GINA-WILSON

Gina Wilson died last month, June 23. She was perhaps best known as a children's author or (to her clients and friends) as a psychotherapist. HappenStance brought out her first pamphlet of poems for adults in 2010. It was called Scissors, Paper, Stone. I'm going to sound feeble and ineffectual but still I'll say it. I knew her illness was life-threatening. I knew she would probably die of it eventually. But I feel lost for words.

I'd always assumed she would go on to produce a full collection of poems, maybe two. She had a second pamphlet from Mariscat in 2017 – a real beaut – and she was always working on a poem. She'd send me one or two now and again: always short, but intense. She was a slow poet (my favourite kind). A poem might rumble on for years while she thought it through, whatever it was. Sometimes her results were stunning. Fabulous syntax. Take the title poem of her 2017 Mariscat pamphlet It Was and It Wasn't. Just ten lines long – but by gum, it stays with you:

TREASURE

Squirrels spend a lot of time
digging up and reburying their store,
checking it's still there, taking a bite.
My mother used to be the same
with dates and nuts at Christmas.
Never an unopened box of anything
by the Day itself. Funny how people
can't quite bury a treasure. My brother
dug up our dead rabbit by torchlight
to see if it was safe. It was and it wasn't.

Gina had first started sending adult poems to magazines in the mid 1990s, won the Frogmore Poetry Prize in 1997. She was already a successful children's writer. She had several teenage novels (remember Cora Ravenwing?) and one book of poems for kids.

She grew more confident with an adult readership, and wrote more simply. Clean lines. Short sentences. 

She was a member of writing groups. She liked going to the workshops run by Peter and Ann Sansom in particular. 

I kept one of her poems in two versions; she'd sent them to me years apart. The first version had three possible titles and 112 words. The second had one title and 60 words. The first has a simile ('She looks like the stone goblin'). The second version moves simile into metaphor ('She's a stone / gnome').

She resisted epiphanies (although I should say, bearing in mind her mischievous sense of humour, that one of my favourite poems is dated 'Epiphany, 2015'). Often she's so plain, so deliberately distanced from metaphor, that a naturally occurring experience suddenly seems to be one of the metaphors life itself has offered. It's as though each detail has symbolic meaning if only we could see it.

Sometimes, the book jackets of celebrated poets refer to the author as 'an important poet'. Gina was never dubbed 'an important poet', never even tried to be an important poet. But the pain of this new absence reminds me that she was important to me. And so were her poems.

Poets do leave bits of themselves in what they write, and if the poems are alive, so is a bit of them. 

With her daughter's permission, I'll quote one of Gina's last pieces. She's still right here in the hospital waiting room, consciously unimportant and waiting to be weighed. Isn't this a metaphor?


IMPORTANT PEOPLE
Pandemic, 2020

I'm reading the book my daughter gave me last Christmas,
A History of the World in 21 Women. She likes facts,
something to believe in, and I'm trying to believe in a world
made up of Joan of Arc, Frida Kahlo, Banazir Bhutto …
their wonders reeled off on ten pages each.

Around me, the hospital waiting room is dotted
with very ill people. They whisper in pairs, or sit separated
by six feet, some reading like me or pretending to,
watching the clock go round. Nameless nurses, in blue,
walk through and back and through again.
Once in a while they call someone to stand on the scales.