• Susie Campbell

The blue condition in the title of this unfinished sequence refers to cyanosis caused by a restriction of oxygen, a condition suffered by my mother in the period immediately before her death. Maggie Nelson's Bluets (2009: 76) reminds us that cyanosis, ʽa blueness of the skin due to imperfectly oxygenated bloodʼ can be both literal and metaphorical. It can also result from a lack of blood flow or bruising caused by too tight a compression.


When I was hesitantly trying to find a poetic form through which to find and shape the very difficult feelings following the death of my mother through gradual oxygen starvation, I found I could only tolerate a very minimal, compressed form. Tiny little capsules of poetry anaesthetised by wads of white space. Isolating each poem in a little box on its own page seemed to contain some of the intensity. The threat of being flooded by intolerable emotion was kept under tight control, enabling me to proceed through the series and to find a way through the grieving process. Or as a later poem in the sequence (not included here) says,


If not a corridor, then a crawlspace through which the laboratory of grief can be entered.


Researching into the medical uses of compression and tourniquet to prevent bleed-out led me to a therapeutic use of something like an emotional tourniquet. Dr Peter Levine, an American psychotherapist, has championed the use of a therapeutic approach that supports people to develop the skill set of managing the speed and amount of content they are processing to counter the flooding and overwhelming of a traumatic experience. A response to significant trauma may of course be very different to the experience of difficult personal bereavement but I wondered if there might be some correspondences and some of this thinking is explored in these poems.


By the mid-point of writing this sequence, I had reached a place where I could step back and reflect on my choice of form, and how its quite extreme compression or constriction had enabled me to find and shape some very difficult feelings. However, as I explore in my essay, ʽThe Little Box: the use of containment in a poetry of grief, shock and lossʼ, I came to realise that, along with its apparent control, the small prose box can also gesture to the very loss and absence it attempts to contain, a paradox that will be explored in subsequent poems in this sequence.




Perhaps it can be approached down this corridor through the blast-wave of memory. A glance into adjoining rooms, each one a framed X-ray: white-blue glow of lungs, joints, cavities. To open the door directly is not the entrance, an off-white door through which grief perhaps touches lightly, one hand on the glimpse of a white nightdress, a glance away from each locked room.




Sour margins of this purple fruit against stained lips. Her interest quickens, opens to taste but recoils from its dark substance: a forest-blue staircase of complex acidity, its bright body, that warmth. She pushes away the spoon, its fulcrum the point where tartness takes hold and bursts into memory on the tongue.




Today a friend proposes colour. Round its injured edges I feel my way. I procure a garter or a piece of rope yarn for restricting reds and yellows: little loops of language protecting soft tissue, although there is risk of numbness or swelling.





Works cited: 


Nelson, M 2009 Bluets, Seattle and New York: Wave Books