by Gillian Clarke
Q Who’s the poem about?
A A friend who was a poet and an actress. Her name was Frances Horovitz. When someone the same age as you dies, it is shocking. She was too young to die.
Q Why did you call it October?
A She died in October. It can be a sad month. Summer is over, as her life was. The weather was wet and stormy, reflecting our emotions.
Q Where are you in the first verse? Is it a different place from where the funeral took place?
A Yes, two different places. The first verse describes the scene in the garden on the October day when the poem was written. Summer’s finished, the flowers are dead. Wind has broken a branch in one of five poplar trees. The tree itself, and the other trees, are healthy and sound, their leaves turning gold - just as I and most of my friends and family were alive and well. There is a parallel between the trees and the friends, the living and the dead. I wrote the poem while remembering the funeral, a few days earlier, where rain and tears mixed on people’s faces.
Q Did you write the poem as therapy? If not, why did you write it?
A I make poems about everything because I am a poet, never for therapy, though poetry does help you to think about difficult things, like death.
Q What are the wind’s white steps? Why does the pen run?
A When wind blows over long grass, green turns silver. The death of a friend makes you determined to waste no time and to make the most of your life. So ‘I must write like the wind’. The wind over the grass turns into an image for the feeling of panic to see, experience, record everything.
Q Why does health feel like pain?
A When someone your age dies you feel guilty about being alive and well.
Q What is the death-day?
A We are all born. We all die. We know our birthday, but not our death day. I was suddenly aware that I pass that date every year without knowing it, ‘winning ground’.