Healing Through Second Intention: Britton Gildersleeve on Colin Pope’s WHY I DIDN’T GO TO YOUR FUNERAL

Poet Colin Pope’s collection Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral details the kind of ragged, jagged wound that’s impossible to repair neatly. Physicians say injuries like these must heal naturally, without stitches, from the base outward to the skin: a wound to heal by “secondary intention.”[1] This wound, in Pope’s case, is the loss of an ex to suicide. The healing here is much like the gauze used to pack such a wound: messy and painfully ugly in its own right.

But still, somehow, horrifically beautiful. And necessary.

I’m warning you, however, not to read this collection when your own grief is fresh. Pope describes “The Excess Stages of Grief,” in which “you start sweating at midnight/and don’t stop until after sunrise” and the trauma around “Viewing the Body Before Cremation,” when “[t]he strings in the backs of my legs/had gone slack, my joints disconnected/like an unstrung marionette.” No, these are probably not the best opportunities to catch your breath in the throes of articulate suffering.

Perhaps read it when, after years of grief, you can conjugate the tenses of hang and hanged and hung, as Pope does, sandwiching that parsing between scintillating flights into Greek and Latin, and words brilliant with lexical baggage: vaticination, boscage. Pope ranges between ancient Greek history and Paleolithic bone fragments and astronomy and old Alexandria, in one poem alone (“How to Tell If a Moon Is Waxing or Waning,” one of my favorites in the collection). Your own grief will find comfort in Pope’s darkly gorgeous landscape, where “the ragged corpse of goodbye/is waiting for us to find it.”

The poems travel from Buddhist ashram to Louisiana, from a discursion on nature (“Whatever Nature Means”) to an envy-generating (for this writer) send-up of the inadequacies of language. Here are the lines of a poet in his glory days, with internal rhymes to pleasantly surprise you and line breaks that gently, effortlessly cloak each word.

The collection is also an eloquent critique of poetry’s inadequacies. “Variations on Trouble” reminds us that all of it “is language’s fault,/or the fault of everyone who ever taught anyone/to use it inaccurately, or knowing that it is/inaccurate, using it anyway,” that “tragedy [ . . . ] is also/irony”; that “crisis [ . . . ] is also disaster [ . . . ] is calamity, woe/distress.” Each stack of blocks of words illuminates another polyhedral face of grief.

Then, just in time, a poem like “Extract” intervenes, quiet in its sorrow, playing with fragrances (as if they were not conjuring a ghost). As if Je Reviens didn’t mean I come again. . . .

Here’s my recommendation: you need this book if you have ever lost someone. You need it because someday you will, and it will be waiting for you. But read it carefully, as you would dose a bitter but life-saving elixir, sip by sip. Remember that healing by second intention is difficult. But if Pope’s book is any indication, it’s possible.

Colin Pope, a Nimrod editorial board member, is a Ph.D. candidate at Oklahoma State University. His poems, essays, and criticism have appeared in or are forthcoming from such journals as Slate, Rattle, West Branch, The Millions, Best New Poets, and others. Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral was a finalist for the Press 53 Award and was released in 2019 from Tolsun Books.

Britton Gildersleeve’s creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in NimrodSpoon River Poetry Review, This Land, and many other journals. She has published three chapbooks and was the director of the Oklahoma State University Writing Project for twelve years.

[1] Second Intention Healing, according to RNCentral : “A wound that is extensive and involves considerable tissue loss, and in which the edges cannot be brought together heals in this manner. This is how pressure ulcers heal. Secondary intention healing differs from primary intention healing in three ways: 1) The repair time is longer. 2) The scarring is greater. 3) The chances of infection are far greater.”


Image from https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781948800228/why-i-didnt-go-to-your-funeral.aspx

One thought on “Healing Through Second Intention: Britton Gildersleeve on Colin Pope’s WHY I DIDN’T GO TO YOUR FUNERAL

  1. Pingback: Why read depressing stuff...? - Tea and Breath

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