An intimate meditation on love and loss, told by a daughter as she cares for her mother through terminal mesothelioma. The poet invites the reader to be witness to the private moments of dying, from the physical reality of caregiving through to the alchemy of death, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief. Honest, unsentimental, and quietly uplifting.
Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd. (August 2020). Signed copies available direct (use contact form below) with £2 per book going towards supporting the work of Mesotheliom UK.
Or you can buy the book direct from Indigo Dreams Publishing using the button link below, and support a fabulous independent press!
“A beautiful, gentle, honest and heartbreaking work. The love, compassion and tenderness in them gives a quiet, honest hope. The poems are so sensitive, and full of love, but don’t hide from the truth about dying and death. It gives a generous insight into a universal human experience we tend to avoid thinking about because we have no concept of how we could possibly cope. So, maybe it helps us as readers be honest with ourselves?”
The Suede Shoes
after Thich Nhat Hanh
No good news from now
the doctor told us.
The nurse cried.
You did not.
I spend my days on the telephone,
searching for certainties:
names, dates, results,
chasing facts like dandelion wisps,
running out of time.
Sometimes, we talk about death.
Mostly, we talk about hospitals.
Bit by bit, their language claims us.
Meanwhile, the hen scratches
around the tree and the bees
collect nectar from a creeping vine.
The sun finally shines.
This is our in-between
Why bother planting that seed?
Why turn the beds
for a summer that will never come?
Why bother buying the pretty suede shoes?
We choose the shoes because
we can still find joy in a step.
We plant the seed because
we still love the way
it insists itself into life.
We turn the beds because
there will always be a summer,
even after you are gone.
Soon, we shall have only echoes
but for now, we drink tea
and watch the clouds move,
watch the light pass
between the storm
and there is still good news.
Through my mother’s window, days slip by,
moments so small we almost miss them
in our busy lives of dying:
the way the stocks begin to bend,
the first ash to fall, the lowering light.
Soon, the year will turn.
In the darkest days, she cries out
What time is it?
as if knowing can stop the clock.
She sleeps, wakes confused,
not sure if it has been minutes
or days that she’s been gone.
In the morning, we greet the sun
with morphine and birdsong.
It’s another beautiful dawn, I say
but they get harder.
Another one, she says,
eyes turning away.
The last one
and it is just me.
The rain begins.
For many people death is almost a taboo subject, and it is never an easy thing to discuss, but Victoria Bennett does just that, directly and fearlessly. She pulls no punches - the endless waiting, the slow, agonising deterioration of body and mind - even the weight of the separate organs of the body post mortem. And yet, in this powerful collection of poems she strikes right to the heart of the matter, to that mysterious place out of time, where bottomless grief and unimaginable bliss somehow meet - and make us a part of something far greater than our small separate selves.
‘Why did no-one tell me
death felt like this -
an unbearable joy?
You leap from star
to star and then,
you are gone.
The quiet of the dark,
This is poetry at its best. Definitely an experience not to be missed.
This moving pamphlet charts a daughter’s relationship with her mother who is terminally ill with mesothelioma. Victoria Bennett’s poems express the power of her mother’s voice and evoke the palpable chemistry of a unique partnership. I relate closely to them, having supported my own mother through end of life care.
The narrator weaves fears, apprehensions and grief into each poem, building a log of the journey towards death and the mutual experience of letting go.
The poem ‘The New Nightdress’ gives a tender, tactile account of personal care. Phrases such as ‘oil of rose’ and ‘sweetness / of these dying days’ convey the sensory nature of such intimacy. There’s a flower-related thread running through the pamphlet which is emphasised in the poem’s final line — ‘This garden has grown wild’ — suggesting the mother’s release from the nightdress’s hold, from constraint and suffering.
In ‘Words For Dying To’, the poet deftly mixes dreamlike prose with dispersed phrases based on the mother’s own commentary on her physical sensations. We are drawn into gobbets of memory and insights into her personality. It’s a moving interpretation by the daughter as the witness to suffering. Here’s how it starts:
How long have I got
how will I know
will you tell me
when the time comes
We live the moment. Again, I found a personal connection to this poem. Mothers and daughters, duty and devotion entwined.
The tactile is evoked throughout the pamphlet, especially so in ‘There is Always More To Lose’. The slipping into end of life is shown through the progressive loss of physical senses: the voice, intonations, familiar words, body movement, touch. Only the mother’s face pursues the narrator, whispering ‘stop / you are forgetting me’ and enfolding her with ‘threads silver / through my hair’.
Beautiful imagery threaded through with love. A Quaker style quality of truth and contemplation.
(Review by Maggie Mackay -- published in Sphinx Reviews)
I founded Wild Women Press & the Wild Women group in 1999. It had one simple mission: to offer a space where women could tell their stories and celebrate their wild. Over the years, we have gone on to set up our own small press, and I have worked with over 2000 women (and some brave men) on a number of amazing projects, hosted the (in)famous Wild Women Salons, and made creative connections around the globe. The Wild Women Poets have performed live at events around the UK and USA, and used their creativity to create positive change.
