Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday Poem: What Comes Next: In Vitro Fertilisation by Ingrid Horrocks

Egg Retrieval

Even the noun is off.
Retrieval -- the act of getting

something back, as though
a long needle passing through

her vagina wall to draw
her eggs out one by one

while she lies sedated, but
conscious, is any kind of re-

turn. Or do they mean retrieval
as the finding and extracting
of data from a storage device;

her eggs genetic information
to be read and used?

Or perhaps, simply, the rescue from
a state of difficulty or collapse.


She sits in her garden with her
swollen abdomen, her hysterical

pregnancy almost as big as the
belly of a pregnant friend who

will come later for dinner and
distraction. The strangest thought is

her six eggs now outside herself
in the care of embryologists. Even

now, as shade begins to fall across
her bean shoots and new flax

her eggs are in test tubes in a lab,
being carefully fertilised.


She is in the shower.

Outside the sun is shining.

Through frosted glass she
sees him come into the garden

with his breakfast bowl
so she opens the window wide.

They called, he says,
it's good news.
-- We've got embryos.

She leans from the window
all wet and fresh with soap

and kisses him.

This poem has stayed with me since first reading it some weeks ago  when the book Mapping the Distance (VUP) first came out. At the launch, poet and academic Ingrid Horrocks said she wasn't sure about the final series of poems  in the collection (of which this is one) because, I think she said, they weren't quite ready - or perhaps she hadn't thought them through enough. They are very recent poems for a collection that has been crafted over ten years.

I like them very much. It is the material - a couple trying to conceive - that grabs the attention and the way this intensely personal material is delivered with searing honesty. The rawness of the feelings is deeply affecting, as is the way the cerebral [the driving force behind Ingrid's poems] is perforce surrendered to the mysterious workings of the human body and the deeper mysteries of science. Most of all, the power of this final segment of the book is the way it becomes the happy ending to a love story.

For although the book is about mapping the distances travelled on land and between people and through time, it's most of all (it seems to me) a love story between two people - the waiting for, the beginnings, the shock of intimacy, the settling down ... and, finally, after much heartache, the conception. No surprise the collection is dedicated to Ingrid's partner, Tim.

And this poem? I love the wonder of her leaning 'wet and fresh with soap', and the sweetness and wetness of the kiss. And before that the water and the light in the garden, and the frosted glass - and her anxious, perhaps, or just not knowing, behind it. The openness and 'ohs' of the breakfast bowl and window and embryo and soap bring the good news with them  ... This joyful glistening image contrasts wonderfully with the etymological discussion of Egg Retrieval at the start of the poem, and the careful couplets of Later.

I also love the way What Comes Next speaks to the first poem in the collection which has Ingrid's great aunt leaning from a window in Italy eating a fig. In this poem, too, there is a garden, and the fig is wet and cool.

Mapping the Distance is a pleasure for the careful way it crafts language to shape experience but most of all for its voice - a cool, gentle, honest, erudite voice that knows love and how to love. Like the mouth in the final lines of the book, this poet spills words like birds.


Elisabeth said...

This poem grabbed me too, Mary, for its freshness, it's honesty, its sense of anticipation. I'm hooked, like a fertilised egg. I must now read more. Thanks.

LentenStuffe said...

It's what's lost, isn't it:

She leans from the window
all wet and fresh with soap

and kisses him.

Zizek has a very funny take on chocolate laxatives. This poem reminds me of his critique of neo-liberalism.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Elisabeth!

And thanks, LS, for your comment - interesting, but you lost me I confess. What is lost at the end? Not knowing Zisek, I looked him up and, for those who are ignorant like me, he writes about the paradox of the chocolate laxative which contains the very thing that causes the constipation it is meant to cure, and he sees it as representative of our current ideological landscape which justifies excess/indulgence/hedonism by inserting the 'medicine' inside the thing that causes the damage - coffee without caffeine, safe sex, capitalist profiteering countered with charitable donations etc. Fascinating stuff actually ... but in the case of in vitro fertilisation... what? It is not 'sex without babies' by choice - so is the paradox here science and sex? I guess so. And if so, what are we losing? The misery of those who want babies but cannot have them? Or is the act of having babies considered hedonism in a world with an exploding population..? If they 'can't', should they not ...? Aagh - sounds cruel to me. But then again any theory does without the human element - people wet and fresh with soap, kissing.

Claire Beynon said...

I found this poem immediately, its people real and endearing. When the good news comes and "she leans from the window/all wet and fresh with soap/and kisses him... " it brings with it aaah, an explosion of joy and relief, a waking of all the senses.

Your descriptive piece about Ingrid's poem is similarly lyrical and generous, Mary. Thanks & joy to you both.


Claire Beynon said...

'immediately engaging' was what I thought I'd typed!
; )

PS. In response to your comments/questions, Mary - please feel free to use bits from my TP post for Bookman Beattie... and the poem for your class, too. Of course. And thank you! L, C x

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

I like Ingrid's poem and I like the comment it sparked from Lenten and your response Mary. The wet fresh soap kiss represents loss in the way that the embryos are conceived/fertilised in a laboratory without intimacy - but then again, how many babies are conceived in drunken forgotten (unkissed) moments - plenty I suspect. And, as Freddy Mercury used to sing "I want it all...and I want it now:.

AJ Ponder said...

Thanks Mary,

I think you could go round all day with this poem, from the antiseptic labs - to the clean loss - but very human joy as the couple met with success.

Anonymous said...

Lovely poem. It's the pathos of that final image for me – all the medical, artificial procedures; him telling her that there are embryos (rather than her telling him that she's pregnant); and instead of passionate physicality at the news;

she leans through the window,

all wet and fresh with soap.

You could spend hours unwinding all the layers of meaning here.

Helen Lowe said...

I have just finished reading Ingrid Horrocks' collection and interviewing her for Women on Air (Plains 96.9 FM--the interviews on podcast, too, if you want to listen). I loved the whole in-vitro sequence, especially some of the different voices Ingrid pulled in. And I love the finishing lines--to me, I got tenderness. That despite all the science of trying for conception, the raison d'etre, or part of it, is still that moment between two people--the kiss.

Helen Rickerby said...

This poem and the preceding one in the collection 'Songs for Children' (which tell the earlier part of the story) were my favourites in Mapping the Distance. So, it seems funny to me that she was unsure about them. I guess they were her newest work in the book, and they did feel a little different, but I feel like these are the beginning of a new phase of Ingrid's work. They had a specificity, a personalness, a universality and feeling of space that I really like in poetry.

Rachel Fenton said...

This poem felt like a chat with a close friend - beautifully intimate.