‘The poems that appeared over the last few years had been sounding a note of mortality’: Colette Bryce on her poetry collection The M Pages
Award-winning poet Colette Bryce gives us an insight into the writing and ordering of her collection The M Pages, and shares the inspiration behind the first poem in the collection, ‘Death of an Actress’.
The M Pages struggles to articulate a loss which is in some ways ‘unspeakable’, says award-winning poet Colette Bryce of her fifth poetry collection. The title poem is addressed to a sibling who has died unexpectedly, and addresses the experience of bereavement and the life-changing effects of sudden loss on the living. Here, Colette shares an insight into the process of writing and ordering the collection, and into the first poem in the collection, ‘Death of an Actress’.
Ordering a collection is quite an instinctive process. I enjoy shaking the poems loose from the order in which they were written and discovering a web of connections between them: how these might determine a pattern. With The M Pages, it seemed significant that ‘Death of an Actress’ took the opening position. The poem paces through various euphemisms for death, including some of Shakespeare’s that the actress might have delivered. While digging around for Shakespeare’s images of death, I learned that ‘chimney-sweepers’ – from ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ – was a dialect term for the dandelion seed head.
The poems that appeared over the last few years had been sounding a note of mortality before I was fully aware of it, and before I came to write the title sequence about a sudden bereavement. ‘The M Pages’ sequence occupies the middle panel in the triptych structure of the book, a space traditionally representing an entombment. It is, I suppose, a centre of gravity for the poems on either side, which – although in conversation with the centre – range out towards more light-filled subjects.
Just as ‘The M Pages’ struggles to articulate a loss which is in some ways ‘unspeakable’, ‘Death of an Actress’ enacts a little drama of attempting to frame in language (or perhaps evade through language) the mysterious event of the title. The theatricality of this opening speech foreshadows a certain tension in the book between the performative aspects of poems and the raw facts of experiences that impel us to write them.
Death of an Actress
She has, as chimney sweepers, come to dust.
And bitten it. She has given up the ghost
and lies in cold obstruction there to rot
where angelstubs perfect untimely frost,
now she. Frights me thus living flesh
does yield soft saply to the axe’s edge.
Has gasped her last, pegged out, gone west.
Mislaid the future like a set of specs
or a loop of keys. Has booted the bucket,
dimmed her light to the glownub of a wick
and snuffed it, passed unto the kingdom of perpetual
night, hooked up with darkness as a bride.
Shuffled, mortal. Crossed the Styx into
history. She has joined the great majority,
sloughed off her body like a costume coat
discarded on the carpet. Dearly departed
sleep, bed down with beauty slain
and beauty dead. Black chaos comes again.