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Review in web-based Sphinx 2012
by Helena Nelson

Negotiating the Days by Lizzie Madder (Soundswrite Press, 2012) £4.00

Lizzie Madder is good at writing simply, which is what this sequence demands. Negotiating The Days charts an encounter with anal cancer, from diagnosis to the “last visit to oncology”. It’s an experience in which key phrases, though easily missed individually, accumulate weight—the “urgent book” in the opening poem; “an injection of:/ tree-lined avenues” in ‘Walk in Wandlebury Park II; “if there really is a god/ if what’s up my bum isn’t” in ‘Preparation’; “Holding/ everything in” in ‘Slow Burning’.

You read the sequence from start to finish, without pausing. No messing about with persona here: the poet talks about her experience personally and nakedly, although there’s much she doesn’t say. That sense of reserve also enriches the narrative. There’s not so much as a hint of self-pity. Indeed, there are points of mischievous humour: “The Occasion of/ a Bowel Movement/ to be announced in The Times.”

Anal cancer is not the sort of illness you read poems about. There’s nothing remotely poetic about it, and that’s the point. No fancy language comes into play here, just the restorative shock of blunt reality: “One last hand up my bum.” Even the form, one line placed carefully after another, small prosy fragments of experience—it’s not playing the ‘poem’ game. It’s more like a personal diary, which suddenly dips into poetry when you’re least expecting it.

The pamphlet is beautifully produced, a pleasure to read and hold. If I have any criticism, it‘s that the poet has a tendency to steal her own thunder in the titles, which reappear near (or as) the punchline. All these poems really need—so far as titles go—is a date.

Helena Nelson
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