A Scattering, By Christopher Reid

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The Independent Culture

Readers familiar with the work of Christopher Reid, a witty, dextrous poet drawn to "any whimsical, jejune, inchoate or passing thought", might have assumed that the death of his wife in 2005 would defeat his light touch. They need not have feared.

A moving, unsentimental record of loss, A Scattering is as deft as anything Reid has written. Its playfulness, which includes finding rhymes for "sarcoma" and "tumour", does not obviate tenderness but complements it. Where others ratchet up their writing, Reid prefers a quiet approach.

Four sequences describe a last holiday together on Crete, the final weeks of his wife's illness, the widower's afterlife, and the attempt to capture his wife's essence. Their details are heartbreaking: the flowers his wife planted blossom without her; perfume bottles remain in their bathroom "in an orderly queue"; and, most poignantly, the poet recalls "Songs that used to lift up lightly / out of the solitude that she occupied: / where are they now?"

Another poem has Reid passing the institution to which his wife donated her body: "That's where my dead wife lives," he thinks. "I hope they're treating her kindly." If such moments barely communicate grief, they are nevertheless an important element of A Scattering. After all, even the greatest works of art are found wanting when death is the subject.