‘I Remember My Mother Dying’, the second poem in this collection, is forensic and unflinching. Raine’s couplets, levelled at death and relationships, echo Pope’s gentle ironies but intensified until they possess sledgehammer force. Raine’s presentation of the living (his brother) unsettles the reader: drunkard, braggadocio, prodigal son. At one level, Raine’s no holds barred treatment of his family is courageous. However, the brother has no right of reply and, in the taut structure of the poem, his speech is heavily edited by the authorial voice, leaving one hankering after the other side of the story. It is when Raine describes his mother that he really jolts the reader:
two days before she died, a question:
would I pluck the hairs out of her chin?
There were none on the ward,
so I bought some tweezers down the road.
Every time a hair was plucked,
she sighed, almost like someone being slowly fucked
Sure, a poet might feel that they cannot afford a display of sentimentality when searching for the mot juste but, as a simile for a mother/son moment, this device smacks of sensationalism. However, Raine can, and should, be excused almost anything for presenting ageing and dying, the retreat of memory and medicalization of death. We find the smelly, messy, craziness of babies infinitely endearing whilst, as a society, shuffling inconvenient, bearded old women into the mercy of the residential care system. Raine’s language is calculated to make us flinch and boy does he succeed.