The Caller and the Narrator
By Will Dawson
Edited by Annabel Wearring-Smith and Kristin Heng Schanke
Content Warning – this piece contains discussions of sensitive topics such as suicide, reader discretion is advised.
The Poetry of earth is never dead
‘Dear Caller’, our latest publication, came through the post around the time I had taken up reading the poet Keats. I had turned to the great Romantic for insight, to develop my sense of the poetic, and encourage my love of the natural world. After all, there must have been a reason why his poetic legacy has endured, right?
I had not thought myself a poetry reader by nature, nor have I been nurtured into green-thumbed admiration. Keats, evidently, was disposed toward both. So, I set out to read one poem every morning, just after checking the time and just before making tea. Mornings are when I can sit for a moment, in the kitchen with my mug and myself, and hear the birds singing outside my window. Like I imagined Keats must have done. Ever the diligent romantic is John Keats.
Morgan Bielawski’s letter came through The Letter’s Page’s post box the morning I was reading ‘On the Grasshopper and Cricket’. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of serendipity. A connection between the poem lingering like the grasshopper’s call in my mind, and the letter in my lap.
In the poem Keats writes of the grasshopper and the cricket, about how even in the darkest winter, they continue to call and respond.
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
Life endures. Nature overcomes.
This is what I think about as I reread ‘Dear Caller’. Even though Morgan Bielawski writes of a very different call and response: a suicide helpline. We both sit by our windows and reflect.
‘A sliced pear on a hand-painted plate, & a mug of jasmine tea’, the responder settles into their role. They keep their feet on the ground, and sit looking out of the window, watching their garden. They embrace the minute beauty of the natural world and living things, the garden they have cultivated into life. All the while they receive calls from people who want life without pain, unable to see a path towards a life freed from it. At the end of the day, the narrator goes for a walk.
These calls are not written about in any detail. They do not need to be. Simple questions, answers, and the acknowledgement that these are impossible to discuss. ‘We dare not bring it to the surface to break the polite facade’, the narrator says. Perhaps the writer is talking to the callers, then again, perhaps, she speaks to the recipient of the letter. Us. This letter is a challenge, and one we cannot ignore.
Appropriate advice in this circumstance cannot be about nature, it must be resolutely human. The responder quotes Hemingway, ‘The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them’. It’s their job to be trusted. Their job to maintain their ‘polite facade’ Their job to ask people if they have a plan to stay safe tonight.
Nature doesn’t offer the callers a safe space. But it offers our narrator solace in its recapitulations. In the narrator’s garden, kale dies, but comes back. Caterpillars become beautiful moths but leave their bodies behind. Life endures, but it is a fragile thing, a changeling. Death brought to life ready to die. Nature, in its fragility, cannot be relied upon to keep the realities of death in check for the Caller or the recipient of the call.
Like the moths, the narrator is asked to shapeshift, to be someone others expect them to be. And when the narrator goes for a walk, they go alone. The letter is sent to a hypothetical caller, for they cannot confide in any other kind. Not without revealing the false eyes on the back of their mothwing cloak. Neither, really, can the narrator confide in nature. A bird lands near them, but lands like ‘a solitary heart’; neither can understand the other.
The poetry of the earth may never be dead, but it may not be enough. Keats, famously, died young; and the beauty of nature, in the end, did nothing for him.
We were deeply affected at the Letters Page by Morgan’s unflinching way of discussing these difficult issues. But If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, you may wish to contact an organisation such as one of the following:
National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 689 5652
Text Option: text SHOUT to 85258.
Or view their website: https://www.spuk.org.uk/national-suicide-prevention-helpline-uk/
Mind helpline: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
We will be posting Morgan’s letter in a few weeks’ time, so if you’ve written to us, keep your eyes out for an aerogramme in your post-boxes. If you want to read this piece, then please write us a letter; this is the only way to receive this letter.
Write to us and we write to you!
The Letters Page team are back in the office, and ready to read your real letters again. We publish stories, essays, poems, memoir, reportage, criticism, recipes, travelogue, and any hybrid forms, so long as they come to us in the form of a letter. We are looking for writers of all nationalities and ages, both established and emerging.
Your letter must be sent in the post, to :
The Letters Page, School of English, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.
See our submissions page for more information.
stay up to date on The Letters Page newsletter publication, subscribe here.