Full colour photo of the grassy approach to a gate in a fence. To each side and through the gate, there are trees. A peaceful woodland scene.

I first met writer and poet Clare Best in 2009. That’s when I published her poetry pamphlet Treasure Ground, which grew out of a residency at Woodlands Organic Farm on the Lincolnshire Fens. In the poems, a Romanesco cauliflower has the allure of a Grecian urn; and a corn dryer opens a world of silence. Clare wrote about Lincoln Red cattle too, and how to read them; and about sheep, and how they read us. First, her poems were distributed in the produce boxes distributed to 2,000 Woodlands customers. Later, Treasure Ground was sold at farmers’ markets. We had to reprint!

Although their author was much invested in them, the Treasure Ground poems weren’t personal. So when Clare went on in Excisions, her first full collection, to write about about her double mastectomy, in naked detail and with unparalleled openness, I was astonished. Astonished and humbled. But she can do that. She has that skill. Each time you think you know her, she peels off another layer. She’s unafraid to talk about those things we keep most private. Or perhaps she is afraid but — after many years of preparation — uses her fear to fuel the creative act.

That’s certainly what she does in The Missing List, a prose memoir about an abuser, her own father. And then just last year in her most recent poetry book, Beyond the Gate, the central focus is another deep grief. This time the ache at the heart of things is the act of choosing to end a pregnancy. What a difficult thing to speak about! Could anything be harder?

Many women (and men too) go through their lives with shadow children, lost family members who died before being born. Privately, the unborn are remembered. Publicly, they don’t exist. How do the mothers who couldn’t mother them manage their loss? What can be done with this reserve of secret pain?

Clare Best addresses such questions in Beyond the Gate, and her consideration is personal. By no means every poem deals with the issue head-on, but quite a few touch on it. Others ‘have their roots in the soil of that experience’, as Clare puts it. And because the experience is so difficult to talk about, we decided we would tackle it. We would read some of the relevant poems together, we would talk naturally about the thoughts that arose, and we would record the discussion and make it public. We would open the gate.

The resulting audio session was planned but not rehearsed (we didn’t know in advance exactly what we were going to say). It lasts about forty minutes. Several poems are visible on screen as we speak or read, though not the longest — the one that deals most directly with the pregnancy and its ending. We don’t discuss ethics. We consider only the poems, and the way they approach what it is to live with the irrevocable and unchangeable consequences of a grievous decision.

The link below will take you to the YouTube recording if you would like to listen.


  1. Absolutely beautiful, emotional and listening to you both reading was almost too intense to bear. Thank you for posting.

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