Reflection on the genesis of ‘Why have you come?’

Many people have asked me what this poem is about. One young male friend in my workshopping group thought it was about a visit from my mother-in-law. That is the beauty of poetry, it can mean many things, our interpretation of it as individual as we are. However, this poem had particular meaning for me. It was written in 2016, in the second year of my degree, for a poetry unit. That class was one of the standouts of my studies. My cohort had an abundance of rich talent and creativity and this class seemed to bring out the very best in us all. Each week a roomful of bright, generous, young people, with a couple of old birds like me mixed through, were taught and challenged to think laterally by Josephine Wilson. Josephine went on to win the Miles Franklin Award in 2017 for her novel ‘Extinctions’. I used to float out of the room on a tide of inspiration and deep contentment. The poem ‘After class’ was written as a response to this wonderful group of people.


For this assignment I wanted to write something a bit challenging. I was impressed with the difficult topics tackled by some of the class and felt I wanted to be braver. I had a discussion with my husband who suggested that I write about Menopause, which is something that has recently become a part of my life.

It is not a subject that is often talked about and yet affects fifty percent of us directly and everyone else indirectly. It is a hidden thing, like anxiety and depression, which needs to be acknowledged and talked about. Just recognising what was happening to me made a huge difference. Before a dear friend pointed out to me that the symptoms I was describing were Menopause, I thought I was going mad. As she said it, I had one of those illuminating moments, ahh… suddenly everything made sense. An oppressive, disabling cloak of self-doubt and anxiety slipped from my shoulders. I could breathe deeply again.

Knowing what it is has allowed me to accommodate it in a positive way.

There is a crossover symptomatically between menopause and anxiety and depression. I hoped that this poem would resonate with people suffering from any or all of those problems. I believe in bringing these issues into the public forum. One of the most important things for any sufferer is to know that they are not alone.

I was inspired to write a performance piece by Pamela Alexander’s wonderful rant, ‘Look here’ (Boisseau, Bar-Nadav and Wallace, 2012, p120) in which she employs animism to berate a cheating male partner. Reading it I felt every bit of the rage and disappointment of the narrator. The imagery was rich and vivid. I hope my piece works to bring this commonplace yet highly personal experience to life.

‘Look Here’ by Pamela Alexander.

A performance piece allowed me to express how I felt about this badly timed and unwelcome ‘visitor’. Through writing it, I confronted my situation, and examined closely how I was feeling and the changes it had brought. I found that actually, knowing is the most important weapon of all.  Now when my anxiety flares or I’m lying in my own personal heat wave I just wait it out. Writing this piece has really helped me adjust to the changes to the point now where I feel comfortable in myself again.

I used personification to allow the narrating voice to speak directly to Menopause.  I laid the piece out instinctively, letting what felt right dictate how I set it down.  The section that begins ‘You needle my absolutes’ has short lines. I have reflected on why this felt the right way to lay these six lines down. I feel I chose this structure to reflect the meanness of the action depicted. I have tried re-ordering them but it doesn’t feel right. The 6 lines starting with ‘White noise fills my mind’ are set out this way to reflect how the mind can sometimes slow to a stop and go blank.

I made some structural changes, tidying it up, ready for the second workshop but having had some feedback, I changed it back, as I wasn’t happy with the neat result and my workshop group agreed. It is an emotional poem and emotions are messy things.

To read the poem with this in mind please go to

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