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  • Writer's pictureNazifa Islam

Virginia Woolf Found Poem in Bennington Review

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

My latest found poem to find its way to print is in Issue Three: Threat of Bennington Review. The poem, "Without Sanctuary," was written as part of a summer of poetry writing prompts orchestrated by my friend and fellow poet Phillip W. Brown.

It's been a few years so I'm a little hazy on the exact details of the prompt, but I want to say that it was to write a poem that included a line from a Shakespeare play. I decided to do that plus write a found poem because I like challenges and it felt like a neat way to bring different literary titans together. The final line of "Without Sanctuary" ended up being a quote from Henry V.

A snapshot of "Without Sanctuary" can be found over on my Twitter account, or you can always buy a copy of the issue. There are some pretty cool poets in the very large (250+ pages) lit mag.

And, as usual, here is a look at the paragraph I used to write the poem.

"Without Sanctuary"

"Into this crashed death—Percival's. 'Which is happiness?' I said (our child had been born), 'which pain?' referring to the two sides of my body, as I came downstairs, making a purely physical statement. Also I made note of the state of the house; the curtain blowing; the cook singing; the wardrobe showing through the half-opened door. I said, 'Give him (myself) another moment's respite' as I went downstairs. 'Now in this drawing-room he is going to suffer. There is no escape.' But for pain words are lacking. There should be cries, cracks, fissures, whiteness passing over chintz covers, interference with the sense of time, of space; the sense also of extreme fixity in passing objects; and sounds very remote and then very close; flesh being gashed and blood spurting, a joint suddenly twisted—beneath all of which appears something very important, yet remote, to be just held in solitude. So I went out. I saw the first morning he would never see—the sparrows were like toys dangled from a string by a child. To see things without attachment, from the outside, and to realize their beauty in itself—how strange! And then the sense that a burden has been removed; pretence and make-believe and unreality are gone, and lightness has come with a kind of transparency, making oneself invisible and things seen through as one walks—how strange. 'And now what other discovery will there be?' I said, and in order to hold it tight ignored newspaper placards and went and looked at pictures. Madonnas and pillars, arches and orange trees, still as on the first day of creation, but acquainted with grief, there they hung, and I gazed at them. 'Here,' I said, 'we are together without interruption.' This freedom, this immunity, seemed then a conquest, and stirred in me such exaltation that I sometimes go there, even now, to bring back exaltation and Percival. But it did not last. What torments one is the horrible activity of the mind's eye—how he fell, how he looked, where they carried him; men in loin-cloths, pulling ropes; the bandages and the mud. Then comes the terrible pounce of memory, not to be foretold, not to be warded off—that I did not go with him to Hampton Court. That claw scratched; that fang tore; I did not go. In spite of his impatiently protesting that it did not matter; why interrupt, why spoil our moment of uninterrupted community?—Still, I repeated sullenly, I did not go, and so, driven out of the sanctuary by these officious devils, went to Jinny because she had a room; a room with little tables, with little ornaments scattered on little tables. There I confessed, with tears—I had not gone to Hampton Court. And she, remembering other things, to me trifles but torturing to her, showed me how life withers when there are things we cannot share. Soon, too, a maid came in with a note, and as she turned to answer it and I felt my own curiosity to know what she was writing and to whom, I saw the first leaf fall on his grave. I saw us push beyond this moment, and leave it behind us for ever. And then sitting side by side on the sofa we remembered inevitably what had been said by others; 'the lily of the day is fairer far in May'; we compared Percival to a lily—Percival whom I wanted to lose his hair, to shock the authorities, to grow old with me; he was already covered with lilies.

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