Hannah Hodgson’s pamphlet Dear Body addresses the experience of disability through direct and concise poems. Several aspects are described in a strong no-nonsense way, often dealing with the emotional, social and psychological sides of disability. Here is :
The lift, a green room for the wheelchair user
The doors are scissor blades –
sever us, give us space.
We exhale in sighs,
hot frustrated hand-driers.
Our eyes flash colour, marbles
rolling around our sockets.
Those flickering lids speak louder than we could.
We are sinking, quicksand
drawing us through floors
as we complain about the people
bumbling down the stairs.
The doors chime. We re-apply smiles
The curtains are open,
we are actors, polite once again.
In this poem of two worlds, the private/public, the inner/outer, we are admitted to the realities of the disabled person, the emotions operating under the surface, the struggle to put on a front.
Each couplet bears a telling image building up the complete and complex picture. It starts with that ambiguous image ‘The doors are scissor blades’, which seems to contain both the idea of being cut off and being set free. This being a green room, the sense of relief and letting go allows exasperation to show in the metaphor of ‘hot frustrated hand-driers’. The flashing eyes, ‘marbles/ rolling around our sockets’ graphically conveys frustration and the articulate but silent nature of this gesture; it is, perhaps, similar to the way this poem operates, quietly, incisively yet louder than any discursive explanation.
Quicksand is a powerful image, both mimicking the lift’s plunge and carrying an element of dread and inevitability. It occurs to me, as a reader, that here might be a succinct description of what it can feel like to be ultimately alone, as one must be, with a disability.
And then come ‘the people/bumbling down the stairs’. Here I picture the able-bodied world, those taking the body for granted, the oblivious, the kind and supportive, the well-meaning, the discomfited; and those who prefer not to know, the patronising and the dismissive. And ‘bumbling’ suggests a degree of awkwardness, as if ableness and disability were just a continuum we find ourselves on. The word can stand for both the physical and the social, the way those of us from the non-disabled world might find ourselves socially clumsy, struggling to find the right response to something that sets our confidence on edge.
When it comes to the chime of the doors and the ‘smiles /like lipstick’ we are moved back to the world which relies on conventions of appearance and behaviour. So by the last couplet the feelings and needs of the non-disabled world are rescued by the willingness of the disabled person to go along with this, to come out of the green room and perform. Yet there’s an edge here, of course, which is supplied by the confident abruptness of the language.
In a recent review in The North, Karl Knights says ‘Hodgson’s voice is straight and unafraid of risk, it has no time for abstractions, its message is too urgent to muck about.’ Indeed, and it is through choice imagery and moving no-nonsense eloquence that she manages to stir things up.