Material (2008)

Material by Ros Barber


The seed of this collection was the death of my mother in 2002. Thus the first poem, the title poem, was almost bound to be about my mother even if it seems to be about handkerchiefs. Since this particular poem is now on the ‘A’ Level syllabus in the UK and some people (both students and teachers) are coming here to find out if I can help them with their homework, I thought I could at least give a little background. (Sorry, not going to kill it with an analysis.)

This is the small article I wrote about the collection when it was selected for a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. It explains context of the collection (and thus the title poem). The first lines of which finally arrived one evening, many months after I started writing poems for the collection, while I was walking the dog. It was the first poem I had managed to write about Mum since her death, and even then, as you will realise when you read the poem, I got seriously side-tracked. We humans can get very good at sidestepping emotional pain, I find.


I can’t pretend these aren’t intensely personal poems. In May 2002, my mother was killed in a freak accident on the second day of her holiday in Thailand, and four years later, I still hadn’t written a single poem about her. I sensed this was avoidance; there were elements of that loss that I knew I couldn’t process through any other mechanism than poetry. So I began Material in order to approach writing about Mum and coming to terms with her death. It was supposed to be about material losses; things that mattered. The very first poem turned out to be about handkerchiefs, which was an indication of how creatively I could divert myself onto less painful subjects. I worked through all the losses (mine, and those of others) that haunted me. Poems tended to sprout from other poems.

I’d never reacted very well to loss. Even small losses were symbolic reminders of the early ones I had suffered: the loss of my father when my parents divorced, the death of my older brother from cancer when he was seventeen. This book was a quest for acceptance (of loss in general) and a sense of resolution (for particular losses). When an experience is turned into a poem, the patterns that arise can make that experience seem to make some sort of sense. I was surprised by the radio motif in the final poems; only writing out these events allowed me to notice it. It seemed to be my connection with Mum’s death: the process of writing had become itself a kind of ‘tuning in’ and listening to what needed to come next. I made peace with loss through writing Material, so it’s a wonderful bonus to have a PBS recommendation for this book. My thanks to the selectors.


Get Material.

Poems: Material, My First Three Children, Amusements, Mrs, Sheds, Denizens, Relatively New Development, Bad Mother, The Old Ship Hotel, Belated Apology, The Means, Bones, Losing It, She Exists, Driving Without Lights, Home Visit, The Weight of Ink, A Simple Cure, The Caretaker, Reclining Nude (Vera), Shell, Hers is a Lush Situation, Self Portrait at Seventy, How to Leave the World That Worships Should, No Wonder Caroline Bites People, Out of Season, Girls’ High Empties, The Women, Millenium Eve, First Access, Dear Diary, Ventriloquist, Nocturnal, What Blue Is, Stuck, Missing, Wrabness, The Recovered, Maiden Innings, First Out, The Corridor of Uncertainty, Twelfth Man, Silly Point.