‘Even if truth be drawn from the work,’ writes Maurice Blanchot, ‘the work overruns it, takes it back into itself to bury and hide it.’ This strange, poetic movement to conceal what is manifest brings to mind another statement, by the psychiatrist and author Judith Herman: ‘The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.’
Early in Kate Lilley’s début collection, Versary (2002), two short poems appear verso-recto that feel misplaced, the ‘I’ nearer the poet, the scenes more nakedly historical. In ‘1972’, schoolchildren leave a dance and ‘cross the oval in pairs / to the steep bank behind the softball field’. ‘It’s cold on the ground,’ the speaker concludes, ‘my buttons loose to the sky.’ The impact of these final adjectives carries to the poem opposite, ‘Panic Stations’, whose first line has the speaker ‘rattled, shaken up’ after an unnamed incident. There is a lurch to the present tense, the speaker ‘holding my breath on the bottom of the pool’– the impossible peace of this state – while ‘horror’s breaking through’.