As we reach issue 21, it seems fitting to talk about change – 21 being an age of change; of becoming a newer, larger self; of adulthood; a coming-of-age age.
It can be difficult to change, to accept that we are something else than we used to be, or to find variety in ourselves in times of monotony and fixed routines.
But poetry is so often about that very thing: finding a new way of looking at something, even ourselves. (One of my favourite pieces of off-the-cuff criticism comes from the actor Mike Ginn, who once tweeted that “We get it poets: things are like other things”.)
It’s this that draws me back to Rachel Long’s The Yearner, a poem from her debut collection My Darling from the Lions (Picador). Long is the founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Womxn of Colour, based at London’s Southbank Centre, and also an accomplished poet and mentor – having mentored me, in a writing course run by Apples & Snakes back in 2018.
Long writes impactful, often tongue-in-cheek poems about seeing yourself in new ways, and the collection is full of poems that iterate on each other, giving a new perspective on a previous page. I hope you enjoy reading (or watching) the one below.
by Rachel Long
I stacked three pillows, made sure
my head was heavy with bills, wine, yesterday’s
deadline, and I slept hard, tight
as cement on my left arm. The needles came.
At dawn, I dragged it
like a salmon from under my body.
A part of me is dead. Now
I can shake my own hand,
meet myself again for the first time.
How my fingers feel to one another, strangers,
for a tingling moment, I am another.
Promise? This time will be different.
The Yearner offers a way for Long to “meet myself again for the first time”, with a numbed arm becoming both stranger and friend, a handshake between left and right hands bringing herself to herself anew. There is loss here, as “A part of me is dead”; but there is something found, too, in “How my fingers feel to one another”. She ends, “This time will be different”.
In a time when change usually means loss, as body counts go higher and variety is superseded by safety precautions, it can be wonderful to look at oneself, and dare to believe in something different. To, as Derek Walcott puts it in the wonderful Love After Love, “love again the stranger who was your self.”
My Darling from the Lions was shortlisted for the 2020 Dennis Prize for Best First Collection. You can find out more about Rachael Long, and read some excerpts from the collection here.