from A Part Song

Denise Riley

copyright ©Denise Riley, 2016

What is the first duty of a mother to a child?
At least to keep the wretched thing alive – Band
Of fierce cicadas, stop this shrilling.

My daughter lightly leaves our house.
The thought rears up: fix in your mind this
Maybe final glimpse of her. Yes, lightning could.

I make this note of dread, I register it.
Neither my note nor my critique of it
Will save us one iota. I know it. And.

Notes on the Poem

When we last considered a selection from Denise Riley's Say Something Back, we observed that the entire poetry collection, shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, is suffused with a fierce, redemptive grappling with grief. The poignant centrepiece of this collection is "A Part Song", Riley's fiery lament at the loss of her son. Within this extended piece, she uses many approaches to confront and attempt to conquer grief. One of the most powerful of those approaches is Riley's use of multiple voices, as the 2017 judges note in their citation:
"But what might appear to be the bare cupboard of grief is, in her poem, packed with voices, entrances and movements that doubt their own validity and are, marvellously, all the more valid for that."
Multiple voices can be used to create discussions and posit opposing views on a subject. Multiple voices can join together in choruses that bolster and reinforce. In this segment of "A Part Song", multiple voices from the same narrator illustrate her struggle with her mournful ruminations, fears and emotions. The sonic qualities of the narrator's clashing reproaches to herself are vivid: "Band Of fierce cicadas, stop this shrilling." Sentence fragments, forcefully punctuated, further emphasize her frustration: "Yes, lightning could." "I know it. And." The notes and critiques she deems unhelpful actually offer an amazing depiction of thought processes struggling to find comfort or reach some kind of resolution. Interestingly, we have been given the opportunity to hear even more voices associated with Riley's work, as writer Erin Soros presented and interpreted this poem as part of the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings in Riley's absence.

One Reply to “from A Part Song”

  1. Beautiful poem…I lost my son to suicide a little over a year ago. Life has been so difficult since. Always wondering why? Miss him terribly.

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