The Wild Woman Web
The Wild Woman Web is a space connecting wild women from around the world, sharing thoughts, ideas, and insights about the things that matter most to us...creating a better world, together. With a featured Wild Woman Thread Spinner every month, it is a a gathering of threads spun into a world wild web, connecting wild women around the globe, with a focus on nature, creativity, and empowerment. Featured Thread Spinners include Zena Edwards, Louise Kenward, Jini Reddy, Kathryn Aalto, Jo Sweeting, Tanya Shadrick, Jackie Morris, and many more. We have been spinning since 2018!
Wild Woman Gamer
Wild Woman Gamer invites us all, whether we are gamers or not, to engage in dialogue and creative exchange around the games we play, and looks at the potential of meaningful, authentic, women-led narratives as an agent for radical change. Bringing together amazing creators, makers, thinkers, and advocates working in video-game development and research, #WildWomanGamer is positive-focused, open-minded, authentic, and unapologetic in its celebration of the inspiring women working, and creating positive change, within the gaming community.
Wild Women continues to be a space of celebration. For the original wild women, what began as a workshop group, has become a place they now call home; a wild family. You will find us on the fells or beside fires. We howl often, laugh lots, and when prompted, bare their teeth.
A hands-on book for educators, parents, and players that encourages positive play, emotional intelligence, and responsible digital citizenship.
"In a world where there is so much toxic behaviour online and video games can often bring out negative emotions in people, it’s so refreshing to have literature that emphasises the positive and relates to the real world in a constructive, beneficial way. The activities are things that can be done independently and with friends and family in an easy to understand, progressive format. These range from classic childhood activities such as building a den/fort to unique activities of discovery and questions about global issues, there is something for everyone here.This is, in my opinion, the best Minecraft guidebook out there. It doesn’t just guide people in how to play, it shows how to use the game as a tool to better yourself, and possibly even others too, written by the family of one of Minecraft’s best creative geniuses. Highly recommended." (Joe Hammond, teacher)
A creative collaboration inspired by #MeToo: A Women's Poetry Anthology. I worked with digital artist Adam Clarke & and Beth Porter & Ben Please of The Bookshop Band to create a short VR music poetry video in response to the poems in the anthology. Video created using Google Tilt Brush software. Longlisted for Best Collaboration - Saboteur Awards 2018
In 2016, I was invited, along with my husband, artist Adam Clarke, and our eight-year old son, to take part in Bernheim’s Artist-in-Residence programme. As a family, we spent eight weeks living and working within Bernheim, exploring the natural environment through daily hikes, and discovering more about its history and habitats through the wide knowledge and expertise of its staff and volunteers. This was a unique residency in many ways, bringing together art, gaming, and nature through the perspective of an artist-family-in-residence. During our time at Bernheim, we created a series of poems and Minecraft maps in response to our experiences. These went on to become Wood and Pixels, an interactive Minecraft world that allows players to explore a range of locations within Bernheim
Supported by a bursary from The Writing Platform, and created in collaboration with artist, Adam Clarke. My Mother's House is a playable Minecraft poem that explores terminal illness and loss. I created this in response to my experience of being a carer for my mother through terminal cancer, during which time I was also a carer for my young son, as a way of exploring end-of-life experience with a young child. It was voted in the Top 5 Minecraft Maps 2016.
I curated The Naked Muse project in aid of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, after my son was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes in 2010, age 2. His courage was the inspiration. Fourteen brave and generous male poets agreed to be photographed nude by our collaborating photographers. Thirteen amazing female photographers collaborated on the project to create a series of beautiful nude portraits inspired by poems donated by fourteen fabulous female poets, which explored and celebrated the idea of the muse and the poet. The poems and portraits were gathered together to create a stunning A3 art calendar, as well as a touring exhibition. The exhibition featured over thirty beautiful and unique nude male portraits -- one of the largest exhibitions of artwork by women featuring all male nudes. The project was featured widely in the media around the world. Everyone who worked on the project donated their time and creativity to support the vision, and help to further awareness of Type One Diabetes and JDRF.
“Poetry perhaps is the most exposed you can get, but second to that has to be standing completely naked in a river with only a rope swing hiding your couplets whilst walking parties trek across the banks behind you! Poetry has always taught us that anything can be beautiful, the most ordinary thing is worthy of celebration. The same is true of flesh, of bodies; the same is true of us.” (Andrew Macmillan)
Extracts from The Naked Life -- by Victoria Bennett
It is launch day. Together, we stock a large van with wine and cheese and breads, enough to feed a Roman Army I suspect and, along with boxes of food and drinks, blue balloons and endless fairy lights, we carefully place thirty-six naked muses, beautifully framed, each one peeking cheekily from the bubble-wrap that delicately conceals. The final load, several heavy boxes of calendars, newly arrived from the printer. Today we are releasing The Naked Muse. I am juggling diabetes supplies and decorations, aware that I may, or may not, have packed a change of clothes. Too late. We are all in and ready to set off on the road - a gaggle of poets and friends, bound together by love and a willingness to be bold and, at least in certain cases, naked. For me, I have let my life be made naked, shown people our world. Today is our party and my son delights in the company, talking happily about his calendar and the studio party as if it were all in a usual day for him. I smile at his cosmopolitan air. There is laughter today, and we are not alone. Our blue bus heads south to Manchester, carrying new friends and old. It is a jumbled crew, but a good one and I am thankful.
