When we last considered a selection from Denise Riley’s Say Something Back, we observed that the entire poetry collection, shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, is suffused with a fierce, redemptive grappling with grief. The poignant centrepiece of this collection is “A Part Song”, Riley’s fiery lament at the loss of her son. Within this extended piece, she uses many approaches to confront and attempt to conquer grief.
One of the most powerful of those approaches is Riley’s use of multiple voices, as the 2017 judges note in their citation:
“But what might appear to be the bare cupboard of grief is, in her poem, packed with voices, entrances and movements that doubt their own validity and are, marvellously, all the more valid for that.”
Multiple voices can be used to create discussions and posit opposing views on a subject. Multiple voices can join together in choruses that bolster and reinforce. In this segment of “A Part Song”, multiple voices from the same narrator illustrate her struggle with her mournful ruminations, fears and emotions.
The sonic qualities of the narrator’s clashing reproaches to herself are vivid:
Of fierce cicadas, stop this shrilling.”
Sentence fragments, forcefully punctuated, further emphasize her frustration:
“Yes, lightning could.”
“I know it. And.”
The notes and critiques she deems unhelpful actually offer an amazing depiction of thought processes struggling to find comfort or reach some kind of resolution.
Interestingly, we have been given the opportunity to hear even more voices associated with Riley’s work, as writer Erin Soros presented and interpreted this poem as part of the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist readings in Riley’s absence.