Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor
Page Count: 68
Publication Date: Thursday, May 11, 2017
About this Book
"A profound and tender read that requires cups of tea, a sense of humour and a packet of tissues. At turns comforting and heart-breaking, the poems address life and death without sentimentality as the poet skillfully navigates relationships with loved ones, herself and the world around her with a conversational ease that left me stumped. There are few collections of poetry that have touched me so deeply."
Anne Tannam is a page and performance poet from Dublin. Her first collection of poetry Take This Life was published in 2011 by WordOnTheStreet. Her work has appeared in literary magazines in Ireland and abroad and has featured on RTE Radioís Arena and on local radio. She has performed at literary events and festivals across Ireland including Lingo, Electric Picnic, Cķirt, Over The Edge, ” BheŠl, Word Jungle and Blackwater International Poetry Festival. Anne is co-founder of the weekly Dublin Writersí Forum and has been the featured reader at literary events across Ireland including the Sunflower Sessions, Monday Echo, Staccato, Mixed Messages, Glůr, Stanzas, Tongue Box, Merg Sessions, Flying South, Dublinís Underground Beat & Dublin Indie Spirit. In October 2016 Anne was writer-in-residence at Chennai Mathematical Institute in India.
Read a sample from this book
I remember reading a story once,
set in Victorian England,
about a gentleman whose young wife
óin an unexplained miracle
of the very worst kindó
gradually turns into a fox.
And here you are sitting in our kitchen
at a quarter to one in the morning,
dressed in someone elseís coat,
smelling of neglect and nights
without the comfort of sleep.
Are you well?
Such a useless question
when thirst is slowly unravelling summer
from your skin,
from the corners
of your mouth.
We offer you the couch
but you are racing across fields,
Winterís cold breath pounding in your ears.
On their wedding day his father said
Iíll forgive you everything if you do right by this girl:
the unfinished education;
the empty table setting at Christmas;
the family name unpolished, unloved.
I never met my grandfather,
a man who lived under the glare of his wife,
but I remember my grandmotheróa small womanó
her mouth eternally disappointed.
Dad bringing us down to visit her
to the small dark house on Bulfin Road
where the furnishings took themselves too seriously.
Later, in that same house, I found a studio photograph
of the polished family; my grandfather, something familiar
in the way heís leaning against the table,
my dad, a beautiful child about three years old
sitting beside his brothers and sisters, and there
my grandmother, upright and disapproving
staring into the camera, daring it to blink.
That blond-haired little boy,
the man who loved his wife for sixty years,
couldnít wait to cycle home from work,
gave up his wages every week,
cooked our fry on Saturday mornings,
scrubbed our nails, polished our shoes.
Still wonders if he did enough.
Still wonders if heís been forgiven.
That First Year
The world spun on,
same rotation from West to East,
same speed, same seasons
in the same order.
Tides did their usual thing,
waves made their lapping sounds,
seagulls screeched their indignation.
Over in No. 80
small changes were noted:
the kitchen table
listing to one side,
no back and forth
of a conversation
in the making.
the faint sound of
and Louis Armstrong
having to remind us
itís a wonderful world.
All poems © copyright Anne Tannam, 2017
Article: "A poetís long last journey with her dying mother" - Anne Tannam reflects on the precious last two years of her motherís life and the collection of poetry that they inspired. Wed, May 10, 2017, The Irish Times
At the launch of my first collection in 2011, Mam, sitting in the front row, holding court with friends and family, announced sheíd counted the number of poems she was mentioned in, and the number my father was mentioned in, and the figure on her side came up short. She requested in no uncertain terms, that my next collection have more poems about her in it.
In early 2012, Mam was diagnosed with leukemia. Graciously accepting the prognosis and the weekly visits to St Jamesís Hospital for blood transfusions and treatment, she lived for nearly two years before passing away, without fuss or fanfare, on December 7th, 2013. As her daughter, those two years were both the easiest and hardest of my life. Those two years allowed us to simply appreciate each otherís company and let go of the complicated layers that build up around any close relationship. Those two years, they almost broke my heart and nothing could have prepared me for the constant ache that first year of her absence.
Prior to Mamís diagnosis, Iíd already begun to write some poems that were exclusively about her. Testament, the longest and most difficult poem I ever wrote, took eight months to complete and allowed me to articulate the loving but complex relationship we had when I was a child and she was suffering from what we later came to know as bi-polar disorder. I remember showing her the poem, waiting nervously as she read it silently and the relief when she pronounced herself happy with it, but, she cautioned: ďI donít want to listen to it being read aloud!Ē Once written, Testament opened the floodgates to other poems; simpler, but no less true, that celebrated our relationship as two grown women, more alike than Iíd care to admit.
After the diagnosis was delivered, with a prognosis of six to 12 months, it no longer felt like a choice, but an imperative that I write about Mam and record honestly and without sentiment the journey I was taking, both as an adult child witnessing the death of a parent, and as the keeper of my motherís story. The challenge was to stay present to what was happening, day by day and week by week, and still turn up at the page as regularly as I could and let the words flow. Some poems demanded I write them almost immediately after a particular experience; others waited months, or in some cases, years, before announcing themselves ready to be tackled. Landís Ending, a poem that attempts to capture the precise moment when Mam knew it was time to stop the treatment, only allowed itself to be written after I submitted the manuscript to Jessie, my publisher, almost three years after the event.
And of course other aspects of my life went on as normal: the demands of work, children growing up, Dad being diagnosed with early stage dementia, and all the classic themes of middle-age life rudely poking their heads into the poems. Life went on and I wanted the collection to reflect that reality. No matter how intense or singular an experience felt, all around it was the mundane, frustrating, gorgeous hum of daily living. Thatís why I chose not to go for different sections in the collection but rather let a loose narrative arc lend it shape, digressing regularly from the main theme to an individual poem or cluster of poems that appear to pop out of nowhere, because thatís how life is experienced. And those digressions even happened within individual poems. One of the later poems in the collection, Reframe, starts off with a panicked return visit to the hospital and ends up with Sammy the dog eating Mamís bottom teeth. I read that poem as part of her eulogy and afterwards people came up to me saying that it was such a relief to be able to laugh during the ceremony. Mam would have loved that Ė people chortling in their seats at her funeral.
As with the shaping of any collection, there were always two opposing but complementary forces at play: my will, and the will of each individual poem; the objective truth of what happened, and the emotional truth of what was felt; my needs as a writer and the needs of my reader. The challenge lay in melding these forces to create a collection that gives voice to the universality of an intensely personal experience.
Itís often only in the process of pulling a collection together that one can see certain patterns or motifs emerge across a body of poems, which in turn, may point to a preoccupation in the poetís mind. Over the period of time it took to write the collection, it appears I was obsessed with numbers that related to time passing, perhaps as a way of placing flags or markers that could be returned to, to trace the ebb and flow of each shifting tide. In the face of uncertainty, there is a comfort and safety in numbers. Unsurprisingly, thereís a poem in the collection By Numbers that explores the underlying similarities in the experiences of waiting for someone to be born, and waiting for someone to die.
Thereís Dad, a blond and beautiful three-year old, thereís Mam, jumping off the pier in Cuskinny. There she is pregnant, there I am giving birth. Thereís Mam receiving her first transfusion, there she is receiving her last. Thereís life stopping, thereís life going on.
Iíve done the sums and totted up the columns. Mam is the star of 17 of the 49 poems in the collection and gets an honorable mention in five more. Those figures would have pleased her no end. And yes, thatís more poems than Dad got.