Much of the book is focused on transition. Sweats offers a harsh and physical view of menopause but many other poems contain different images of change. Three poems, 'Moults', 'The Change' and 'What she became' lead into Sweats. They are based on other major life changes and the idea that the body renews itself every seven years. 'Woman's Head As Jug' comes from the idea of women finding their own cures, fired by my interest in old, traditional recipes.
I researched menopause extensively through friends and medical websites. I was interested in whether it affects only humans, its cultural significance and the medicalisation of menopause through the Climacteric Scale, among other things. I was interested in the language and my own ignorance of the body.
A friend who had particular problems informed several of the poems in the sequence. She went to a private clinic to have hormone levels tested. I didn't know women needed testosterone. I was always intriqued by the idea that during pregnancy the brain goes to mush. That too is blamed on hormones but I think change is also distracting philosophically.
I bled very badly for a long time in 1999. I was amazed by how much blood I could shed and by its consistency. I was ignorant about the stage leading to menopause when this is apparently common and I wasn't alone in my ignorance. Many people are squeamish about discussing the bodily changes that take place. Then I found publicity for the first menopause symposium somewhere in the UK and all the main speakers were men.
There is so much emphasis on the heart as we age and I wanted to find a way of combining this focus with a sense of how a woman picks her way through the sadness and confusion - carefully, but perhaps with a new ruthlessness. I wonder if this ruthlessness has something to do with the body's own ruthlessness? A gynaecologist I presented these poems with told the audience, of mainly menopausal women, that historically most of us would have died before we reached menopause.
So is atrophy the body's revenge? I wanted to end with a reminder of the monthly cycle, an image of genital flesh superimposed on the moon's surface.
Like killer whales, rhesus monkeys, guppies,
and laboratory mice – elephants experience menopause.
Their symptoms, though, are harder to score
on the Greene Climacteric Scale –
the pressure or tightness in head or body,
attacks of panic, the loss of interest “in most things”.
When the blowtorch is on inside her
and she’s throwing bricks at windows for air
she hooks herself into the national grid
to supply the city’s tumble dryers.
She crouches and tilts
a magnifying mirror
to examine the fissures
that have appeared in her flesh.
Unlike the moon,
were magnificent rivers of lava,
she is eroding.