When we reach our destination, I am glad for the patience of those who are here today. The venue, which is created from a film-script, beautifully decrepit and impossible to find, is an attic studio in a once busy factory, hidden down an alley in the Northern Quarter. There is no lift and the stairs are steep. There is nothing for it, together we must haul the wine and cheese and fairy lights and calendars and thirty-six naked muses of varying shapes and sizes, up every step to the fifth floor. We manage not to swear. I am counting carbohydrate needs with each step as I watch my son gallop up, two at a time.
When we reach the top, we are greeted by grimy windows, crumbling walls, electrics that hang from metal pipes and a well-worn leather sofa in the corner. Dust and remnants of a photographic shoot litter carpet the floor. We have three hours until opening. My son is running around at top speed, refusing to eat. I go into Director mode and start designating (though more truthful it is because I am with people who can guess what needs to be done, and take it on without me needing to ask). We start to tackle to room. Someone finds a plug. Music goes on. A friend uses her teaching skills to quieten my son, bring him to settle with crayons and toys. I am glad of these friends, who remember to bring bags of crayons in their handbags, and do not mind blowing up one hundred blue balloons. I feed smoothies to ward off the lows, and trust everything will Be Ok. It is a hard thing to do, but today, I must.
We work impossibly hard, and somehow, together we turn a run down empty space into a gallery, beautifully lit, complete with performance space, film screen, sound system, bar, food and of course, those blue JDRF balloons. I allow myself a moment to stop and stare. It looks amazing. Then we pick up my son, pile into the van and negotiate our way around cryptic streets to find our apartment hotel. We have less than an hour to go.
When we get there, it turns out they have upgraded us to the penthouse apartment as they heard why we were here and wanted to make our stay special. We go up in the lift to find ourselves surrounded by glass, staring out over the city. We even have a balcony, which my son wants to play on but which I place strictly out of bounds. My vertigo is struggling enough with floor-to-ceiling windows. I try to organise food for everyone, resort to pizza, and raid the bag for clothes. I am unused to dressing up and find it odd, like my body belongs to someone else, someone older, certainly someone greyer, and with dark purple bruises for eyes. I am wearing blue. The colour of hope, the colour of a cure. I look into the mirror and I see a Diabetes Mum.
We make it (albeit late) to a crowded room and are greeted by praise. Photographers and poets gather, alongside family, friends and those invited to share this night, our night. I am amazed at what we have done together. It is beautiful, and everything I could have hoped it could become, and I know it could not have been done without every one of these people, who have given everything simply because a woman once asked them, can you help my son?
Despite the excitement of the night, or because of it, my son has fallen asleep on my lap. I sit on the floor, cross-legged, and listen to our compere introduce our cause, our story and then listen closely to the quiet words of the poem, written just for our son by the wonderful poet, David Morley. I look at my son's face, brushed clean of the day into a world of dreams, and I cry. Because this amazing thing, this wonderful coming together of people from every part of the country and every thread of life, this act of love is because of him, because he is braver than all of us, every day, and even though I am proud of this moment, I would love for it to never have been grown because its soil is one of loss. I look up to see that it is not just me that cries, such is the love inspired by this little boy who is still only three.
The night is perfumed with amazing, erudite, exciting words, performed by poets whose naked bodies flash from the eight foot screen. Around us hang photographs, lit by stage lights and fairy-bulbs. People stand side by side, examine and respond. I listen as these shy poets share their stories of how it made them feel, to stand naked before the lens, and listen to the photographers who held these moments so tenderly, describe their tentative approach. All around me, people are revealing themselves, their fears, their passions, their loves, hopes and lives; their bodies.
Yes, we are standing surrounded by naked men, talking of love and poetry. It is not uncomfortable. There is no sniggered laughter. I am not afraid that my son is asleep in the corner, lying atop his Daddy's knees. Even when some of the poetry takes on the literal translation of nakedness, it still does not feel strange. No one mumbles offence or discomfort, no one turns away. In this space, nakedness is not shocking. To be revealed is not shocking. We are seeing the person, not the flesh. This is a perfect moment of creativity, where everyone here is celebrating and everyone here is humbled, literally laid bare, revealed to discover themselves embraced.
It is then that I realise we have created more than just a calendar, more than just an exhibition. That we have done more than simply raise awareness about diabetes, though it remains with such honesty at the project's heart that no one loses sight of it. Together we have done something really special. We have created Art, capable of being beautiful and generous and bold. Like the people who have made it. Like my son.