Carol Rumens is a poet and critic I respect immensely, so to have work selected by her for her Guardian Poem of the Week column means a great deal to me.
I was very grateful for her insightful take on the poem she selected (‘The rain in the night’) and how she reviews the collection as a whole.
I was especially interested in her use of the term ‘distanced witness’, which is a very apt phrase for how I approached the writing.
There are also some very heartening comments from readers engaging with how the poem works for (or on) them.
Spared direct personal bereavement, unlike some of her friends, she explores various ways of making poems which acknowledge the difficult balance of what might be called distanced witness. Her chosen style is usually oblique; she is often “watching the past” in the revisited landscape with its rivers and culverts, its hares and cormorants…
The poem I’ve chosen reminded me a little of Elizabeth Bishop’s Sestina, where real-but-symbolic rainfall is heard by a child safely indoors, and the “lightness” of tone gives powerful emotions a low and bearable pitch. Williamson’s poem centres on a particularly closely fused treatment of metaphor, making tenor and vehicle, the past and the rain, seem often to be interchangeable…
Psychological defences are susceptible to horribly engendered memories, as a roof is eventually susceptible to rain damage, though the rain may not be torrential. The poem offers itself as a statement of the problem and a kind of solution, an approach to mourning from a distanced perspective which avoids appropriation of others’ grief, but refuses to deny its own…
The poems in Return By Minor Road are restrained, but, over the whole volume, their rain-like effect is cumulatively powerful.
You can read the full review here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2021/mar/08/poem-of-the-week-the-rain-in-the-night-by-heidi-williamson