Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter (Faber)


“There is a feather on my pillow.”

THERE are only three characters here, the crow, the dad and twin boys sharing the grief after their mother dies. Each has their perspective. The dad: ‘wondering what to do. Shuffling around‘. The boys literal: ‘Where are the fire engines? Where is the noise and clamour of an event like this?’. And sage pagan old crow: ‘Oi, look, trust me. Did I or did I not faithfully deliver St Vincent to Lisbon?’

Crow was the volume of Ted Hughes black poems he wrote between 1966 and 1969 after the death of his wife Sylvia Plath and which he regarded as his masterpiece. Notionally here dad is working on Hughes again. Where Ted’s crow was a symbol, an etching, here he has come to life, he is animated:

“Head down, bottle top, potter /Head down, mop-a-lot, hopper/He could learn a lot from me/That is why I am here.”

The crow is in the drama. The crow is the grief. He almost has a cockney lilt to his banter. Dad is coping, the twin boys are romping, the bird is the manifestation, the reality.

It is poetry as prose, contained within a novel-like context but the crow has wings and can take us to other dark parts of the netherworld, as in his bad dreams.

Rather nicely, Porter, who has been a Granta editor as well as a bookseller himself, offered the work to Hughes’ publishers Faber. Luckily Hannah Griffiths at Faber got it straight away and they have produced an edition worth the keeping.

Here is a sample of the quality of the writing:

“On the left we have the dad. This image occupies the functional position of the here-goes, the ask, what I like to call the George Dyer-on-the-shitter, the left flank, the hoist, the education spot, the empty church, the torture step, the pain panel, the muscular”.

It repays re-reading a few times. And more.





About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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