-Indian’). Gross picks up the euphemistic shifts that accompany ageing, from falling over to becoming someone who ‘has falls’; the downward ratchet from going ‘home’ to going ‘into a home’. Serpentine questions weave an undertow beneath a glittering flotsam of detail: Where do we begin and end? Who might you be if you weren’t who you are? At what point do case histories and ethical measurement dissolve into poetry?
One highlight was use of the anonymous mediaeval poem ‘Westron Wynde’ to build a quartet of odes:
“Leave it to music, then to silence, to explain
what words would make too rigid and too weak.
The wind has shifted; so we redefine
our foursquare walls by what they can’t contain.
You, gone. And I… I in my bedde again.”
Philip Gross is Professor of Poetry at the University of South Wales. ‘Later’ is published by Bloodaxe Books.