Each year our Pavilion Poetry students assist with the publishing of our new collections, dedicating their time to an individual poet. In this interview, Adam Noor talks with author Denise Saul about her new collection, The Room Between Us (Pavilion Poetry, 2022) – you can also listen to Denise’s responses below.
The Room Between Us pertains to an almost universal experience of caring for our loved ones in their illness, however it simultaneously feels extremely personal and private. Was your intention for this collection to highlight how this shared experience unites us or rather how it stays with us personally?
My intention for The Room Between Us was to focus on how a shared experience can bring us together and how the personal becomes a universal. And that’s particularly so with a poem once it’s published then it’s shared and it’s open. So there’s no real divide between those two experiences, between the personal and the universal.
Aside from this, were there any influences, literary or otherwise, that had an effect on the collection?
I would say my collection was deeply indebted to Roman Jakobson’s essay ‘Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances’ because it allowed me to experiment with my mother’s voice and how to present it within the poems, and allowed me to work with the spacing around the poem and between the lines of the poem. At first, it was quite of a challenge for me to present my mum’s voice and to harness it within each of those poems, and his work really helped me to shape that and allow her to speak and to allow her bodily experience to be reflected in my work.
Poems such as ‘A Prayer That May Be Said Before She Wakes’ and ‘A Daughter’s Perspective’ explore the importance and difficulty of communicating traumatic events in our lives. Do you see this collection (and indeed poetry itself) as an opportunity to express these events more easily?
Poetry allows us to explore the difficulties and the challenges of our experiences, and I think that’s really reflected in some of the poems, such as ‘A Prayer That May Be Said Before She Wakes’ and also with ‘A Daughter’s Perspective’, which explore the challenges of communicating traumatic events in our lives.
And I just want the reader to experience the different ways in which we communicate, which is not only through speech. My mother communicated through the body experience, through gesturing, pointing and also through drawing, and these are some of the methods that I use as a carer and she uses a person being cared for. So it’s also about how the body and language are connected and at the same time, how they can be disconnected. And I hope these poems actually bring those two elements together.
There is a lot of light within The Room Between Us. Yes, there are challenging experiences, challenging parts, but our experience by the carer and about bodily experience. But I would like the reader to take away a deeper understanding of speech disability, a deeper understanding of caregiving experience and the female narrative of caregiving, which I felt was lacking in a lot of literature. I found it difficult at first when I was writing the collection to actually find any work that harnessed the speech disability, the experience of it; aphasia in the caregiving space. So I like the reader to take those experiences away with them.
There is a deep sense of renewal and there’s a lot of brightness and light. It’s not just about the deterioration of bodily health, it’s much more than that. It’s about someone’s journey through traumatic events. It’s also about other voices that are allowed the space in which to articulate their experiences, such as my great grandfather. And so this is a running thread throughout the collection.
What is the most important thing you would like your readers to take away from this collection?
There’s a tendency in our society, particularly in the Western society, to hide or pack away experiences of grief, bereavement and even the caregiving experience is often pushed to one side. And those voices are usually very rarely heard. So with this sequence of poems, I wanted to allow these voices to rise and to articulate their own experiences, and that’s what I hope the reader will take away with them, how the personal becomes a universal and there’s no division between the two.
Denise Saul is the author of two pamphlets. White Narcissi (Flipped Eye Publishing) was Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and House of Blue (Rack Press) was PBS Pamphlet Recommendation. She is the recipient of Poetry Book Society’s Geoffrey Dearmer Prize and Fellow of The Complete Works. Denise holds a PhD in Creative Writing (poetry) from University of Roehampton. She was awarded Arts Council England’s Grant for the Arts Award, for the delivery of her video poem collaborative project, Silent Room: A Journey of Language. Her project can be found at http://www.silent-room.net.